Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

Is Pain Pointless?

Tim Keller's background in philosophy tends to help him see where his beliefs fit into the beliefs of the world as a whole. He's oriented in time and geography like few other Christian writers I have read.

In regard to suffering, Keller has noticed that the fundamental beliefs of Americans/Westerners tend to affect how we understand painful times. In non-Western worldviews, suffering is seen as an opportunity to help people "rise up and move toward the main purpose of life, whether it is spiritual growth, or the mastery of oneself, or the achievement of honor, or the promotion of the forces of good." Keller writes that those in pain "are told that the key to rising and achieving in suffering is something they must take the responsibility to do. They must put themselves into a right relationship to spiritual reality" (Keller 19).

However, in our culture, the primary goals of life tend to be independence and happiness. We have been taught that the material world is all there is, so suffering isn't perceived as an opportunity but a roadblock.

Keller states that "if the meaning of life is individual freedom and happiness, then suffering is of no possible “use.” In this worldview, the only thing to do with suffering is to avoid it at all costs, or, if it is unavoidable, manage and minimize the emotions of pain and discomfort as much as possible" (23).

Atheist Richard Dawkins exemplifies this belief by writing: "The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. . . . In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

1. It's impossible to live inside a culture without getting a little of it inside you. So how much of the Western view of suffering have you embraced without realizing it? Do you think hurting is pointless?

2. Do you think that life will begin after your present suffering ends, or is there something valuable to be learned even inside this present pain? It can be hard to imagine that any good whatsoever is being done when we are breaking, coming to the ends of our strength, and feeling like failures. When everything we treasure falls like sand through our fingers and we find ourselves in the desert, what then?

3. In the disorientation of hurt, is it possible to be fully human, fully honest, to beg God for mercy, and yet to believe that He is working out some sort of plan? If you are in the midst of the doubts that come with anguish, take a breath. You are seen. You are known. His grace is sufficient. This story isn't over yet.

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Painting: "A Prison Scene" by Francisco Goya (1808-1814)