I’ve noticed that a lot of my posts on Christianity tend to focus on things like suffering and alienation. Some of this is that my personality has a melancholic and sometimes even morbid streak in it. And, of course, a religion which has a man nailed to a piece of wood as its central image is not going to be all puppy dogs and rainbows.
But it’s all too tempting to reduce it to that, and make Christianity into a sort of Schopenhauerian philosophy. Not in the sense of, “we shouldn’t look too much at the gloomy stuff because there’s all this good stuff”, but rather to understand the purpose of the gloomier side of things.
This is from the Gospel reading last Sunday (according to the older calendar):
Believe me when I tell you this, you will weep and lament while the world rejoices; you will be distressed, but your distress shall be turned into joy. A woman in childbirth feels distress, because now her time has come; but when she has borne her child, she does not remember the distress any longer, so glad is she that a man has been born into the world. So it is with you, you are distressed now; but one day I will see you again, and then your hearts will be glad; and your gladness will be one which nobody can take away from you. (John 16: 20-22)
The pain of childbirth is the result of the love between a man and a woman, and is undertaken out of love for the child. It’s a suffering that comes from loving another. Whatever suffering one finds by becoming a disciple of Christ is the sort of suffering that is undertaken because one loves, rather than a suffering for its own sake or merely to achieve a sort of self-mastery. Our own romances and friendships can be painful and terrifying and full of joy, and should man’s love affair with God – who is Love itself – be any different?