There’s a pervasive belief that bad things happen for a reason, or preciptate positive change. I suppose there are plenty of examples of lives turned around after a tragic incident, in which the adversity was clearly a catalyst for self improvement. But what about the rest of the times when the adversity triggers depression, PTSD, and the result is deterioration, sometimes to a catastrophic degree? Or the remainder in which there is stasis after a tragedy, the person(s) affected merely keep getting by, without a life changing change for the better or worse?
I know that many ascribe to the belief that our trials could impact others’ lives, that we are but a thread in a richly woven tapestry that we cannot fully see or comprehend. That God is working our tragedy for the overall good of his kingdom. While this can create beautiful imagery, as a person whose family has endured many trials, I can say that I don’t want to be that red thread in the tapestry, the scapegoat that’s sacrificially offered to live through tragedy as a blessing to others, or to win souls for heaven.
Ah yes, maybe there is a bigger plan for an afterlife in which we will suddenly understand our hurts on a level impossible for our limited human minds, that God will show us the global impact of our lives and in that moment our grief with take on perspective which makes it pale in comparison to the good which it works. Maybe. But I am not ready to take this one to the bank.
I suspect that much of this philosophy, or theology, is crafted by those outside the tragedy in order to better process it, and when scripture is thrown into it, people of faith will point to that claiming absolute truth. Of course it’s also claimed by those who have experienced adversity as a way to assign meaning to their plight. If you are that person I am not here to take anything away from your story. But would you think any less of me if I admitted that I would ditch my son’s Hirschsprung’s disease, leukemia and mental illness in a heartbeat without a second thought about God’s grand design?
Here’s where the problem lies with this way of thinking: If one believes that suffering is for the ultimate good, or part of God’s grand plan, it removes the impetus for them to step into another’s pain and act.
This philosophy is dangerous in that it can become a rationalization. When we rationalize away the pain and suffering of our fellow humans and take comfort in knowing that God is in control, we can go to bed at night and sleep well in the comfort of this rationale.
I don’t want to ever be comfortable with any suffering on this earth.
In the movie, “The Big Chill”, Jeff Goldblum plays a character named Michael, who is that single minded, sex craved guy who has a certain keen insight that peeps our from time to time. There’s a scene about rationalization, which goes like this:
“Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.
Sam: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.
Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”
As a population, U.S. citizens embrace rationalization over action, especially when it comes to the pain of others. Today I urge you, whatever your circumstances or philosophy on pain, to allow yourself to feel the pain of another; to step into that pain and allow it to spur you to action.