Friday, August 17, 2018

The Problem of Pain

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
Ps 71:20

Psalm 71:20 is very much about resurrection, for I can easily imagine the cross and the empty tomb when I read these words. But I must remember that this psalm is also for me all through the course of my life. To paraphrase Calvin:

If I enjoy nothing but a uniform course of prosperity, I'll no doubt have good reason to be happy. But in that case I would never experience what it is to be delivered from destruction by the stupendous power of God. I must be brought down even to the gates of death before I can see God as my deliverer.

I know that to some this is a poor explanation for the problem of pain. But I have to admit that it works for me. It's not the only explanation. It's not even the best explanation. But it's a good explanation, because even somebody who resists it has to admit it's true: I cannot appreciate goodness if goodness is all I experience. If I eat nothing but candy, I will never appreciate how good chocolate or caramel are, since they're all I'll know.* Moreover, a diet of candy is so unbalanced as to be unhealthy. And the same can be said about joy: If I only know joy, I'll never appreciate what joy actually is. Moreover, it is unhealthy to know only joy, for then how could I coëxist with those who suffer? Such people would be so foreign to me that I couldn't even communicate with them, let alone be of any help to them. My life would lose meaning.

And if this is true of something that tastes or feels good, what about life itself? I can only truly appreciate life if I understand it in the context of death. If I've never faced death, if I've never experienced the death of a loved one, how can I love life? Outside its proper context, life is something to be taken for granted, even risked for useless reasons. We sometimes see both of these situations in the young: They have all their family members, they have never been truly sick, they've never even been to a funeral, and so they take life for granted. Worse yet, we occasionally read news of a life thrown away in some silly prank performed by a teenager or young adult.
Neither of these things is limited to young people: middle aged and older people might also take life for granted or lose their life for no good reason. It's just a bit less likely due to their own life experience.
All of this is simply to reïnforce the psalmist's belief that bad things as well as good things are gifts of God, for they lead to new life and deliverance from death.
I thank you, Lord, that my life has not been uninterrupted joy, but that you have given me a context in which to place both my happiness and my pain. May all my life's experiences help prevent me from taking your gifts for granted or of throwing my life away on that which does not glorify you or serve my neighbor. I pray in his Name who taught me to pray...

*After all, if I'm going to eat nothing but candy, then I'll stick to Milky Way Dark and Snickers.