Some ailment or chronic sickness ... a high pressure job or boss that creates enormous amounts of stress ... the struggle and difficulty to provide basic necessities for you and your family ... or an untimely and unexpected death of a loved one, God forbid a young child. These things and countless others at times can be overwhelming for us and create sorrow ... even sorrow to the point of death (c.f. Mat 26:38).
At the same time however there are also many things in this life that can sweep joy and bliss over our souls through beautiful and wonderful experiences. Things like the sweet smell of a flower filled meadow in springtime, or the stunning wonder of a vibrant sunset, the thrill and exhilaration of a lover’s kiss and touch, or the beauty and stillness of a snowcapped mountain peak, or the raw awe-inspiring power of the ocean’s waves crashing upon the shore, or the gentle caress of a baby and their cooing calls.
And yet in the midst of these experiences of bliss, peace, and joy ... unfortunately it doesn’t take long for us to realize they are momentary. These moments and experiences can be incredibly powerful and point us to something greater in our minds and hearts (cf. Rom 1:20), but often we are “snapped back to reality” by a myriad of tragedies, ailments, suffering, and ultimately death, which leaves an indelible imprint of the fact that we long for more. More beauty and wonder, more joy and bliss ... more love and less destruction. We are confused as to why these experiences seem to be the exceptions rather than the norm. We recognize that things are fundamentally broken and in need if repair.
So how do we tend to try to handle the difficulties and struggles of life? We tend to try to find as many sunsets, babies, and lover’s kisses as we can. Basically we try to maximize pleasure while attempting to minimize pain.
A friend of mine who is a trained professional mental health counselor focusing on addictions and well-being comments on this idea, “Somewhere along the way, we have come to believe that we should feel good, happy, and comfortable all of the time, that if we feel any type of pain, discomfort, or unease, well then something must be wrong.” (https://www.liberatingcounseling.com/single-post/2018/08/19/Self-Control-Science-and-Art) This is really remnant of our pervasive modernistic cultural world-views.
During the history of Western cultural evolution, the sentiment that something must be wrong if we are not happy was majorly influenced by the modernism of the nineteenth century (but has roots in the “founding fathers” framing of a society in which “the pursuit of happiness” has been propositioned as the pinnacle of reality and the most meaningful kind of existence - contrast this of course with Jesus’ assessment thousands of years earlier as he remarked that the greatest purpose of man is actually to love God and others [c.f. Mat 22:37-40] - a far cry from the “pursuit of happiness”). During the industrial revolution along with revolutionary technological and scientific advancements, western society was convinced that it was going to be able to solve all human problems and suffering and create a utopian existence through modern “progress”. Eventually scientific discovery and societal progress would lead to a solution for all the worlds pain, and suffering.
Modernistic world-views were shattered in the early twentieth centuries by global wars where bloodshed and human suffering were unprecedented. This lead to “post-modernism” which at its heart is full great distrust and skepticism. It’s not hard to see why.
In order to try to minimize pain and suffering in our lives we attempt to create an imaginary heaven because we think when we are suffering then something must be wrong, or we must have done something wrong and are being “punished” (c.f. The counsel of Job’s friends during Job’s suffering).
But this world-view is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus says that if the world hated him they will hate us also. (Mat 10:22; 24:9; Lk 6:22; 21:17; Jn 15:18-19)
Jesus said blessed are those who suffer and mourn and persecuted. (Mat 5:4,10,12; 24:9; Jn 15:20)
Paul told Timothy no one can live a godly life in Christ Jesus without persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)
Jesus says that he gives us life to the full (Jn 10:10), and while much of this life, even in Jesus, is filled with pain, suffering, hardship, difficulty, and persecution (just read the New Testament for more than a few pages) – his life to the full gives us the ability to see and experience life in a new way. Having a new framework in which to process and understand this life, a new perspective in which to view suffering and joy; that life now as we know it is not ultimately as it should be.
Oh, how that changes everything!
While this earth, and indeed the entire universe, including our bodies, will one day be finally and completely redeemed and all suffering as we know it will come to an end for all those faithful in Christ ... for now we suffer. And learning to lean into this pain, rather than run from it, is vital for our maturity in Christ, not to mention our effectiveness in bringing forth and furthering the kingdom of God in this world, here and now! As Christians we must be careful of the world’s, and Satan’s, ploy to try to get us to settle for an imaginary heaven that we try to construct for ourselves by running from pain and suffering, by trying with all of our might and will power to minimize pain while maximizing pleasure. This is a deception of great proportion, trying to get us to take our eyes off of our eternal home and bringing forth that home here and now, and instead trying to take a cheaper and faster route to “pleasure and bliss”, to “the pursuit of happiness”.
“Our (the devil’s) cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s (God’s) will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)