Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pain, experience, joy, life; what is God giving us?

I have been reading Stumbling on Happiness (both the book, and the blog). It was one more recommendation from the Freakonomics guys, and a good one, (I like Freakonomics, both the blog and the book). They steered me to the Shangri-la Diet (which led me to lose seventy pounds) and a number of good thoughts.

But Stumbling on Happiness hits a number of themes, from a different angle, that are a part of grief and recovery, life, experience and joy. I've been meaning to write about some of them, from before I started reading the book, when Nine Moons had this post: Does God Give Us Trials, If So Why?

This will be a long post, and I still do not have a way to start that isn't in the middle.

I've been a game designer. Much to my surprise, I still have people who like my work, though I haven't done anything new for a decade. I always enjoyed designing games, and watching them be played, more than playing them myself, and after I was contacted out of the blue (by a sort of "where are they now" group), I took a look at modern games.

One thing that has really gotten my attention is that there is a huge difference between the perspective of the player and the perspective of the character that is played in a game. A player will put a character through all sorts of things to gain experience or to have an adventure, things that they probably would not want to put themselves through. Or would they? How much, in this life, are we both a player and a character?

Even more, the things I would enjoy in play, you might not. Things other people enjoy, I was perplexed by. Some people just do not have any interest in playing games of any sort (not role-playing games, not chess, not checkers or Settlers of Catan) and just walk away.

Daniel Gilbert makes the point that people define their lives in terms of seeking to be happy, and that most people, looking back, are generally happy with their lives. I've gone through a good deal of tragedy, yet I find myself drifting into acceptance and happiness, over all, with my life. I find myself wondering, if I were playing a character, and learning from the experience, what character would I prefer to play? If life is merely a few spare hours in an eternal afternoon, where we have the chance to learn and experience on the way through the process, what would I choose to learn, to understand, to become in my life.

I think that is a question that we all need to ask.

Especially, since if we are spirits passing through a material world, with this life and reality like a soap film bubble in the eternities, most of the things we consider pain, or hardship or rewards are trifles. What matters are the things that a game player might seek: perspectives, knowledge, experience, wisdom.

In that framework, and knowing that it is our weaknesses that bind us together, not our strengths, if we treat God like a gamemaster or an enabler of the story we wish to tell, the experience we are seeking, God isn't so much giving us burdens or barriers as he is giving us the life we seek and making what we (as players) desire for ourselves (as characters).

Surely the emotions we feel are strong and real, much like the thrills on the best of amusement park rides or the empathy and pathos we experience in the best of theater or cinema, but they are not -- at the end of the day -- ones to regret.

Pain, experience, joy, life; what is God giving us?! -- only the things we need and want and desire and for which, in the end when we have been made complete (telos; mature; holy; perfect; merciful, as Christ commands), we will be grateful.


Anonymous said...

Nice... reminds of those lines from Stephen Crane:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.

I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

Anonymous said...

I try to keep an eternal perspective about my trials, of which there have been many the past few years. I believe that in some way I chose what I would go through and the things that I wanted to learn to become who I hope to become. As I yield to God's hand in my life, things have become softer and I am able to find peace and happiness even amidst some trying circumstances.

So, I like this view that we are both the player and the character acting out the part for a short time while here in mortality. I believe there is a lot of truth to it.

Anonymous said...

First, I am so sorry about your child. That hit me right in the stomach.

Second, I love this concept. That on a level deeper than I can comprehend, I desire those experiences of pain that I hate because I understand their benefit to my spiritual growth. That God truly does grant according to our desires.

I also wonder if suffering contributes to our development of charity. We know that it is one of the most important characteristics we can develop (and indeed God's main characteristic-- his glory being to help us). I sometimes wonder if, just as Christ "volunteered" to be a sacrifice for us, if some of these spirits who suffer so horribly "volunteered" for it to teach us charity. That would explain those lives that seem to exist and end in tragedy. Therefore it's all the more tragic when we are not charitable.

I'd like to know what you think about that. And thank you for sharing this with me.


Lisa M. said...

I love Stephen Crane.

Thank you Angry M, for those lines.

Maren and I have talked in depth about how we feel about trials, and the whys and reasons for them.

Siobhan, you have some really beautiful considerations, I think, in your statements.

Charity. The full love of Christ. The true concept of this... I really think is beyond our ability to ascertain.

Lisa M. said...

I too, would like to hear your comments on this Stephen.

Is your family home yet?

I have really been thinking about New York,I keep coming here for updates. I have been gone for a bit though, and might have missed back logs.

Thank you for the light you give us.

Stephen said...

I've often felt like the creature, but not for a very long time.

I'll have to write more on Paul and charity, in response to Siobhan.

Win and Heather come back tomorrow.

Darn, I miss them a lot.

Cyn Bagley said...

Hi.. Just wanted to say thank you for coming by my blog...

I don't believe that suffering comes from God... I have had my share and many times I have felt gentle hands take away the pain... I prefer to live life in the now... and the enjoy what I have... Because of my disease I live in the shadow of life and death... I embrace life.