Tuesday, July 6, 2010


We were given the book Brave New World to read over the weekend - if you've never read it, I highly recommend it. To say that it causes you to think would be an understatement. 

It was written in the 30's but is extremely insightful into questions that our culture is dealing with today - especially on the issue of suffering. The World Controllers, with the advancement of modern technology, have been able to genetically modify human beings and get rid of most diseases. Everyone takes this drug called soma daily and whenever they feel the slightest bit unhappy. The sole purpose of man is to be comfortable, "happy", and stable. In the effort to avoid pain and suffering, they sacrifice all freedom to experience independence, love, passion, beauty, joy, excitement - literally “anything for a quiet life.” The entire culture shifted from emphasizing truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. The State is highly motivated to keep people content and stable so that they will not become unhappy, think for themselves and try to overthrow the government. When the body starts failing with age, people are just given a large overdose of soma so that they go on permanent holiday and escape reality in death. The protagonist questions the active euthanasia of his 'elderly' mother, but the nurse responds that murder only kills the individual  - but after all, what is an individual? 

By displaying a dystopia, this books shows that suffering is a truly necessary component of a complete human experience. As Christians, we can recognize that suffering is a direct correlation from the Fall of Adam in the Garden and the subsequent sinful nature of mankind. Yet, reconciling suffering is still hard for me. I don't think that we should completely try and run away, masking all signs of suffering (assisted suicide would be an example of escapism). 

But one of the questions asked of us was this: Are all efforts to reduce or eliminate suffering the equivalent of providing soma, and equally to be deplored? What, if any, is the difference between researching the cures for diseases and providing 'merciful' euthanasia?

In all honesty, I really struggled (and still am struggling) with this question...I even called my parents to talk about it with them. And I'm sure that after we talk about it in class on Thursday, I'll have even more to chew on (I'll let you know...)

Soma, or anything that resembles it, should be deplored because it tries to completely mask all signs of suffering all the time. Yet not all efforts to reduce suffering seem to fit into this category. It would be inhumane to have morphine at one’s disposal but because “suffering is a natural part of life” refuse to give it to a person who has just been severely wounded in a car accident and is in agony for example. All I could think about was my Granny Ann, in her last hours of life struggling for breath, in severe pain and scared. We couldn't bear the thought of her dying in agony, so we increased the dosage of her pain meds to help her rest more easily until she died a natural death only a few hours later. But is our instinct to reduce or eliminate suffering wrong? 

Trying to find cures for diseases cannot be always wrong because one of the ways that Jesus showed compassion was by healing people with incurable diseases. Yet is treating/curing diseases only really right when we are trying to find a cure that just helps the body fight better in order to return to its original design versus implementing an artificial way to eliminate suffering (like soma or messing with genetics for example)? Where's the line between ethical pain management and running away from suffering, in the process becoming more and more like a Brave New World? 

Bottom line: I don't know. Ironically this is a question where it appears that there are no easy answers and a question one must instead wrestle and struggle with instead. But I don't think that God is afraid of us asking big questions, and I am trusting that perhaps during the next five weeks, or perhaps later, he will reveal more to me in time.

Here's what I do know: trying to eliminate all suffering will not produce good results. Suffering is a permanent part of our world until Jesus' return because of our sin. And in the end, trying to completely eradicate suffering also eliminates the possibilit of experiencing joy, love, beauty and most importantly God's redemption. 

I also know that through God's redemption, he can use the suffering in our lives to refine us and make us more like himself. This alone should help us not be so afraid of suffering. But I will admit that I am sometimes still afraid

The world tells us to just escape from suffering....when your loved one is likely going to die, just be compassionate and end their life now. 

Here's something else that I know: when my Grandma Sue was in her last five weeks of life in ICU, the doctors pressured us to take her off the respirator - she was going to die anyway. But up until the last day of her life, even though she couldn't talk because of her tracheotomy, she was alive, alert, ready with a smile, and capable of both receiving our love and giving love away to us. Those five weeks that we spent with her in the hospital were some of the hardest yet some of the best moments that we ever got to spend with her. We were able to have a good goodbye: we were able to shower compassion and love on her, letting her know that her life was valuable and that we treasured her. Instead of dying with the knowledge that her life wasn't worth living anymore (which would have been the message that we would have sent if we had pulled the plug), she died a good death: in peace, with a smile on her face right before she lapsed into unconsciousness, and with dignity and respect. One of the greatest lessons that my Grandma Sue ever could have taught me was endure suffering with joy and grace because it produces hope, and hope does not disappoint. (Romans 5) What is that hope in? Jesus Christ our Lord who for the joy set before him also suffered when he endured the cross and who is now seated with God in heaven (Hebrews 12). 

Tonight was full of tears. Many, many tears... as I struggled with these issues of suffering and pain because I wanted to know what was right and as I relived the deaths of both my grandma and great-grandma.  But now I realize more than ever that suffering is not something to be afraid of or something that we should run from all the time. Even in the pain and sorrow that I am experiencing tonight, I would never want to replace the joy that I am also experiencing in celebrating the lives that they did live, the memories that we shared and the hope of knowing that one day we'll all be together in heaven where there are no more tears (Revelation 21:4).


  1. Abby Drew:

    I see a lot of wisdom in your words. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and meditations on this subject. There is only one pain reliever and that is our precious Jesus. I love you!

    Gpa Mike

  2. Abby:

    Your post was timely for me as I am in my second reading of Desiring God by John Piper, and the chapter I'm reading is the one on suffering. He makes the point that suffering is intended by Satan to destroy our faith and by God to purify our faith. Many of the missionaries of the past have written that suffering is beautiful, desirable, and willingly chosen by them. I love your compassionate heart, Abby!

    Grandma Linda

  3. Grandpa and Grandma -
    Thank you SO much for journeying with me to DC but I'm grateful most of all that we are all on the journey together of discovering more and more each day who God is and his purposes. That is so amazing that you were reading about suffering too - thanks for sharing, especially how God and Satan use suffering differently. I LOVE you too back and miss you muchly.

    Romans 8:17
    Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.