No Pain No Gain

Posted on August 27, 2011


Perhaps it is our lot in life to suffer. Isn’t that part of the curse? It is a truth which is easily agreed upon by most people – not based on book knowledge but upon the un-ignorable teachings of experience, equally available to all people. Yet in that experience, one might ask, ‘Where is God?’

We see ourselves as the pinnacle of God’s creation, yet a quick examination of humanity quickly reveals a paradox. Mankind can at times act in the most noble and sacrificial of manners and yet also is capable of descending to horrific depths of barbarism, intent to inflict hurt upon one another as well as upon ourselves. It may seem strange that even the most enlightened of us are not exempt from sorrow, suffering and regret. Suffering seems to be the most common universal of all human experiences. What does that say about God? Some will over-simplify the question and wrongly conclude that it is proof that there is no God or that if he does exist that it somehow speaks negatively towards his intentions, goodness or his power. I understand this position, mainly because I have shared that position at times, but I think it is overly simplistic and self-serving. It is used to justify not believing in a god and empowers one to live one’s life as one wishes, unrestrained by a moral framework, guilt or consequence of our actions. As Aleister Crowley more precisely articulates it, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

I am continually reminded in my own life that one should never underestimate the human ability to be self-deceived in the name of logic and reason. In business or politics, if one seeks to get to the bottom a matter, an axiom says, that one only needs to follow the money trail. In the commerce of humanity, I assess the source of an idea, concept, belief, law, obligation, etc. by asking the question, does it provoke me to live and act in a manner that is better than I would normally choose to live myself, in the absence of such a concept or decree? If it does not then I would assume that it was meant to derail my pursuit of a higher truth. It is a distraction, like the Sirens of Greek mythology which lured sailors to their doom on the rocky coast of their island, intending to lure me from the narrow path.

As earthly creatures, trapped by time and space, it is difficult to try to assess much less fully comprehend concepts like suffering from an eternal perspective. We are driven to think solely in the here and now. In truth, while we pontificate about eternity, preach and pray ad infinitum about it, we are limited by our thinking; our reasoning to the here and now, in this physical realm.

If suffering does serve some eternal benefit, if it is actually a sign that God is working some out within us for eternity, then it stands to reason that we can only begin to apprehend it when we consider it from an eternal perspective. Yet we cling to the naïve human notion that life should be fair, in whatever our self-centered sense of fairness is, and that in following God, our earthly reward should be that we are exempted somehow from worldly suffering and pain. Can any of us with children, truly believe that a pampered, spoiled, catered life really does develop godly character, selflessness and deep founts of wisdom?

We supersede logic and ignore thousands and thousands of daily examples, where pampered and spoiled children create self-centered, arrogant, demanding adults who hurt and use others for their leisure and personal pleasure. We live with that paradox and fail to question it because it serve our own purpose in denying the existence of God.

We will often go to extreme lengths to ignore or deny the truth – the sublime realization that we try to avoid consciously apprehending that in some way, the experience of suffering may actually result in an eternal positive.

C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. We live our lives on autopilot going from one day to the next; rarely examining it. For many of us, the only time we stop and think, is during times of crises. It’s when bad things happen that we stop and begin to ask, why? Why does God allow me to experience this discomfort? Shouldn’t a loving God desire to spare his children, his followers from pain? Perhaps the answer is only if He desires to create spoiled brats. He’s not interested in self-centered followers looking to ‘get’ something; he’s looking to replicate himself by developing obedient, wise and holy sons and daughters. Sometimes the cost of maturity is experience…frequently difficult experiences.

We want to live on the mountain top experience, where life is good and we can see far into the distance, but the reality is that the best fruit is grown in the valleys, frequently dark and notoriously difficult to see clearly in. Can we love God, trust him and not be embarrassed of him if in our lives we experience trials? Perhaps, the better question is how can God be proud of us, seeing us in our horrendous details, falling short, hurting others, seeking self-gratification, denying him and being associated with us as we try without much success to walk out a life worthy of him?

I do not know how he does it, but he does. I have found that one of the quickest cures for self-absorption with our own trials it to lift our eyes high enough to see the suffering that others are experiencing. Perhaps, if there is a piece of God within us, we will be moved to invest a bit or ourselves into their life and help them through whatever difficult valley that they are trying to cross. Perhaps, suffering is just an opportunity for us to do something good and right. Don’t miss that opportunity by focusing your eyes inward and only seeing our trials and hurts.