This amazing find in the world of Moth comes to us from Brooks Tate. 

k3ebp2iywembers4sfbvHave you ever had this experience? You are driving, listening to talk radio, and you find yourself in the midst of the most remarkable story. Some voice is just talking and saying the most amazing things. You find that you’re being pulled into a trance…until, well, you arrive at the office or gym or wherever it was you were driving to, click off the ignition and keep going about your day.

I had this experience a few weeks ago. Twice. In the same weekend I heard the same part of the same story. Twice. And both times, rather than stopping and listening to this great story, I just kept chugging through my life. However, this brief part that I actually did hear kept rattling around in my head. This is what I heard.

…The thing from those days, she listened, which was amazing, because what people did, and they’re all very well meaning, but they had one of three responses. The first response was – when I tried to talk about my feelings and of my fear and this turmoil in my head – they said, “Well everything happens for a reason.” And that made me want to punch them in the face and ask them if they knew what the reason for that was.

The second thing that people tended to say was, “You’ve just got to get over it man. You’re alive. You’re lucky. You’ve just got to put this in the past and just move on and gather yourself together.” And that made me want to stab them six times and come back and talk to them in six months and go, “So how’s it working out? Do you have any advice for me now? Because I could really use some help from somebody who knows what I’m going through.”

The third thing that people would say, and again they’re very well meaning, it just was absolutely no help, was that, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The problem with that was that I felt like I had come to New York, I had started this little business, I had built a life, and I had lost everything. I had lost my apartment, my business. I’d got no help. This girl that let me move in with her was getting a little worried because I was so sad all the time, and I felt like you could actually…I felt like I was actually broken, that things could happen in your life that would just break a man and that not only you wouldn’t be stronger, but you would never have ever again what you had before. I felt like things had slipped in a way that I just would never be able to recover…

Ignition. Door. Walking to the gym.

If I had stayed put in my idling car, I might have learned that I was listening to The Moth Radio Hour and hearing Ed Gavagan tell his story, “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me.” This story, beginning middle and end, is worth your full attention.

In the beginning (yes, the beginning which I missed the first two times), Ed tells about how his routine life in New York City abruptly changed one day when several teenagers, seeking initiation into a gang, stabbed Ed six times. Surprisingly Ed lived. Unsurprisingly Ed suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, and his life unraveled. In the selection above, Ed describes the “comfort” he received from his friends. It sounds like the comfort Job’s friends had for him. Well meaning. Just absolutely no help.

All this got me thinking (as I was in the gym, not listening to Ed tell his end of the story) and remembering Francis Spufford’s chapter, “Hello, Cruel World” in his Unapologetic. In this chapter Spufford takes on the problem of pain. It’s something that all Christians (or, for that matter anyone believing in a loving God and a harsh world) must do. “How can God love me and let teenagers nearly kill me with a knife?” Spufford even says that it is faith that creates the problem of pain, as an indifferent world certainly allows for random violence.

Spufford articulates the common answers to the problem of pain that we have come up with:

  • “We suffer because God is refining us.”
  • “We suffer because God has a plan in which our suffering is necessary.”
  • “We suffer as a part of a package deal that gives us free will.”
  • “We suffer, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s only a momentary prelude to heaven.”
  • “We suffer because the world is not as God intended it to be.”

But then, Spufford pokes hole in all of these answers, noting that the one thing they have in common is that, “None of them quite work.”

So then how does Spufford deal with the problem of pain? How does Ed Gavagan deal with PTSD? How do we deal with suffering? To me, part of the trick must be to stop coming up with our own answers. Another thing that all those theodicies have in common is that they are made with human hands. In a way, they’re kind of idols. Each answer is something we’ve come up with inside our own heads. It’s logic that we could do while covering our eyes and plugging our ears. But, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, we can look around and maybe perceive how God has answered the problem of pain. In Unaplogetic Spufford’s “Hello, Cruel World” chapter is followed by his “Yeshua” chapter. To our pains and grievances, God’s answer is, “I am with you. I suffer too.”