The Weight of Things
January 15, 2020
As a Christian, there have been and remain certain areas about life, history, circumstance, that trouble me.
Firstly I should say that the beauty and truth of Jesus Christ and his Word, Incarnation and Life are emotionally and psychologically, empirically, and divinely unchallengeable in my heart
I am troubled by two things though; and they are able to sap my resolve when I'm in a listless mood and I am thinking about them.
One concern is about the length and variety of a seemingly endless succession of living organisms, and eras of the earth, since the time of the original 'fireball' from which it which cooled. This seemingly random chain of succession, up to where it is at present, leaves us men and women feeling that we are no more than yet another 'living item' flung up carelessly without any intention or meaning by the earth's passing through time.
Set against this backdrop the people who attack Christians by saying Christians are egoists because they think they're special, because thinking they have a special place in the order of existence; these attacks have some force.
The second concern is about the absolute billions of people one learns about who over the course of human history have suffered dreadfully; both atrocities and pains, and then died abjectly; of whom many people alive today and tomorrow across the world are liable to be included among them.
The sheer human toll of life in pain and blind suffering; the widespreadness of it, the perpetuity of it; the apparent aimless meaninglessness of it; the sheer waste of potential for what might have been; are each colossal; hard to get one's mind to encompass.
Those people for whom this problem is a stumbling block over which they tumble when seeking belief in Jesus; they have some substantial point in their concerns.
So – what can be said, and without me sounding crass or sophistical or unfeeling, that might help get us over these two very formidable roadblocks one finds on the way to faith?
I aim then not to sound dismissive of billions of sorry painful lives lived seemingly without point.
I aim not to use arguments which go around the houses so as to skip the hard facts of ages and aeons and dinosaurs and fossils, in an attempt to fool you into a conviction for Christianity
I aim not to say stupid things that might be used in high level philosophical argument but have no place on the ground when a person is in pain, or when a serial mass extinction and a new start had happened in the history of the natural world.
The argument that God disposes all things, when it is used on its own, to 'explain' the historical and prehistoric events I've listed, is both crass and unfeeling. Our due response demands more than just this wiping of the blackboard clean by a single sweep
The argument that fossils were planted mischievously so as to decieve people about the true and Divine nature of things – this argument is folly.
So what can be said in truth and in earnest for Christ and Christianity here?
It is inescapably true that we as a species do not learn the lessons of life other than by failure and suffering. If human life and The Creation have any purposes, then these purposes are forwarded very powerfully by way of our learning through the life experience we accrue from our failures and sufferings.
This argument is not a sop, a diversion, a circumvention. Only a person of solid stone heart is able not to feel the resonance of it
But you say - there is undeserved suffering and failure and there is deserved; and there also is suffering and failure which results in greater wisdom and there is that which does not. Quite correct.
What can I say? I can be callous and plead: 'You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink'
I can be evasive and say that the workings of the world are not mechanical like a production line where every object turns out exactly the same. That the world is not a precise machine but a place wherein 'time and chance happens to all'. Everyone's life is different. Everyone's life events are a different mix. How can we expect a life wholly regimented and totally controlled to be a life as we prefer life to be?
However it is incontestable to say:
If we want opportunity in our lives there has to be risk
If we want hope in our lives we have to have a future that is not rigidly fixed
If we want joy in our lives we have to have lives where achievement is possible
If we want trust in our lives we need a world wherein betrayal is possible
If we want love in our lives we have to dare to love another
These states of things are part of what is called The Terms of Human Existence. This means we have to live under them as rules. But as they are rules and as we live under them, we just wouldn't want things any other way
And what other way can there be? For us, as we are, as we live?
The very laws of logic forbid any other conceivable way of living and enjoying these great gifts
So in God's world there is a lot of wastage. But a world without God would be entire wastage. The way of things tells us that a lot of mischance, failure and suffering goes nowhere, achieves nothing. It is blind relentless - and on its sufferers it achieves nothing – but nonetheless it has not been, and remains not without meaning and purpose.
