The Problem of Pain and a Mission to Walmart
The problem of pain can be a persuasive critique of theism. While we can discover sufficient answers from several disciplines including philosophy and theology, suffering in the world continues to make us ask, “What do we do with pain?”
My toddler must have been thinking these thoughts recently. He would not have called it the problem of pain, but he was feeling its full effect.
“I have to run out for a few things,” my wife said, “Do you think you can watch the kids for a while?”
Can I watch the kids? I’m their dad, not a babysitting candidate. Of course I can watch the kids!
My wife means no disrespect. She is actually being considerate. Instead of nagging or going on an offensive rant about it being “my turn,” she actually asks before taking a small breather from her homeschool mom marathon.
It takes a lot for her to ask. I don’t help with my panicked phone calls from the Walmart parking lot three minutes after she runs in by herself.
The baby won’t stop screaming and the iTouches are dead, and I can’t find the source of this smell. . .
It doesn’t help when I tell her she was gone too long.
Seriously, how long does it take to get wipes and Sunny-D?
It doesn’t help when the kids are in bed early.
What was I supposed to do?
But occasionally, and against all prudence to save all favors for emergencies–it’s not a favor! I’m their dad!–she asks for a small respite from the never-ending requests for juice, Cheeze-Its, and instant solutions to boredom.
What could possibly go wrong?
The other day we made such an agreement. I was in charge of the kids. As she was about to leave, she looked around and asked, “Where’s the baby?”
“Oh. I think he went outside,” I said. I was pretty sure I saw him toddle out the back door. Besides, our yard is fenced in.
She looked at me funny.
I swallowed hard. She’s not even gone and I almost lost him.
“Okay, yeah. See? There he is. He’s out there in the back.”
She glanced at me with suspicion and then left, resigning our children’s fate to the will of God.
What she doesn’t remember is that we usually have a great time when she’s away. The Mom Rule is no longer in effect. The Mom Rule states:
All children must regress to their most wretched behavior when Mom is present. During her absence, all tantrums, fits, rages, and all other forms of disagreeableness will be deferred until first sight upon her return.
And so she left. I was evaluating my 5-year-old’s chess strategy of capturing as many pieces as possible regardless of type (I keep reminding him: it’s not like checkers) when I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye.
It was something outside the back patio door, and about the size of a small toddler.
It was my toddler, and he was bent over with eyes clinched. His mouth was open, but the sound would not come. His blanched cheeks shook with pain coursing through his otherwise red face.
Oh, no. . . Wait for it. . . waaait for it. . .
I started in his direction when the inevitable wail burst forth. He grasped his mouth. A wave of nausea surged through my body which at the same time became hot–the automatic response to a possible weekend emergency room visit.
Now some injuries allow children the option of a comfort source. He or she may opt for the greater comfort of Mom to the immediacy of Dad. This is their right. There is no greater comfort in the world to a child than a mother’s embrace.
But occasionally the level of pain and fear of the unknown causes the child to forfeit his choice and accept the most immediate agent, and sometimes this is agent Dad.
When this happens, the arms raise to the heavens and willingly accept the embrace of whomever can make things better.
After this fall, I knew my toddler, perfect as he seems to me, would now be changed: he would be marked with a scar–a nice little scar on the lower lip.
Well, at least now he’ll match his brother.
When my 2-year-old fell, in that moment of confusion and terror, with the stress of the unknown and at a loss for any other solution, he raised his hands, as if reaching beyond the comforts of this world for a transcendent solution to his otherworldly pain. Mother was not there to make everything better, nor will she be the one to settle our accounts hereafter. He needed his father.
The problem of pain makes us groan, but it serves its purposes. It alerts us to physical and spiritual danger and reminds us that we live in a fallen world. The problem of pain, while its effects linger in the present, is finished in eternity with the work on the cross.
But there is another problem masquerading as a solution to what Pascal calls the “God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man.” It creates an insatiable appetite for the novel and the new, and it distracts us from our work : the problem of pleasure.
Postscript: After battlefield triage and dismissing the requirement for a tourniquet, I immediately called my wife and advised her to abort the mission to Walmart and return to base to care for our wounded. She returned, and things were better.
Photo credit: star5112 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.