No pain or suffering?

By Dave Tiessen

There is an old saying: “Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.” 

The obvious implication of this age-old bit of wisdom is that all too often shallow hopes and desires may well look desirable, but upon fulfilment turn out to be much less so or even the opposite – repulsive.

There is an old song by Canadian band The Northern Pikes (was it actually necessary to say they were a “Canadian band?”) that captures this truth: “She Ain’t Pretty She Just Looks That Way”. In the song a guy yearns to win the affections of the most gorgeous gal but when the opportunity arises he very quickly realizes that he ought to have been “careful what he wished for.” His shallow desires had blinded him to the true nature of that which he longed for. By the way, the song could have just as easily been “He Ain’t Dreamy He Just Looks That Way.”

A very popular, common critique of the existence of a loving God comes out of a sincere wish for there to be no suffering in the world: “How can a loving God have created a world where there is so much suffering?” Are you sure that is what you would want?

Growing up I often heard Bible stories about Jesus healing people with leprosy. It was a horrible disease which, because of its contagiousness, caused sufferers to live in isolation from their families and community. We kids were always excited when Eleanor Matthies, a missionary nurse from our church, would return home on furlough from Paraguay where she worked in a leprosy hospital. 

With pictures and stories Eleanor showed us why leprosy was so horrible – it caused people to lose the sensation of pain. So a leper would stub their toe and break it or burn their hand holding a hot pot and not feel the normal pain of such injury. Gradually such maiming injuries resulted in feet and hands reduced to stumps. 

“Be careful what you wish for” – no pain/suffering? – “you may just get it – leprosy. A world without suffering would be a world without or with very few limitations. We could all do whatever we wanted without fear of consequences. 

Does that sound good, desirable, enticing to you? Surely it would be a recipe for chaos. Delicious brownies come out of the oven not because you threw in whatever you wanted and baked them no matter how long. Rather you limited what you mixed into the batter to the stuff the recipe listed and baked them according to the recipe’s instructions.

The underlying truth here is that a healthy life requires healthy boundaries and clear consequences. Which is abundantly clear when we observe the raising of children. Kids that grow up thinking they can do whatever they want and don’t have to deal with consequences for aberrant behaviour don’t grow up to be healthy, responsible, contributing adults. This is painfully clear in the case of unfortunate children who have mental health conditions that impair their ability to control their behaviour and let consequences help them in doing so.

Another illustration: You greatly enjoy being on a high school volleyball team. But for it to be enjoyable you have to accept all kinds of limitations, consequences and even pain. You can only play for your school, not the one that is winning more games than you. You have to play volleyball and not hockey. You can only play the position the coach assigns you to. If you slack off and play poorly you will face the criticisms of your teammates, while if you work hard and play well you will be rewarded with praise. If you are committed to giving all you got you will inevitably experience physical soreness, bruises and sprains. But in the end the limitations and consequences are worth it.

Such is life. If there were no limits – no suffering, pain – we would all be spoiled brats bored by everything because it all comes too easy and has no significance. The limits of life mean that the limited time we have is of greater significance because it’s all we have. We love and appreciate our loved ones more because we know that our time with them is limited. We know there are important things to live and work for because we humans can do much to alleviate the pain and suffering of the world. 

And perhaps most importantly, the limits and suffering/pain of this world remind us that we are not gods, and that there is a God who comes to us in the midst of our suffering/pain to give us strength, love, peace and hope. 

And a God who in the eternity that follows life, will make right for each and every one of us the sufferings and pains that we bore unjustly. 

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).