Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Misery and Obduracy

I know a woman who is utterly miserable, or so she will tell you if you have time to listen. She lives on welfare with a man she claims to dislike, convinced her daughter is abusing her, and is forever begging for handouts to help with rent or groceries. But when concerned family members point out local job openings in her field, there are always multiple reasons she can’t possibly apply.

They are proposing real solutions ... just not the solution she wants.

The Necessities of Life

Street people near my workplace leave free food on the sidewalk or even throw it in the faces of their would-be benefactors. Their bodies require regular sustenance just like yours and mine, but they are only interested in your cash. You do not get to define their need for them, or meet it as you please. Only they may do that.

Sometimes it’s not even a secret drug habit. I know a man who is morbidly obese and in constant physical pain. The necessities of life must be delivered because it’s too uncomfortable to go out for them himself. Unfortunately, these “necessities” largely consist of fast food orders, family-size bags of chips and two-litre bottles of pop. If you offer to bring him anything healthier, your services are politely rejected. Calories are acceptable, sure, but only the right sort of calories.

Are you sensing a theme here? Misery and obduracy are frequent companions.

Two Sorts of Misery

One sort of misery recognizes its need and reaches out for anything that might change its circumstances. “Help my unbelief!” cries the father of the boy with the unclean spirit. “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well,” thinks the woman who has suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” shouts the blind beggar repeatedly, until Jesus stops and takes pity on him. All have come to an end of themselves and recognize any chance of changing their circumstances, however slim, is worth grasping. This sort of misery has no terms upon which it insists, affects no false dignity and makes no pretenses about its condition.

Another sort of misery would like a change of circumstances, but only on its own terms. Living on welfare is horrible, but working for a living is worse. Pain and disability are terrible, but sustained self-denial is worse.

Getting What We Want

You see the problem. As my old neighbor used to say, “People get what they want.” He meant that those who will not make a move to change bad circumstances when the opportunity exists don’t really hate their situation as much as they claim. They have gotten comfortable in their discomfort. Their misery belongs to them and they define themselves by it. It’s idle to ask how such misery and obduracy can coexist in the same person, or why anyone might want to live like that when an alternative is available at any moment. The fact is that millions of people do, and often no appeal to logic — or even love — will persuade them to do otherwise.

I have come to think the lake of fire will be a bit like that; full of misery and obduracy wedded together for eternity. After all, nobody is obliged to go there. The Lord is patient toward us, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. There is another option available, but the problem for some people is that it’s not their option, it’s God’s. A certain mindset finds such a notion intolerable. Eternal life on their own terms they would happily accept, but eternal life on God’s terms has no appeal.

The Rich Man in Hades

The rich man enduring the torments of Hades does not hesitate to make multiple requests of Abraham, but I notice he never requests an exit pass. He has gone to “his own place”, a place which suits him better than heaven. Sure, it is a “place of torment”, and he could use a drop of water to cool his tongue, but at least it is his own misery in which he is marinating. He wears his anguish like a glove.

After all, the alternative is eternity with Christ on God’s terms. That would never do.

Images by Daniel Reche from Pixabay.

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