Fire and Pain

Now how’s that for a provocative headline, eh? Probably going to talk about hell and damnation today, right?


I don’t know how many of you are into metallurgy, but when you’re putting ores and additives through the process of making some metal or alloy of metals, as I understand it, you end up with something called dross. It’s kind of like the scum you get on top of the soup you’re cooking, except with metal, it’s a lot more important to scoop that crap off unless you want buildings falling down and cars falling apart.

So to refine metal, to get out its impurities, it has to go through the fire.

Nothing new there. Nor is it new to apply that philosophy to life. The bible talks about putting people through the metaphorical fire to make them into something stronger. It’s a philosophy that also exists outside religion: “No pain, no gain” and “You have to pay your dues” are just two examples.

Generations X and Y have been accused of laziness and complacency at times. It’s true and it isn’t. (I’m an X, by the way…nice to meet you). It’s said that we rely too much on our parents and that we aren’t willing to work responsibly or work hard.

The truth is more that the world changed, and X and Y got faced with entirely new economic dynamics and new rules that don’t always respond to the solutions that suited Baby Boomers and their immediate predecessors.

But in there is also some truth in the criticism, and I see it more the older I get. Members of Generations X and Y can be a bit quick to want recognition and reward, before they’ve proven themselves. They can be fabulously self-centered in ways that are distinct from the often self-absorbed and sometimes self-important Baby Boomers.

But one thing about the Baby Boomers is that they were able in many cases to achieve and build nest eggs and help their progeny get going in life. They may have been less religious and less dogmatic than their parents, but they still often saw value in religion and in seeking God.

I wonder, though, if the increasing way that people are distancing themselves from God, especially in the younger generations, has more to do with the way the world is going and the way we X’s and Y’s see the world. And perhaps less about reason and science making religion irrelevant.

You see, too often, we young-ish folks (if I can still call myself that at 41) want results with minimal work. We want answers and solutions now. We don’t want to wait on God. And so when God doesn’t respond to us immediately, and we look back at history and say, “why does he let this crap happen” we decide that He must not exist. Because if He won’t just give us what we want now, how could He?

Too many of us don’t value the notion that we are works in progress. That our time on this planet is less about getting what we want and more about learning lessons. It’s a lesson that even atheists should take to heart more often. Because particularly for those who don’t believe there is anything beyond this life, there is precious little time to grow up and make something useful out of oneself.

For those who are agnostic, or those who, like me, are in a faith walk with God, it’s time for us to realize that we are put through a fire. We are meant to feel pain. It’s terrible when some people have to live with almost nothing but pain and stress and misery, but we humans aren’t alone in that. We like to think we are, but we’re not.

Whether you want to credit evolution (genetic and social both) or God’s will…or a combination of the two…a pristine, trouble-free world isn’t the kind of world that will push us to become something stronger or smarter or more useful to ourselves and others.

Pain is necessary. Whether we like it or not, we must all pass through the fire, some of us more often than others.

We need to pay our dues. We need to see the value in that and make something good out of it in the end. Or at least as good as we can.

If we don’t, we remain children. We don’t grow. Not in this world, and not in God’s plan.

6 thoughts on “Fire and Pain

  1. Deacon Blue

    Thanks, sir. After I wrote it, being inspired by events in my life that are really only tragic to me and Mrs. Blue, I wasn’t sure if I was rambling wildly…fueled only on ruminations of my own senseless pity parties.

  2. Kit (Keep It Trill)

    What, if after you go through the fire, there’s nothing left because the heat was so high that it consumed not only the dross, but you? I’ve always seen a lot of unhappy endings in people’s lives, but with this economic depression I’m seeing more, from middle class Gen X & Y’s ending up in unthinkable positions.

    I don’t even know what to tell folks any longer. I don’t imagine you have the answer, Deacon, but any thoughts are appreciated.

  3. Deacon Blue

    I don’t have any answers that would probably do much to soothe the mind and spirit of someone who’s going through a lot of suffering…nor for anyone who watches someone else go through it and feels deeply for them, whether out of personal attachment or empathy.

