On Tuesday, March 10 the Archdiocese of Detroit hosted Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, professor of theology and philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, for their monthly Theology on Tap event. Dr. Echeverria used this night to open up about suffering and how to reconcile suffering with the heart of Jesus.
Dr. Echeverria spoke to the group of young adults about the suffering he has endured in his own life, and how to suffer well. When Dr. Echeverria’s granddaughter Penelope Grace was two and a half years old, she contracted a severe strain of meningitis that took her life in thirty-six hours. He was honest about the experience and stated that he never found an answer to why his granddaughter died – he doesn’t think that there was any real purpose for it. He said, “I’m perplexed, but not in despair because I know who God is and I trust in the Lord.”
In his time of immediate grieving, and the suffering that never truly goes away, Dr. Echeverria found comfort and consolation in the popular praise and worship song, ‘Oceans.’ The following lyrics reveal that even in the darkness God is close by:
“You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand”
“It’s another world when a child dies,” Dr. Echeverria continues. It’s a natural feeling for an older person to die because they enjoyed the opportunity to live life. When a child dies, it feels unnatural because it’s not the next step. Dr. Echeverria reflects, “Jesus didn’t embrace death as a friend, but rather as an enemy.” This unnatural order causes people to question God and their surroundings. It especially causes all Christians to ask the same question:
Why didn’t the Lord hear my prayer?
This is a question that Dr. Echeverria cannot answer. He doesn’t know why God did not cure his granddaughter and let her keep her life, and he doesn’t know the purpose for her death. He looks to the scripture, namely St. Paul, for comfort and answers:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair…” (2 Corinthians 4:8)
He says, “You don’t have to have all the answers for life to have meaning.”
Dr. Echeverria acknowledged the fact that the time following Penny’s death was filled with confusion, but he did not allow himself to fall into despair or hopelessness. Instead, he keeps his eyes on God. As ‘Oceans’ continues, “And I will call upon Your name / and keep my eyes above the waves…”
To read more about Dr. Eduardo Echeverria’s story and relationship with suffering, read his book In Oceans Deep: Redemptive Suffering and the Crucified God.
The above photo of Dr. Eduardo Echeverria is a Sacred Heart Major Seminary file photo.