The Problem of Pain

I do some of my best thinking in public. Alone and surrounded by strangers. Perhaps I don’t mean “best” in the strictest sense of the word, perhaps the word “productive” or even “critical” would work better. The point is- when I am surrounded by strangers, my imagination is opened, my introspective functionality is in high gear. Why? Maybe I am thrown into a mindset slightly more “out of body”. Perhaps, I am a little more subjective, perhaps I am just intrigued by the thought of someone being intrigued. Whatever the reason, I am here again, in public, apart from anyone I know well, and I am inspired to write.

Alone, in the late of night I am also inspired. I don’t find these two to be that much different.

Either way I am alone.

Either way I am apart from anyone who I feel l could call on for help. Anyone I feel connected to in any way. I am away from any lifeline or appendage of the body of which I claim to be a part. And thus, loneliness pushes me to creativity. Why? I have no idea, but this phrase keeps ringing around in my head like a horseshoe around the stake.

“Pain plants the flag of truth within a rebel fortress.”

This quote, from C.S. Lewis out of his book ” The Problem of Pain”, is a door into my thoughts this evening. Why do we have pain? Why do “bad things happen to good people” and the alternative/vice versa? Why does the young girl prostitute her body? Why does the orphan live in the dump? Why does the divorced man ponder suicide? These are questions I can’t answer, nor do I attempt to this evening. However, the question I delve into is: Why, at any point in my life, may it be the highest or lowest, do I have the propensity to feel completely alone? 

Right now I am surrounded by people. Some of the same faith as myself, some even with similar interests. Tomorrow I will be in a room with four hundred people singing, at the top of our lungs, songs of and to our Maker. And yet, in either of these situations I can, at any point, feel utterly alone.

Two questions enter my mind when diverging on this concept. 1. What is the cause of loneliness? 2. What is the purpose of loneliness?

  1. In Causality (the concept that everything we experience in life is either a cause or an effect, and that existence as a whole functions in this manner) to what cause belongs the effect of loneliness? Humanly speaking, I have a thousand reasons to avoid loneliness altogether. I am married to an amazing woman, I have a son who, for some undiscovered reason, thinks the world of me. I have an undeserved amount of close friends who I know would drop what they were doing in my time of need. So loneliness is an inquisitive disease to keep the doctors stumped. Humanly speaking, if I cling to reasonable/logical thinking, there is no true and justified cause to my loneliness. Yet, I am haunted by it at random intervals in my life. It is a ghost in my empty attic. It is the monster in my vacant closet. There is no sight of it, or sense to it’s presence, and yet I hear it mock me while I lie in bed at night. Outside of my analogical speaking, I have no reason to feel alone. Yet- I do, and I have every reason to believe that everyone I know at some point or another feels the same haunting feeling. It is pain, in the most tragic sense of the word, and it is incurable with the presence of even the closest friend. So what is the cause? Could it be that there is no cure for the sickness of loneliness outside of this mortal body? Could it be that the cure is to be in the presence of almighty God, apart from mortality, apart from a flawed existence, apart from all reality as I now know it. Could it be that we feel alone because we are temporarily separated from the closeness of which our very souls yearn? And, though we have an intimacy with God in this life, this periodic intimacy acts as a anesthetic as the pain of loneliness still rears its ugly head from time to time. So then, the cause of loneliness is the absence from our eternal home. And, though we are blessed with a torn veil and open access to the Father, the fullest cure our our disease is still to come.
  2. This question, is the next in the series. After theorizing the cause of loneliness, I must ask the question “Why?”. What is the purpose of loneliness. If God is who God claims to be, and His word is as He claims it to be, and if causality is truly functioning in our reality, then there must be a purpose to everything in existence. Thus I ask, “What is the purpose of pain?” (specifically loneliness). At this point I must pause to explain my realization, that I may not come to find this conclusion or the truest answer. I often set out in search for treasures I don’t achieve, but the hunt is sometimes fulfilling enough to head home empty handed. The journey still helps me to understand life and existence a little at a time, even if it doesn’t lead to the over-arching answer. And questions, after all, are what keep humanity both thirsty and somewhat simultaneously satiated so – I ask – “God, why are we incurably lonely?” This question brings me back to the quote from Lewis. Which then leads me to ask a few more questions. If pain plants a flag, what is it that the flag represents? Earlier, I related pain (and more specifically- loneliness) to a disease. But perhaps it is not the disease, but the symptom. Perhaps loneliness is the cough to the cold of displacement. Perhaps the flag is the representation of the Kingdom we all long for, and this Kingdom contains the cure for the disease with which we are all infected. If loneliness is a cough, and displacement is a disease, arrival in the presence of our Maker is the cure, and nearness to Him in this present existence is the anesthetic. We are sick, but we are thankful. For every time we cough, we are reminded of a home for which we long, and we are reminded to draw near to our Maker as much as is possible in this life.

I mean not to complain. I am, among so many I know, so richly blessed by the people I have in my life, and I have never been so grateful for each of them than now. But as I come to terms with my illness (displacement), I can better appreciate the community I have in this world. Though I am surrounded by strangers and the best of friends, we are all running together, towards our Maker. Along the way, reminding each other of our future home, and inviting those with whom we come in contact to a banquet of healing in our Father’s house. Community, unity, friends, family, are all an opportunity for thankfulness and a current life lived to the fullest, while loneliness serves us well as a reminder of the cure.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. He 11:1

1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:1-8

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