Do I think that the pain and suffering that that person is experiencing is horrible? Why no! Of course not! God is good and he tells us to “rejoice in the Lord Always and again I say rejoice!” If I was going through that pain and suffering, I would praise God every day! Oh what a joy to go through pain and suffering! I can’t think of anything I would like better!
While no Christian I have ever met has ever said that to me in those exact words, the attitude of certain Christians towards pain and suffering can sometimes seem that callous. One does notice, if one is at all observant, that the tune tends to change when the pain and suffering that is at issue is their own. I have often seen people ask for prayer “in their tribulation” who have previously acted as though pain and suffering were no big deal.
Allow me to be blunt about this. This world sucks, it is extremely painful and I do not like it at all. Before I became a Christian, I had suicidal thoughts for years and I did not think that life was worth living. Since I am being completely honest, I would say that becoming a Christian hasn’t helped the external circumstances of my life at all. When I hear preachers on television telling their audience that a belief in Christ will make them blessed and successful, I often wonder if these people have read the New Testament. What they teach certainly has no application in my life. When I “rejoice in the Lord” while experiencing pain, I do am not thankful for the pain, I am thankful through the pain because my Lord has conquered death and sin and suffering will eventually be no more. My attitude is different even if my circumstances are the same (or worse).
Allow me to continue being blunt and honest. If God had not come down here and eaten his share of the shit sandwich, I WOULD NOT WORSHIP HIM. Gods from other religions may say “be nice to others” or “be good” or “be obedient” or give some words of wisdom, but only Jesus Christ gets off of his butt and comes down here and suffers with us sinners. Call me ornery, call me stiff-necked, but I simply would not worship a God who would do anything less.
Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called The Missionary Position wherein he attacked Mother Theresa because she seemed to glorify pain and suffering.
Questioner: Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?
Mother Theresa: I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.
Now I honor Mother Theresa as a person who put her money where her mouth was and did her best to live the Christian life as she understood it, but this attitude that death and pain are good because they are in this world and part of “God’s plan” is nonsense. Jesus wept to see death and he sweat blood contemplating his cross and lamented in his final moments “eloi eloi lama sabacthani” or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Paul who told us to “rejoice always” sang quite a different tune in 2 Corinthians 1:8. Disease and suffering and death suck and they do make it tough to believe in a benevolent God.
People seem to think that because I believe in a God who is love incarnate and intervenes in the world, I automatically minimize the pain and suffering of this world. As I contemplate the cross of my Lord on the eve of the anniversary of his crucifixion, I want to scream at the top of my lungs that I do not. I want life and health and joy and happiness and there is nothing I hate worse than a hospital that stinks of disease and death. YES THIS WORLD SUCKS, YES IT IS PAINFUL, YES IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE THAT GOD IS GOOD AND BENEVOLENT BUT I BELIEVE IT NONETHELESS. Why? Because I have reasons and because I have faith. I created this website to explain the first that I might inspire the second.
I was very angry in this post and I exhibited some attitudes that I now consider to be immature at best and ugly at worst. As I have said in many of these amended notes, the reason I leave these kinds of posts up instead of changing them or deleting them is that I think that it is important for us to recognize that this life is a process of growth and I want to make sure that people know my attitudes are changing as I grow and mature.
To give my more recent perspective on pain and suffering see a post like Instruments of Blessing.