Every so often I meet someone who has chipped a nail and then concludes as a result that there is no God or that God is not good. While there are variations on the theme, the bottom line is that the person has noticed adversity and decided that there is a level of adversity that is “too much” and from which they conclude that faith is vain.
When looking at adversity and suffering in this life, there are several ways to understand what is going on:
- things are much worse than we realize
- the suffering we experience is insignificant
- adversity just is.
First, for the most part we are probably suffering much more adversity than we realize. It is easy to look at others and see how they suffer, but it is often harder to see pain and loss and trials in our own lives. I still remember a story about Amazonian natives celebrating with a feast of grubs. The report was reflecting that it just happened to be Thanksgiving day and how he would much rather be eating turkey. As he thought, his native guide nudged him. Paraphrasing: I know how you feel, back home the the grubs taste so much better too.
In this life, even at the top of the pyramid, we are still eating grubs and looking for better mud. If you look at the best standard of living only two hundred years ago, vs. an average American today, it can sink in. Central heat and air, an absence of ticks, fleas and bedbugs, vaccines and reliable contraception. Fresh food. Kings used to get rotted meat monthly and just covered it up with spices. They thought that they had reached a pinnacle of pleasure, glory and hedonism in a life style none of us would willingly live.
Not only are things worse than we tend to realize, our pains and adversity are actually pretty insignificant. We’ve all seen a young child in histrionics over what is to us a minor injury. To us it is pretty minor, to the child it is the greatest pain they have ever experienced. I still remember thinking I was going to die from the pain when I first hit my thumb with a hammer, when I had my first broken heart, even as a young child when my parents bought me a new pillow.
However, mortal life is terribly, terribly short. The core of mortal life is just that — it is mortal and ends in death — an escape — for all of us, after the shortest of times. It might seem terrible, long and unending to us because it is the most terrible thing we know, but it is of “a small moment.”
For the same reason we do not appreciate how much worse things are than they seem, it can be hard to appreciate that years of pain and disappointment are not very significant. It is a matter of the change in perspective we have by being inside the veil.
Which leads me to the third observation that applies to adversity: it just is. part of a mortal, imperfect life is that parts of it will be adverse. In fact, that is what mortal life is all about. Mortal life provides us with adversity to react in context with. We are tested by how we react to what happens, not by what happens. It is almost tautological that you can’t react to adversity if it doesn’t exist.
That takes me to the real point. If adversity in any amount is “too much” then any amount of adversity is too much. A chipped nail differs little from an earthquake destroying Lisbon in that regard. Understanding that all adversity is too much for us is a core part of understanding the trials and the nature of mortal life.
In the future I’ll address where perspective takes you, but in the end, we suffer as much as we can, yet none of it, in this brief moment we call life, is sufficient to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ.