The Personality of Pain
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I must admit that I am one of the very few, and very disturbed people, who do not feel that pinch of pain upon my faith. The reality of suffering in the world does not, for the most part, encroach upon me so as to snuff out my confidence in God. But lets get something straight, this is not because I am in some way superior, no, it is because of the fact that I am unmitigatedly selfish. The suffering of the world does not bare down on my back, no, I am too busy with concern for my own suffering, and when I am not suffering, then pain is not a factor in my life. I have to admit this vice in my own nature, for selfishness is a vice. It is as addicting and gripping as any drug, and yet so much more subtle. I drink of selfishness as one drinks of air. No needle is necessary, and oh wouldn't be great if it were. Then at least I would notice my own intoxication.
However there are other reasons why pain is not an arrow to my hope. At least, that is to say, pain on the collective level of humanity, is no challenge for my belief.
The first reason is that collective suffering has been rendered rather innocuous by my childhood. I grew up as a missionary to third world country. Through out each and every day I was exposed to the harsh realities of the worlds condition. I have seen in my tender years what others have suffered in their tender years, and the shear trauma of the vision is blunted for me. The shock is gone. As I grew up I could take steps in any direction and be at a moments notice within inches of the wretched, the weary and the broken. "They" who ever "they" were, were just a fact of third world countries. The poor, the old, the hungry, "they" were all common in my eyes. I did not feel, as some do, pity for the world because they did not live as "Americans" live, in comfort and unblemished security. Rather, I felt thankful that "I" as an American had been spared from the common condition of the rest of the world. I was not the normal that all others should be made alike, in my security and opportunity, all the rest were the normal and I was for some reason gifted with the blessing and responsibility of being rescued out of the normal to be set somewhere else. I spent little time agonizing over the condition of the masses, and in all honesty, I still spend little time doing so. I can watch the most tragic of advertisements about Haiti and feel little to nothing at all.
But before I am marked as heartless, let me explain. It is utterly true that I, in my childhood and even now, am moved little by the collective pain of humanity, however, it is also true that I am greatly disturbed by the agony of people. I confess, the masses have never moved my soul, and in my little years I was very little bothered by the site of numerous card board shacks, but do remember the faces of those who lived in those shacks, and of all those faces I still think, to this day, about the people I knew personally. I remember the kids that I played with, and the kids that ate with. I remember crying for a man I did not even know, but a man i had met and given food to myself. But I don't just think about those persons of my past. I think of a good friend of mine who struggling through cancer, whose husband is one the kindest gentle men on the planet. I think of my mother, and the life she has had, and the pain she has known in her body and her mind.
This all well and fine you say, that I care about people I know. But its not just that. Give me a face and I will care. There have been times when all I know about someone is their story and their name, and their broken hopes send shots of aching through my bones. What I am trying to say?
I care very little for "world hunger" or for "cancer" or for "world poverty" and I care even less about "world suffering" Let me see the faces of those who are hungry, let me know the name of the person with cancer, and let me see he tears of that person who is suffering. The truth is, there is no such thing as the collective agony of humanity. I do not feel another persons pain, and I cannot feel "world hunger". The only pain that any individual can go threw is the pain he or she can go through. There is no collective pain that one human can suffer for others. I do not know what world hunger is or how it feels, i only knows what it means to be hungry. As one person, I can only know the personality of my own pain, and as much as I attempt to empathize with others, I cannot know what they endure as they know it.
If this good friend of mine were to die and leave her husband alone, my faith would be shaken, and I am not quite sure what I would do to resolve my own questions. If my own wife were to die, I do not know if my faith would stand the blow. But I feel nothing towards cancer or death as a whole, I cannot feel what all people that have gone through cancer have felt. There is not "suffering" out there in the world, there is no "hunger". There are only those who are suffering and those who are hungry. To simply slip them into the congealed label of "evil" or "pain" is to ignore their very personhood, their very dignity and value.
This ultimately means that the only way to understand the suffering in the world, is to bear the incredible weight of allowing every instance of suffering to be understood through an "I" "you" relationship with every person in this world that has suffered, or is suffering, or will suffer. Anything else is a mockery. To coagulate all the tears of every weeping soul into oceans of sadness means absolutely nothing. But to walk from soul to soul and wipe each tear with a tender hand, and look into every face with mercy, means everything. To measure buckets of blood is a futile procedure, an exercise in inhumanity. As if the blood itself, in its quantity, could stand for anything but filth and rot. But to know the pain of every man woman and child individually and personally, as they bled each drop, is an incomprehensible burden that tests the measure of love. To speak of the pain of humanity is to say nothing at all, it is mere rhetoric, but to hold all the pieces of every shattered heart in one grasp, and yet never confuse the puzzle, never mistake what pieces belong to which heart even if the pieces be nothing but dust, is love itself. This is the cross.
This is what the very cross of Christ truly is. Jesus did not just die for the world, He died for you and for me. Jesus did not just suffer on the account of humanity as a collective, but all the sins and all the consequences of sin, suffering, pain, and the like, were placed upon His back, not as one coagulated mass, but as the individual lives of every person that ever lived, that live, and that ever will live. Jesus did that which we could not understand, not just in the atonement, but that God Himself did not spare Himself from all the aching of His world, and neither did He do what we can do in dying for causes. No, Jesus tasted of every single cup of suffering that could every be sipped, not as some whole, but as every single person has ever drank themselves. Jesus drank sip by sip of all the pain that has ever been tasted. He looked out upon all times and said "I die for you, and you, and you, and you, and you," etc. It is true that there is no such thing as the collective suffering as man kind, but it is also true that Jesus personally entered into the pain of every person that might ever suffer. On the cross we see one single individual who suffered, but this suffering also represented what was in the heart of the Father, in that an infinite God is fully capable of feeling the individual agony of every individual, even though there be billions of them.
And the promise still stands that one day God himself will do exactly what we cannot. He will individually wipe every single tear from every eye, not as whole, or as one collective act, but as a personal expression of intimate love, one face, and one tear at a time.
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