Arguably the most useful course in my Theology Masters program was God, Evil and Suffering. And arguably the most useful exercise we did throughout the semester was classify suffering. It’s not all the same, and it’s not all equal. One type of suffering we explored was the suffering attached to the experience of our human limitation. We get hungry and thirsty. We need sleep. Our bones break. We get sick. We die. Humans have inside of us a desire to be God, to be invincible, to be immortal. But, alas, we are not. God is God and we are not. When we strive to be more and run into our own human limitations, it hurts. There is real suffering involved.
We see both the striving to be God and the suffering that comes with limitations all over our stories in the Bible. Even in our creation story, that explains who we are and whose we are, Adam and Eve experience limits before sin is ever introduced into the equation. There is no moral component to this suffering, there is no evil involved, and it is worth noting that there is good in limits, too. Good food tastes amazing. A long nap is enjoyable. Striving is fun even when we fall short. Knowing our mortality encourages us to cherish the life we have. It is not the same at its core as suffering that comes out of evil, injustice, or violence. But it still hurts.
These themes have surfaced watching my little boy start to stand and crawl. There is pure joy on his face as he makes his way to the next room or heads for a toy he wants on his own. His face brims with pride, his chest puffed out, with each growing moment he stands on his own. With this newly found power and ability, however, comes more bumps and bruises. He spends more time frustrated. Now that he can crawl, he wants to run. And as he slips and bumps his head, I can see him classifying the hurt as he assess the pain. He is both celebrating being human and experiencing the suffering that comes from the limits of being human.
Since his birth, I have been experiencing this new found love every day. It can be overwhelming in its goodness and intensity. In the last nine months, I have had thoughts that I never had before. His presence is pure love and our connection is so strong, I have had thoughts of not wanting to die. These thoughts surprise me in part because I have no reason to think I will die soon, but also because of their realness and intensity. I want to watch him grow forever. This knowledge of my limits is a pang in my heart, but also a sweet blessing that helps me stay present and cherish now. He and I are both relishing in the gift of life and the adventure of being human, and deciding together, I think, that the freedom is worth it despite and because of the bumps along the way. That’s not always true of all kinds of suffering. The experience of human limitation, well, the hurt is part of the story, which ultimately is good.