    What I can say is this, and while it isn’t comfort, it is at least illumination, if only in part:

    From the spiritual side, the problem is choice. Everyone has choices and everyone has freedom to do good or evil, make the right choices or wrong ones. The moment God consistently micromanages personal or world affairs, that choice becomes meaningless. Our free will becomes meaningless. Now, I know the Bible talks of God meddling in things, but again, my focus is on “consistently.” God had specific reasons to bring attention to himself and Israel at specific times as He led things up to Jesus’ arrival.

    Yes, God answers prayers, but rarely with a magical snap of the fingers. We are often presented with opportunities at those times He answers us, or our help comes from unexpected directions. But it’s usually about moving people and situations subtly. And that means that other people with free will have the chance to make the wrong choice…the very people who might help. It’s a complex dance, and for the most part, we dance it on our own and God lets us, though sometimes he’ll tweak something here or there, much like a parent sometimes manipulating situations to give a child a better chance of getting it right (though not necessarily solving the problem directly).

    Now, if we want to get totally off the spiritual side, there is the issue of animal nature. In the absence of belief in God, humans are simply the most intellectually evolved animals on the planet. And so, in the end, we act like animals. Morals and laws aside, we still seek to eat, sleep, rut/mate, expand, compete, defend, etc.

    In that sense, it’s a harsh world, but humans simply play out on a grander scale what any animal does…or plants for that matter, which also compete for resources and sometimes destroy rivals.

    Why would God create such a system? For growth, I assume, and in the belief in God and faith in the existence of an afterlife, the comfort (scant though it may be in the short run) is that this world isn’t the last word. That whatever we go through now is smaller than a drop in the bucket compared to what is opening up before us in eternity. What is a paper cut in the grand scheme of an 80-year-long life? Nothing. So too are the worst sufferings on Earth nothing compared to the rewards and work and growth ahead of us, I believe.

    Now, in the absence of belief in God, why are humans so messed up and why do they suffer so much? I don’t know, except that evolution and life seem to demand it. For some reasons, complex organisms tended to develop into things that could feel pleasure and pain, and that could make choice to take from other or give to others. Mostly, though, it’s about taking, either for yourself or for your family/herd/etc. That’s not a pretty picture, but it’s pretty consistent. Why not a planet full of plants and trees that don’t feel pain (or so we presume)? Because the system needs something more to balance out and work properly, I guess.

  4. robyn

    that which makes us suffer makes us strong?
    sorry i am NOT buying it. i’ve been annealed more than some, less than others.
    that which makes us suffer leaves ugly scars.

    [sigh] okay. that which makes us suffer, after the scars have formed, after the scabs have come off, after some skin has grown over the exposed nerves, makes us resilient.


    i am tired of being forced to look around and wonder, how much more? where is the next slap in the face coming from? who is going to stick the next stumbling block in my path? because i do NOT believe god wanted any of us to feel what i’ve felt, to see what i’ve seen.

    not all me, my day job as tax accountant exposes me to waaayyy too much misery and desperation.

  5. Deacon Blue

    Actually, robyn, you won’t get any arguments from me about any of what you said.

    I don’t think that all suffering is good. Not by a long-shot.

    Problem is that I do think it’s inevitable.

    And some of it is necessary, whether it leads to be stronger and more resilient…or not.

    I don’t believe that this is exactly what God intended. Whether Eden was literal or symbolic, I think He did have a different idea of how we could grow and prosper more in synch with Him. But I do think that somewhere humanity broke with that plan and that trust (whether the apple was literal or figurative) and the game changed.

    In the end result though, people are not nice, and so I am not one bit surprised by suffering.

    I am, in fact, dismayed by a lot of it, and I wish it was easier to sort out which suffering was “constructive” and which was not. But I also try to put it in context, and if that context is eternity, it doesn’t make the evils and sufferings of the world any more agreeable to me, but it does provide a filter for looking at them with a tiny bit more objectivity.

    I think.


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