Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Shadows of Suffering

No blog can begin to address in just a few words the problem of suffering. But perhaps it can shed light on it, that the shadows effected by that light might tell a story.

national-lotteryThe content of this story is not entirely unknown. Indeed, certain aspects of it have been in the news lately. Let’s start with the recent account of a woman by the name of Jane Park in England’s green and pleasant land. While one news outlet salaciously focused on Jane’s corporal curves, the real story lies in her revolting rebuke of Britain’s national lottery. Now, for the record, I am not defending the lottery system, an institution that raises false hopes and essentially institutionalizes, with the state’s smiling approval, gambling. It is an obvious fact that the poor play the lottery, not the rich, so it is a clever tax on the poorest of the poor, engendering false hopes of false happiness, the proof of which is evident in the cantankerous claim of this tetchy (if buxom) protestor. Her complaint? “… it feels like winning the lottery has ruined my life. I thought it would make it ten times better, but it’s made it ten times worse,” she told a reporter. “I wish I had no money most days. I say to myself, ‘My life would be so much easier if I hadn’t won.’” According to that same news source, she is “… seeking legal assistance …” to file … “a lawsuit against UK’s National Lottery.”[1]

Let us contrast this kind of human suffering with another piece that has recently been in the news. A ten-year-old lad named Benjamin responded to a school assignment that required him to complete lines in a poem. The teacher had eighteen partial verses, beginning with simple phrases such as “I see,” “I feel,” and “I am.” Benjamin’s mother made the completed poem available to the National Autism Association which posted it on Facebook.[2] His exquisite lyrics tell the story of human suffering from the inside out, as true a first person narrative as one will ever read.benjamin-poem

How do these two instances of human suffering explain the problem of pain? They obviously do not. But they do suggest what you can do with pain. You can look at it and feel sorry for yourself, or you can stare it down and be bold and courageous. Martin Luther believed that our will is so bound by sin that we cannot do that in our natural state. Perhaps, and maybe more than just perhaps, he is right; we do need help. That’s the idea behind treatment programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other “unashamedly Christian”[3] recovery programs. That said, we can certainly see in any of our fellow human beings behaviors that are admirable and those that are not. I leave it for you to decide which of the two of these folks who suffer, Jane or Benjamin, have dealt with it in a more admirable way. One need not look very far or try very hard to find the answer.

Frontispiece of the first translation (1823 by Henry Cole) of Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will (1525)





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