Pain is a great mystery ....
Last Saturday, I was invited to a prayer meeting/teaching at the home of an evangelical pastor and his wife who have a healing ministry to fellow Christians. There were two talks: the first was a talk on forgiveness, and included the pastor's testimony. This was quite moving. The second talk was by his wife, and it was on the walls we put up to defend ourselves against intimacy. Also good. After the talks, there was time for prayer and people could request to be prayed over. One person asked the question of why does God permit suffering to go on? That age-old question.
I felt the answer was incomplete. There were things said such as God wants to heal but doesn't heal everyone. Perhaps God is permitting your suffering for a time, then he will heal you. I couldn't help thinking of the Catholic saying "offer it up" and I looked up the Scripture passage (which, amazingly, I found right away) and this very passage is quoted in the Lewis' article above.
In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church. - Colossians 1:24
This is, I believe, part of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. While it is baffling to think that Christ's afflictions might not be complete, because obviously His sufferings were all that was needed for salvation, this gives us the meaning of offering our suffering up for someone else.
I had a personal experience of this just recently. In February, I had hip replacement surgery and I found the recovery quite painful. It was harder than I expected (and it is not over yet). I had a distinct feeling that I should offer it up for someone I know who is struggling with alcoholism. I also felt that I should fast for her twice a week, a real fast such as eating dry toast instead of lunch. I don't know if my sacrifice has had any immediate effect in her life, but somehow offering up pain and the small sacrifice of going without a real lunch was a kind of prayer that reached beyond any words that I could say.
While I think that evangelical Protestants have many things right, I find that in some areas, they are missing some quite wonderful doctrines that we Catholics have in our faith. And the mystical Body of Christ is one of those. There is no ready answer for why we suffer, for why good people experience bad things, but we do have an opportunity to unite our suffering with Our Lord's and He can use it for someone else. It is wonderful to pray for healing, but obviously not every prayer for healing gets answered as such. And that can leave people to doubt their faith or to doubt God's promises. But the doctrine of redemptive suffering, in which we can share with Jesus, gives a meaning to suffering that all the healing prayer in the world just can't touch.
“These words have as it were the value of a final discovery, which is accompanied by joy. For this reason St. Paul writes: ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.’ The joy comes from the discovery of the meaning of suffering, and this discovery, even if it is most personally shared in by Paul of Tarsus who wrote these words, is at the same time valid for others. The apostle shares his own discovery and rejoices in it because of all those whom it can help — just as it helped him — to understand the salvific meaning of suffering.” - Charles Lewis, The Catholic Register, April 24, 2012