Survive Until You Thrive

My favorite author on grief and grieving is Doug Manning. I think he gets it right most of the time. However, Mr. Manning’s theory of why bad things happen doesn’t quite fit into my understanding of God. He approaches human suffering in a twofold explanation.

“…if bad things only happened to bad people we would all be good for the wrong reasons.

The other is an analogy that makes sense to him, but not to me.

“Life is like a card game and fate deals the cards. We want God to deal them and we want some way to ensure He will give us nothing but good cards. God’s role is to stand beside our chair and help us play whatever cards we are dealt. That helps some, but I still want Him to deal.” (“Thoughts for the Grieving Christian” by Doug Manning, page 42)

I don’t find a God in the scriptures that has turned that much of life over to fate. I find examples in scripture of God intervening sometimes and at other times of God’s favorite people going through severe tragedies with an amazing absence of intervention from God.

I think Dr. James Dobson gets the theology closer to correct in his book, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.”  He describes this life as “Faith Under Fire” beginning on page 143. Both authors I have mentioned say that we are going to have trials, difficulties, and problems that it rains on the just and on the unjust alike. Dobson’s view (and mine for what that’s worth) is that hardships are needed to make us into what we need to be. Military boot camp is one example of using hardships to make us into what we need to be.

Biosphere II is an unusual experiment in the American dessert. It is now owned by the University of Arizona. In the experiment a rather large dome (around 3 acres) was built (beginning in 1987) using advanced materials and technology to replicate earth’s environment. It was not a very successful experiment, but one of the interesting findings was the trees. Trees planted and given all the nutrients needed to flourish did not reach their potential. They grew to a mediocre height, and then began to break apart. It seems that one thing that trees need is the wind to bend them back and forth as they grow, and there was no provision for wind in Biosphere II.

Stephen Hawking, is acclaimed to be the most intelligent person since Albert Einstein. Hawking has a rare form of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) that is extremely slow acting. While I disagree with Hawking’s theology, or lack thereof, he said something very interesting that fits here.

“A physically handicapped person certainly cannot afford to be psychologically handicapped as well.”

In other words, a person faced with extreme physical hardship must press himself to get mentally tougher. Whining and self-pity, as logical as they may seem, are deadly indulgences. Within certain limits, adversity can have a positive effect on people by helping to build character. For the Christian, scripture says that it develops and enhances the characteristic called faith. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-4) Paul agrees, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) Jesus said it even more plainly, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24)

The Christian who has nothing but good things in their lives would be nothing better than the animal in the zoo after a lifetime of eat, drink and be merry…fat, flabby and barely able to do more than nap!

Forgive me if this seems harsh, and I realize that it might be harsh for those in the grip of difficulties today. However, habitual well-being is simply not an advantage.

Another example of this principle is the mahogany tree. When living in Bolivia I witnessed trees that had been harvested and loaded onto a truck that took up the entire 8 foot width and entire length of the truck. I have also seen those same kinds of trees planted in patios that didn’t grow as tall as the single story home…they didn’t even make good shade trees. The place to plant a mahogany tree is deep in the forest. It will grow tall and spindly until it reaches the top of the forest canopy. Then it will spread its limbs above the canopy and its trunk will grow strong, straight and tall. Yes, it takes many years to fill a truck with just one log, but left to the ecosystem of the forest it will get there. Placed in your backyard and guarded as your own special shade tree, it turns to nothing but shade, and so low to the ground you can’t really be comfortable sitting under it!

The place for a human being to thrive is in the presence of adversity, not in the absence of adversity. I don’t like adversity any more than you, but it seems necessary in order for us humans to thrive.