Monday, December 26, 2011

Pain, Suffering, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was on ABC yesterday. I watched it but skipped the movie that followed it; this seemed like a good idea since the cartoon needed only 30 minutes to cover what the movie dragged out for 2 hours or so.

So I watched this cartoon, and I thought the same thing I’ve always thought about the Whos in Whoville. I hate the Whos in Whoville--always have, probably always will. Bear in mind that this is not even to say that I was ever a fan of the pre-repentant Grinch, which I am not. No, I still hate the Whos and after watching the show yesterday I think I know why.

Just look at the Whos. It’s not so much that they look smug or condescending with their eyes shut as they dine at the dinner table, looking like they think they’re too good to look at the others around them. No, the reason I dislike them is different I think. The Whos of Whoville are the kinds of persons you would never want you or others to be like: innocent.

That is, the Whos have no appearance of being anything more than naïve, ignorant, non-world-wise, sheltered, untested creatures who know nothing but happiness, perfection and convenience. They go about with their eyes shut and a dumb smile on their face completely unaware of the dangers of the world around them and completely without any inkling of what it is deal with any degree of trials, tribulations, trouble, suffering or inconvenience. Even real-life infants are less sheltered and less pathetic than Whos, because when infants cry you know that not all is well with them.*

Now, imagine for a moment what the world would be like if all persons were as sheltered and ignorant as are the Whos--creatures who have never so much as chipped a fingernail, stubbed their toe, spent more than 10 minutes on homework, broken a sweat during exercise or manual labor, etc. Perhaps you would not mind if everyone were like this and if you too were such a person. Personally, I would despise everyone around me if all people were like this; I would equally despise myself if I would look at myself from a third-person perspective and see an alternate reality version of myself as such a creature.

With only a few exceptions, no one on this earth likes pain, discomfort or inconvenience. At the same time, there really is something to be said of what pain, discomfort and inconvenience can do to and for a person. For there is something to be said, for instance, for objects which suffer a trial by fire and survive such a thing, like silver put to the fire and cleared from dross. The bottom line is that objects which survive fiery trials--whether literal and figurative--are relatively better than objects which have not done so, pure and simple. In fact, this fact of intuition (or so I claim it is) is one reason, for example, that we place such high value on objects in a museum: any sword which was forged one thousand years ago and survives the ravages of decay and time is in some way greater than something you might shape today with your own hammer, anvil and blast furnace. That’s the way it is.

Again, no one on this earth likes pain, discomfort or inconvenience all that much, especially when those things are still in progress and have not yet run their course. Nevertheless, that same pain, discomfort and inconvenience improves both humans and the human condition on this earth. These things produce patience, perseverance, strength, and character when they are suffered or otherwise mastered. They also enhance the culture around us; for the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” speaks at least of inconvenience, and something as simple as the invention of a toothbrush would not have come about were it not for some particular rotten tooth or some particular instance of bad breath that someone had way back when. Moreover, they allow those of us who have passed through the fire to be of help to those who are passing through the fire, as anyone who has been paying attention to the apostle Paul’s epistles will recall.

So at the end of the day, pain, discomfort or inconvenience often have the result of benefiting the human race. Even the annoying traits of the residents of Whoville that I suffer through in watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” gives me (to mention just one person) the opportunity either to better understand why God allows evil or at least to exercise some brain power in composing this blog post.

So the world in which we live is actually not as bad as one might think. Nevertheless, never forget that even this world is not the best of all possible worlds. The best of all possible worlds is one which is populated by individuals who are battle-scarred yet no longer have to face the trials, tribulations and battles of old. Be cheerful because that world currently is not far away.

* Apparently even the angels of heaven do not lead an entirely unsheltered existence, judging from Revelation 12.7.

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