For instance. When we have a nice new phone come shipped packed in thickly shredded paper and we open the package - we take the phone out and use it and then we throw away the shredded paper – the paper has served a purpose. There was meaning for it being present.
The shredded paper as protection for the phone had to be present. Phones don't come through the mail without being protected from bumps and knocks. And just as our lives do not come without risk or danger if we want to be free, and hopeful, able to love, to dare, to trust, this shredded paper of packaging is the wastage of pain and suffering that is thrown away as we see and we experience it to happen.
But the size of the wastage of pain and suffering thrown away you say is colossal in comparison to the size of learning wisdom had from us experiencing it. Most suffering goes nowhere. Only a small portion of it is used by the sufferers; has meaning and purpose.
We here we move on to dinosaurs and fossils, because there is here the same problem of colossal wastage. This time around there is only a minuscule thread of humankind apparent of any meaning or purpose. This is perhaps even more so than in the case of wasted suffering and failure.
We can ask ourselves – is it worth it? For all the suffering and failure, for all the aeons and billions of years of successive oddities of creatures and environments – is it worth it so to have eventually in hand as a result a few cases in which people have learnt wisdom via suffering and failure, or in our other case to have extant for a small few millennia, a species that calls itself 'the paragon of animals' but which relentlessly goes about destroying its members and wrecking its environment? Is it worth it?
Well the phone in the mail is worth it? But are the persons who benefit, who learn from their sufferings; or in our other case and spread across the aeons is the tiny human race entire... are these persons of such value that a) anyone who fails to learn from their mistakes and b) all non-human history and prehistory - are both of these items merely of equivalent value to shredded paper?
Who would dare to say so? If that person who dares calls himself a Christian also, he is on tricky ground. He would indeed be an egoist. Were Christians to believe their specialness to entail this far the worthlessness of some other people, and of all past non-human ages, how might such Christians live their lives to that cardinal rule had from their Lord that says: 'he who would be great among you shall be the servant of all'?
How should a person believing himself to be so special stoop to becoming 'the servant of all'?
So where do we go from here?
There's a way out of this. It's very simple. Almost every person, maybe every person, who is fit to make a free decision, is in some degree taught wisdom from having made mistakes and having failed, suffered, caused suffering, in may things.
Some more than others, some less than others; but all.
Those unhappy persons, those untold billions, whose lives and hopes were dashed by atrocity, natural or else inflicted by others, they got at the least a little bit, maybe in fact some got a great deal. of understanding about life during their lifetime?
Maybe not as Christians, maybe not as believing any God; but their consciousness nonetheless altered, matured, deflected into a more understanding place, by their having reflected on events. It's the nature of life and of humankind to do so.
Now you might say truthfully that many people nonetheless didn't win through to a state of compassion for others, such as practising the commandment Lord Jesus gives us that we should: 'Love one another'. But this generous general compassion leading eventually to love towards others is what I am claiming here is the end goal of our life-learning through reflection on our deeds
God, I suggest is behind this end-goal and The Lord Jesus is The Way to the fullest expression of it; and to the fullest expression each of us is able to make of this end-goal in our lives.
And so by my thesis everyone is able to make some headway towards such an end-goal during their lifetime.
We as humans have the power of reflection. No other living species on earth has a grasp of prehistory, nor of this concept and experience of learning through suffering and defeat, failure and causing suffering. Each one of us is to other of us of inestimable value. To a mother, to a wife, to a child – to someone who 'thinks the world of us'.
Why should not God, and The Lord Jesus has shown us The Way to fully understand this, not have an absolute compassion and love for each one of us; notwithstanding, nonetheless, and disregarding all our faults and failures.
And why should He not use these very things by which we let Him down in His love and compassion for us; that is, why should He not use our mistakes, and our failures, and the pain and suffering these create, for ourself, for those affected by us - why should not these things be the fitting Godly instruments for our better instruction?