Life's Default Setting

"You can so stand it. After all, it's only pain. What makes it seem unbearable is your mistaken belief that it can be cured."

-Sheldon Kopp


The quote above was included in a presentation I saw recently while attending a three-week seminar for museum professionals. During the course of the three weeks we had discussed, among other things, the ways in which museums can help visitors deal with controversial and painful topics in society.

Given my own family's experiences with hardship and coming to terms with it, the quotation really struck a chord. I wrestled with whether the sentiment of the quotation is depressing or uplifting. In the end, I guess it all depends on how you look at it.

During the course of the seminar, I left for a weekend, because my wife's uncle was very sick. I was in the hospital room as he passed away. I was thankful I had made it back to see him before he died, but also saw and felt the raw emotion as his wife and children and their spouses said their last goodbyes to a man they loved so much. Shortly after returning, I was in another hospital, as my mother grappled with the onset of dementia.

Suffering seems to be the default setting in this life. No matter how affluent we are, no matter how much we engage ourselves in hobbies, entertainment, fitness, our work, etc. in order to escape it; we and those we love will face suffering and pain. In the end, death will claim us and our loved ones.

This can be a most depressing thought. In the end, nothing found in this world will stave off the inevitable suffering. It will happen. If it isn't happening to you right now, just wait awhile.

"In this world you will have tribulation..." These were the words of Jesus to his followers in John 16:33.  Some translations add abundance to the sentiment and speak of "many trials and sorrows." We live in a fallen, sinful world and so it is inevitable that we will suffer.

But, the full sentiment of Jesus' words in John 16:33 offers a hope. Jesus had just finished telling his followers that they would suffer as he was about to suffer (John 15:18-20). He warns that they will be persecuted and even killed by religious leaders (John 16: 1-3). He told them that he would be leaving them soon and they would weep and mourn the loss (John 16:5-6 & 16-20). But this message is interspersed with promises that the Holy Spirit will come to them, offering comfort and wisdom (John 15:26, 16:7-8 & 13-15).

Jesus doesn't hide the truth; he warns his followers that the road ahead will be hard. But why? What was his purpose for telling them of the trials that were in store for them? "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace, In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Amidst the pain and turmoil of life, Jesus promises that we can find peace.

Our troubles can seem unbearable as long as we think this life should be free of them. When we think this world is our source of happiness, comfort, and ultimate satisfaction, we are doomed to perpetual bitterness, anger, and frustration when it inevitably fails us. Our modern lifestyle and our culture promises so much that the world simply can't deliver. In that context, the quotation above seems to offer only hopelessness.

When viewed in light of Jesus' words and his deeds, which offer salvation and eternity outside of this fallen world, the quotation is a source of comfort and peace amid the storms of life.

Understanding that these present troubles are inevitable helps us let go of the world and its empty promises and cling more tightly to Christ and to the gospel. We will bear the troubles of this world for a time, but thank God there is a cure. And it is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


by Chris Gingrich