A wise man once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This life is one of sorrow. I think of friends who have lost parents, children, spouses; people who have gotten cancer, lost limbs, have become disabled to the point of relying completely on someone else for survival as if they were children again. When I ponder these realities, I know they should make me thankful. And sometimes it does. Sometimes I feel very grateful that I am not on the receiving end of these misfortunes; other times I feel apathetic and take it all—life, health, available finances—for granted as if they are owed to me; sometimes I even feel invincible, convincing myself that the suffering surrounding me is like a movie—I can see it, but it isn’t real and cannot affect me.
I hate pain.
But sometimes I feel afraid, as if I am on some kind of waiting list. Like suffering is just a part of life, and my ticket will be called soon. I begin to imagine losing my wife, or my son in her womb; I become a boarder-line hypochondriac, assuming every headache is brain cancer, and every belly ache is a tumor. Every time my wife misses a call or takes too long at the grocery store I expect a call from the ambulance. These thoughts control me. They even poison the blessings I receive. If I get a raise, or something is given to us that would have otherwise cost a fortune, instead of praising God for His goodness, I just think He is trying to soften the impending blow. When He gives me an amazing wife, I assume that I’ll need her for the hardship I am going to face soon; if I am blessed with a wonderful job, I immediately start saving up for the famine that is probably right around the corner. This thought is tormenting. It keeps me from taking risks because it might not work out, from moving to a new city because I might not find a job, from meeting new people because they might not like me, from trying at all because I might fail. It keeps me from bringing up tough topics with my wife that I know will lead to conflict, or from sharing the gospel with my unsaved friends because I know the conversation will become awkward.
I’m a Buddhist.
The primary goal of Buddhism is to avoid suffering. Since so often, a new source of joy will eventually become a source of pain, the means to accomplish this goal is to avoid desire and feeling altogether. To escape, not only sorrow, but also happiness because it will eventually cause sorrow. As humans we hate pain. We don’t want any part of it. The fear of it is like a disease, infecting and affecting every decision we make. But we do not only hate being in pain, we even hate thinking of it. There are movies we will not watch, news articles we will not read, sermons we will not hear, songs we will not play, because they make us think of pain. You may not agree with abortion, but you probably don’t want to meditate on its horror; and I’m sure you hate poverty, but you aren’t going out looking for it so you can feel the pain of those who are in it, or better yet, try to stop it. During the time of American slavery, there were many who didn’t like the institution, but they didn’t want to fight it or give it much thought either. I have even heard of churches in Poland during WWII that would hear the weeping and screaming from the train full of Jews passing by, and would sing louder to drown out the sound of torment. They didn’t want to hear. We don’t want to hear. We don’t want to see. We don’t want to feel the pain of others, because it hurts. We are all Buddhists.
Jesus calls us to pain.
Jesus wants us to feel the pain of others, “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2); and He also has set apart, in His sovereignty, a cup of pain for each of us to drink. It is no secret why we hate pain. It hurts. But why should we embrace the suck rather than run from it? The reason is, for the sake of joy. Pain can always lead to joy if we respond to it correctly. We do not, and should not love pain, because it is a part of the fallen world. It is not God’s will. It was brought into the world through sin, and will continue until Jesus comes back to make every wrong right in the end. But we should love the fruit of pain, because there is no context where we are made stronger, wiser, more loving, or more patient than in the purifying fires of suffering. This is the theme throughout the New Testament. Suffering is more than just reality. For the Christian, suffering itself becomes a source of joy. The end justifies the means. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-6 ESV). And, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV).