The Problem of Pitiable Pain

The Problem of Pitiable Pain April 20, 2018
  1. The Agony of the Delayed Flight

I think the person in despair, because of our delayed flight, ranting, and careening, attempting to do something, was wasting his life. He would “scratch his way” to the front and so he did.

What to do instead?

Let’s glory in the Union, fight hard for our beliefs, relax a bit as well, and be thankful. Perhaps, we should thank God as well for living in a good time.

We can let the fear of happiness go for a minute. The somebody somewhere who is sad will not be happier if I am less happy right now.

What Made Me Amazed and Happy and Nagging Thoughts that Limit Happiness

The last three days have been amazing: Texas, California, Illinois, New York. I am amazed that with some comfort I am able to be in four different regions of our nation in four days. This adventure happened on a business trip, one like  many of my friends do every week or so, but that was amazing to me: four major cities in four days.

Open my eyes and I see: O. Henry’s New York City, the American City of the 21st Century Houston, The Bay Area in the Golden West, and Chicago, City of the Colombian Exposition of 1893. What larks! Just as I start to cheer up, I realize the email will come. If I am happy, then more loving souls will point out how many people in the world cannot take such a trip.

This is true and I am sorry that this is so.

Every church, school, or commmunity has the man who will point out how much better things should have been, not matter how great things are. If I think this trip glorious, then I will get an email stating that our failure to build a bullet train, or the fly the Concorde, or to have warp drive by now, means I should be disappointed.

I do long to ride a bullet train, the Concorde looked cool when not blowing up, and don’t we all want to say let alone travel-  “full ahead warp factor 2?”

So there is that.

My response could be a rant about how ungrateful we all are, how we have the Internet, a tool we did not anticipate when Star Trek was made, and peasants like I am have affordable air travel.


All of that is so and the airport in which I was stuck had a stirring tribute to the heroes of the Battle of Midway, but I am still tired even if I face no peril equal to that which brought the first Reynolds to Virginia somewhere in the 1620’s. My most uncomfortable moment today would be paradise to Christopher Reynolds on his little ship, but I am not Christopher Reynolds and so I am tired. The six hour delay was not all Battle of Midway display and a decent lunch.

And that irritation and the more nagging back pain and other ailments of age and travel hint at certain problems people have with God and the goodness of the world.

A Feeling that Sometime Crops Up Related to God: the Problem of Pitiable Pain

How good does the world have to be for God to be good?

How many people have to be able to fly? Is flight good, given environmental impact? How much food is enough, health is enough, school is enough, given that we must die to get to the next level? If everyone had always lived as I do now, then would God be just? What if everyone could span a continent in three days?

Should we then wonder what happened to the Concorde? Would a good God cause me to miss my concert or suffer back pain because the chairs are so hard? Why is my spine the way it is? Ouch. Where is the plane?

I think of this as the problem of pitiable pain: irritation that if we do not think about it makes us surly and motivates us, if we do not stop ourselves, to demand a theodicy and then pretend it is a about famines and plagues. In reality it is the fact that the pre-boarding line was too line and we felt cheated in our upgrade cost.

The irritation, unchecked, looked for reasons to rail at the Heavens. We disguise the pitiable nature of our complaints by pretending they are something they are not: a serious intellectual problem.

The problem of pain is real, God help me I know it is real and I know so many folks who know it much better than I do. Nothing I will say is directed to the deep hurt that has been the subject of philosophy for centuries. Instead, I wonder if much of our problem with God is not the problem of irritation. Things hurt more, because so few things now hurt.

Yet there are also pains that previous generations took as part of living, growing old, and dying. Dental pain once was a painful problem to cure, if there was a cure, yet few great texts I read make much of it. People, even the people who wrote books, already a very privileged lot, almost all traveled less in a lifetime than I have in four days. The trip from London to the Lake District seems more wonderful somehow, even if it is shorter, in their writing.

This is a disease of privilege. We daren’t complain, because we are blessed, but we do mutter in our hearts, because we are demanding. What life would good enough? I suspect that if we do not learn contentedness, the ability to find our fun in most normal circumstances, we would find irritations in Heaven. If you are the chap would who wanted to know everyone’s boarding number so he could get ahead of everyone he could, might look for an angle in the New Jerusalem. A man will be hard to please who would say: “We are going to New York. We have to get every advantage we can.” I hope not be in line with him at the Pearly Gates.

I need to make sure that I do not demand of the cosmos some weird “perfection” as if my happiness is the reason for creation. The passenger who got to the front, his place, by scratching and clawing was angry that the airline was doing this to him. Nobody bothered to tell him that all the schedules in all that vast company were not thrown off in a plan to inconvenience him. And I can be this way with my dissatisfaction masked with some more noble complaint.

Let’s avoid the false problem of pitiable pain.

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