Ponder an image with me: A man puts his left hand, palm down, on a work bench. With his right hand, he picks up a battered old hammer. And then he brings the hammer down, hard. I am wondering if metal on flesh would make a sound, moments before the man lets out a wail. He grits his teeth. Looks at the hammer. And then, he does it again.
In some sense, that is what we are called to do. Smash our hand. Take on the pain. Wait a moment. And then? Do it again.
This has been on my mind recently. I have been in several diffferent conversations about people who have been hurt. One is a person who I know to be incredibly open, and kind, and brave. He was hurt, and he said, “I don’t know if I will be able to trust people again.” Two of the others have been hurt by people in the church. It was said about one of them, “She’s fine with God, but she is having some trouble with God’s people.”
That last sentiment, it has practically become a cliche. But like many clichés, it has become a cliche because there is truth dwelling in it: the armies of people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious are a manifestation of this idea, too. Sometimes, it is easier to deal with God than God’s people. It is certainly less painful.
There is something in us that runs from pain. I suppose that this is generally a good thing. We learn not to touch the hot stove, we learn not to test a knife by running our fingers over the edge, we learn not to antagonize the kid who is stronger than us and quite willing to beat us to a pulp.
And yet, we are called to transcend this. We are called to open ourselves to pain.
Perhaps it is familiarity that dulls us to this. But a thing that I don’t think gets as much notice as it should, is how leads us by example in this.
For now, I will leave aside the example of Jesus’ crucifiction. Consider the Garden of Eden. There are all kinds of remarkable things in this story. But maybe the most remarkable? The creator of the universe was willing to allow himself to be vulnerable to these flawed, broken, fallible little creations of His.
In some sense, on some level, it must have been a choice. God might have kept himself above the goings-on in the Garden. He cast aside his invulnerability in allowing himself to care for Adam and Eve in a way that is, perhaps, echoed by Jesus casting off his divinity to enter the created world.
There must be some limits to this. We are not expected to submit ourselves to the abuse of an abuser. I think the beginning of these limits lays in love: it is not loving to allow an abuser to abuse us. But I think more needs to be worked out, more needs to be said, about how we find the limits of what we should be willing to sacrifice. (As always, reader, if you have some thoughts, I would love for you to comment below)
Regardless of what those limits are, regardless of how we ought to find them… we are called to do a very unnatural thing. We are called to be open to pain. This open-ness to pain, this vulnerability, this is a deep and mystical thing about the way that God works in the world.
Perhaps this is the meaning of Christ being in us: He dwells in the very deepest parts, waiting. And when we take pain into ourselves, when we bring it to those places, he waits there, transforming it into something bigger, better, glorious, triumphant.