Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

Does Real Love Hurt?

In Heaven, Hell, Jesus, Love, Suffering on December 31, 2010 at 11:47 pm

This is a question I’ve been grappling with lately and just to warn you, I am not going to have a conclusive answer for you by the time you finish reading this post. But I have discovered a few surprising elements about this thing called love – however we might define it.

My dilemma begins with my 30 year belief in a Utopian type of heaven where tears have been wiped away and suffering is a thing of the past – forever and ever and ever. This is where love reigns and evil has been smoked out of existence and, apparently, even memory.

The problem with this concept of heaven is that it seems to be void of all reality. I’ve been coming across Christians who are discovering the love of God for the first time in their lives as they exit the church institution. This is a beautiful thing, except that they are so heavenly minded that they seem to be oblivious to the idea that suffering still exists.

While religion tends to detach us from the real world, I would say that discovering truth (or following Jesus – however you want to call it) should engage us more and more with reality. Our eyes are being opened. The veil is being lifted – not the other way around.

So, in facing stark reality, where discomfort and heartache will find us sooner or later, where does suffering stand in light of a good creator’s world? Even if God did not create evil and suffering, why did God create human beings with the capacity for it? Either way, God still seems responsible, if God is the source of all that exists.

We know now that justice includes mercy, but why doesn’t mercy completely obliterate the law of justice? What is the need for it when we can all just love each other and be happy? And how does suffering fit into our new theology of “God is love” anyway?

I am finding that love is not only sweetness and all things nice, but love is honest. It tells it like it is, whether we feel like facing that reality or not. It is not always gentle and kind – at least not for an ignorant being such as myself. And there is something inside of me that actually longs for this.

Suffering is often equated with hatred, or even a false love, or a selfish love. We blame wars on self-seeking leaders, poverty of the profiteers, accidents on irresponsibility…. We say that people only get hurt in relationships because they mistakenly placed their expectations in a fallible being. Of course they were disappointed. It was inevitable. Imperfect beings naturally hurt others, so don’t put your trust in them.

I think there is some truth in that. And I think that unconditional love is not co-dependent on others; since its source is itself, it can give to others without expecting any returns.

But if perfect love wants to engage with imperfect beings, the clash, friction and suffering is imperatively a part of the equation. And as a result, imperfect humans become enlightened and they grow. Perfect love is manifested (and therefore strengthened) as well.

Love is expressed in its deepest forms where it was most deeply needed.

It seems that real, perfect love could not be what it is apart from imperfect beings, and therefore, pain. Glory cannot exist apart from the journey it took to achieve it. Sin, evil, hatred… Is it all part of perfect love’s plan?

It sounds heartless – almost evil dictator like. It sounds like something an angry parent would say just before a child spanking: “This is for your own good!” And does this logically lead us to say that more evil begets more good so then we should therefore spread more evil?

But somehow maybe this seemingly messed up world really is for our own good. We can admit that imperfect love hurts people… but maybe perfect love hurts us too, for an invisible, divine reason that we can’t understand until after the facts.

Maybe heaven can only be experienced by passing through hell, or maybe the existence of hell is what makes heaven possible. And maybe – maybe – heaven and hell are the same state which we will all, including our creator, experience forever and ever and ever… or at least until we are strong enough to pass through the fire without getting burned.

But then, we need suffering in order to reach this strength as well as maintain it, and express it. And we must watch our loved ones pass through it as well. Stark reality.

Maybe suffering will always exist, and maybe it is a natural part of love. But maybe suffering will not always hurt us, as we develop a deeper understanding of love… through our suffering.

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  1. I truly enjoy reading your blog posts. You have a gift for putting into words things that I am working through in my head. I was just trying to explain the importance of suffering to someone the other day and how I couldn’t see us losing the need for it once we reached heaven. Suffering when you know what to do with it gives wings to your growth. As much as I don’t like being in the middle of suffering I can appreciate all that it does for me when I see how much I have changed during that period. Thanks for sharing your heart!

    Jason

  2. Heaven never really “worked” for me until I read Peter Kreeft’s Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing. He is a prof at Boston College and committed Roman Catholic. Has CS Lewis-like insight. He moves from the crass “how thick is the gold on the streets of heaven” to something my heart connects with and says “yes” to. I am an evangelical pastor and honor stories like yours. We have done a lot of damage by our thoughtless literalisms and legalisms. At some point you either have to drop out, shut up or reframe the discussion. I continue to believe in the Christ of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. But I am not satisfied with the Christ of much of evangelicalism as I know it.

  3. Hi Elizabeth,

    Your comments reminded of something I heard recently from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk in his 80’s (http://being.publicradio.org/programs/thichnhathanh). The said something like he would not like to bring (his) children into a world without suffering as suffering was the only means to understanding and expressing compassion. This sort of rocked my thinking as yes, I had bought into the typical contemporary ideas around heaven. My thoughts these days are around a creator who shares in our suffering – not in a gratuitous / vicarious way – but because that is the nature of life which includes vulnerability, personal choice and cause and effect.

    Thanks for you thoughts.

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