Healing Yourself From Yourself (OR: The Problem Behind the Problem of Pain)

Everyone has baggage. Everyone has wounds. Everyone has demons in their closet. It is an unequivocal fact that everyone has a tragic backstory. It’s part of the Fall; it’s part of being human; it’s part of life.

Among the many attempted arguments against the existence of God, only two have ever held any weight: the Problem of Pain and the Problem of Evil. All the other diatribes against God are like resounding gongs and clashing cymbals, a stupid din of childish excuses. The problems of pain and evil are more; they are the heart of a deep rebellion, a gnawing nihilism. The realities of pain and evil are everyday, intimate experiences. In the face of such darkness, humanity cries out with Christ: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Once upon a time humanity fought bravely against the problem of Evil. Once humanity believed in the ideal of the gallant knight – an imperfect ideal, granted; a sexist, naive, one-dimensional ideal – and this ideal was of the man who conquers evil. As G. K. Chesterton says, chivalric tales were told “not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” We believed all this once upon a time, a long time ago, in a fairy land far away.

At some point the evil became too much for us. At some uncertain point we stopped believing in the existence of evil, even though it was and continues to be one of the most obvious facts of life. Perhaps our state of denial began during the Enlightenment, when humanity thought it would soon evolve ‘beyond good and evil.’ Perhaps it began during the World Wars, when we learned evil was here to stay. Whenever it happened, at some point the spirit of mankind got crushed and we stopped believing in evil because it was just too much.

However, even if we reject evil, we cannot reject pain. Thus the ‘Culture of Symptoms’ was born. We don’t treat colds; we treat all their symptoms. We don’t kill fever-causing bugs; we lower the fever. We don’t lead a healthy lifestyle; we try every weight-loss trick up Mr. Atkins’ sleeve. We don’t look at why a young boy can’t sit still in class; we say he’s ADHD and medicate him into a stupor.

We don’t treat evil; we treat its symptom: pain.

In nature, pain is a saving thing. If it were not for pain, we would hold our hand over fire until it burst into flame. Pain is our body warning us that something is wrong. Pain is the guardian of evolution.

But… what about spiritual pain?

Anyone who has felt true human suffering knows that everything I’ve said so far is insensitive nonsense. When we are faced with life’s real pain, like isolation, loneliness, death, unrequited love, yearning, sorrow, and failure, there is nothing more real in the world. True pain eclipses everything else. How can I talk about “in nature” and “according to evolution” in times like these? I can’t. What I can say is that these impersonal forces in nature point to a deeper, personal force in the spiritual life.

What am I saying? Like natural pain, spiritual pain points to something that’s gone wrong. It’s the soul’s desperate attempt to fix things. Just as a hand over the fire feels pain, a soul feels pain when it reaches the edge of the abyss. Just as a body induces a fever to fight sickness, our soul induces crisis to fight evil.

In other words, if we want a cure from pain, we need a cure for evil.

When we talk about evil, what are we talking about? Are we talking about violence, hatred, abuse, war, greed? Do we mean these things as forces external to us? Most likely, we do. Most likely, we think of ourselves as victims of evil, which we are. However, all these things are uncontrollable and beyond our grasp. We have no say in whether someone hurts us. What we do have a say in is how we respond to that evil.

So now we must passed on from the terrible wars and rivalries that rip us apart, the jealousy and gossip that ruins our reputation, and the fists and insults that tear into us. We’ must pass into the inner place, where these external things have no control. What do we find there? What is going on within us?

Do not point out the needle in your neighbor’s eye when you have a log in your own eye. (Matt 7:3)

If we examine ourselves, we will inevitably find addictions, envies, vanities, grudges, open wounds, pathologies, and self-destructive patterns. It’s all the closeted shit that we hide from the rest of the world behind a brave face or aggressive personality or religious persona, or any other number of masks we use to make others believe we’re doing just fine.

How do we overcome these inner demons? Rare individuals like the unbelievable Teddy Roosevelt have risen past their fears to accomplish ‘great things,’ but their very bravado hints at an underlying insecurity. Alexander the Great accomplished the ‘human dream,’ and yet he still died in pain and fear. 200,000 years of human despair says we cannot win against these demons.

