Suffering and the Culture of Technique
To choose to go on is to proclaim with your life, and at the risk of tremendous suffering, that it is good. Even when it is hard, it is good. Even when you don't feel that it is good, even when that goodness is unimaginable, it is good. When we act on that goodness by rising out of bed, when we take that step to the block in radical defiance of suffering and our own anxiety and depression and hopelessness, with our heads held high, we honor God and His creation, and we testify to our family, to our neighbors, and to our friends of His goodness. This act is worship (Kindle location 352).
While it is terrible (and occasionally horrifying) to be under a cloud of depression or anxiety, you also have the chance to testify to God's goodness. By watching you endure, others will know that it is possible to keep going. (Kindle location 722).
I found many of his thoughts, especially in the section on our contemporary culture of technique, applied to my physical suffering due to chronic illness and breast cancer also. In brief, the concept of a “culture of technique” implies that suffering is the exception rather than the rule. If one finds the right technique of diet/exercise/money management/supplements/productivity, suffering is avoidable or at least fixable. This feels true because it is so pervasive in our culture, but it does not align with the Bible’s teaching or millennia of human experience.
The fallout from that myth is the insinuation that suffering people are at fault to some degree for their affliction and can get out of it through their own efforts if they just ___________. This adds to the shame of physical and emotional suffering and contributes to the felt need to keep one’s suffering invisible. This harms rather than helps. In reality, much suffering occurs independent of the hurting person’s choices and techniques. (See the book of Job.) The Bible affirms throughout that life is hard, and life is good, and God’s grace is bigger than our suffering.
The Myth of Utilitarianism and the Grace of God
…the only reason to keep living is if you live before God for His glory. If His Word is true, then we were divinely created to glorify Him and enjoy Him always. And our creation was a fundamentally good act—good and prodigal. Neither earned nor necessary but a gracious gift. And when we live in gratitude, recognizing and delighting in this life, we honor God (Kindle location 864, emphasis mine).
The only other reasons to live are for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil, and they only care about you so long as you are useful to them (867).
Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can't. There is nothing He needs. You can't cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That's not why He created you, and it's not why He continues to sustain your existence in the world. His creation of you was gratuitous, prodigal. He made you just because He loves you and for His own good pleasure. Every other reason to live demands that you remain useful, and one day your use will run out (885, emphasis mine).
Even when you can't feel it or rationally understand it, life remains good. And while suffering is a normal part of fallen human life, it is not the essence of life. At the center of existence is not suffering but grace—the grace of Christ. The grace that created you, that cleanses you from all unrighteousness and provides all the blessings of this life (Kindle location 883).
The same God who sent His Son to die for you sustains your existence and created you—you—miraculous you, because He loves you. Whether you believe it or not. At the heart of being is grace, not suffering. ‘For nothing is real save his grace.’ We will forget this fact many times throughout our lives. The task before us is to hold each other up, to remind one another of the truth that is truer than our deepest misery, to attend to the gift God has given us, and to accept that our lives are good even when we do not feel that goodness at all (Kindle location 895).
Dear suffering saint, you are a miracle. God made you because He loves you. Your life is a gift. Suffering may be the loudest part of your present experience, but it is not the defining essence of your life. That is grace. Your life is good and precious even when you feel the opposite. Courage, dear heart.
Do the Next Thing
Your task is to be faithful: to do the next thing. And when you cannot get up on your own, let someone carry you, knowing that in due time you will be called on to do the same for others. And when you are blessed with the responsibility of carrying someone else, then your own experience with suffering, your own experience of depending on others, will give you the wisdom and empathy you need to love them well. Christ's body here on Earth is one of His greatest mercies to us. It's the only way we make it through (Kindle location 927).