As a Christian I believe there is only one response to this problem of inner evil. That response is a person. That person is Christ. He is a strange person, a paradox in his very nature. He stands with one foot in heaven and one on Earth. He bridges them as no one ever could, yet, when we look at this Christ we do not see painlessness. Instead, we see a man almost swallowed by pain, a man who experienced more pain than any other person in history. And yet, we see behind his divine eyes a happiness and joy too good to be true.

Christ is compassionate beyond reason, and he desires us to have joy and life “in abundance.” However, many Christians take this to mean that Christ wishes to remove our pain. Joy is not found in painlessness; if you want a reprieve from pain, try either anesthesia or death, two very similar states. Joy is found in a curing of the wound within that swallows up our life. Just as a cancer patient can never feel entirely well even if all her symptoms are medicated, we can never feel entirely well even if all our pain is removed. Christ offers the cure for evil and the death of the soul.

Why did we just go through this inward journey into our ‘heart of darkness’? We had to make this journey because, although Christ’s redemption is unconditional, it is also voluntary. The only thing between us and Christ’s love is ourselves. The only thing between us and God is pride.

All those problems we confessed earlier – envy, addiction, pain – are ultimately excuses. At the end of the day there is only one thing that keeps us from God. Even behind the seemingly strong problem of pain is nothing but the problem of our own self-idolatry. At the end of the day we know that all these other things, all these “inner demons,” are helpless before the power of God. We know deep down that if we give everything to God, he will fix these things. Evil may be real, Satan may tempt us, but all the dark powers in the universe are irrelevant next to the power of God. Deep down, we know this.

So why don’t we give all to the Lord? The reason is deep down at the kernel of our rebellion. Deep down, we know that giving ourselves to God, even so that he can fix us, is an admittance of defeat. Deep down we know that as soon as we surrender to Christ, we also surrender any chance of being our own self-sufficient god. This is the deepest sin of mankind: our desire to be loved on our own terms, to act on our own terms, to be alone. We whine and complain that we’re all alone, but at the end of the day we have exiled ourselves.

These words seem harsh, but they are touching on the very Beauty of Existence. All the great Saints have said that humility is the key to holiness. Why? Because at the end of the day the choice is a simple, tender one. At the end of the day all our false machismo or femme fatale or self-sufficient or perfectionistic or pious or fearful or pretentious or individual or genius or self-respecting facades break down, and we are left with a sweet and simple choice.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life! (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Do we choose to embrace ourselves (masturbation, isolation, vanity, narcissism, selfishness, death)? Or do we choose to embrace the very font of Existence, Christ (Way, Truth, Life, Joy, Love, Peace, the Other, the Beauty, the Lover)? What an easy choice! What are we waiting for!? Choose!

Don’t you see!? When we journey inward to the deepest part of our soul, the part where there resides the throne of God’s divinity, and when we realize that we have removed God from that throne and put our own ego there instead, then we realize that we can begin again! The moment we realize that we are freely choosing our exile from Eden is the moment we realize we can freely choose Life instead. This ugly, dark “bottom of the barrel” in our souls is the foundation of a new beginning. There is nowhere to go but up. When we realize our own darkness, we become light. All we have to do is accept the help of Christ. He does not treat symptoms; he treats the problem.

I beg everyone who reads this post to examine themselves and humbly admit a simple fact:

“I have sinned. I have done terrible things.”

The world would like to say that we cannot admit this, and that it only creates guilt and shame. Yet, despite our ‘guilt-free’ culture, we all feel its sting regardless. We live lives of hidden guilt and shameful insecurity. As soon as we admit our guilt and beg for forgiveness from the One who heals, our shame becomes a thing of the past. As long as Christ is the ruler of our actions, admitting our sins is not the beginning of guilt but the end of it.

I beg everyone who reads this post to repent. The kingdom of God is at hand! Realize you have sinned, and repent. These are harsh words, but they are words that heal. Let yourself cry, let yourself realize your shame, let yourself crumble, and then be healed. Christ will be there to do the healing. You will expect him to slap you, reprimand you, curse you, but instead you’ll find a fresh world that you thought was not possible.

Come home. The Way has been paved. Nothing is stopping you but yourself.

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