“Cheer-up, when you die you will suffer no more.”

The title of this post is a sentence pulled from an email that was sent to me. No, it wasn’t some strange spam email. It was a response to me in a discussion with someone about trials, and how we get through them. What you see in the title is what this individual claimed is the message of most Christians in the face of trial.

Is that accurate? Is that really the message we’re giving? On the one hand, if it is, then we need to stop and reexamine our message, because if it can legitimately be reduced to this, then it’s not very comforting and doesn’t seem very loving. On the other hand, if it’s not a legitimate reduction of our message, then what is our message, and why would someone come away with the impression that this is what it is?

Before I go on, I should stop for a moment of self-assessment. Just because this isn’t the message of Christianity doesn’t mean this isn’t the message I put across, right? So what did I have to say? “…at all points in life, good or bad, we look to Christ for our true purpose and hope. …trials and difficulties are a part of this life – we live in a fallen world. Too often what people tell someone who has endured a lot of trials… is that they ought to look inside themselves for strength and meaning… We need a more reliable source of strength than the person in the mirror. …trials are a part of life as well, and we can look to Christ in those too… My point is…there is a place to turn when life gets rough.” (The ellipses represent information that would have revealed more about the context of the discussion and the person involved, and don’t represent selective editing to strengthen my case).

I’m pretty confident that my words can’t be reduced down to the simplistic statement in this post’s title. Quite the opposite, my point was that we have strength for dealing with things right now. When we turn to Jesus, we aren’t just saying that someday when we die all the bad stuff will be over. We’re saying that having Jesus in our lives gives us the strength and hope to get through the bad stuff now.

But you know, there is some truth in the accusation after all. Part of what gives us the strength and hope to get through the bad stuff now is the fact that when life ends we have something much greater to look forward to. And why shouldn’t that give us strength and hope now?

When I was 18 I broke my back in a car accident. Thankfully, my spine was undamaged and I didn’t lose the use of my legs. But it was a long, difficult, painful recovery. I spent a year going through physical therapy. During that year, the thing the physical therapists always told me was, “I know it hurts now, and nothing is going to change that. I know it’s hard. But if you work through this, if you just keep at it, then later on you will be better. If you don’t, it’s only going to be worse for the rest of your life, but if you fight through the pain now then for the rest of your life it will be much better and easier.”

Would it have made sense for me to say to my physical therapist, “You know what, screw you and your sweet talk about the future! All you’re telling me is ‘suck it up now and in a year it’ll be better’. That doesn’t help me at all! I’m in real pain right now!” Granted, I probably did say something like that once or twice, but did it help me? Did it change anything? Did it make the words of my therapist any less true? No, no, and no.

In the same way, it may not always make a person feel better when they are in the midst of suffering or trial to hear that this is just going to be the way life is for a while, and it may not always comfort them to hear that someday, when life is done, it will all end. But it’s still true. And here’s the secret that isn’t all that secret: While that message may have occasionally fallen on deaf ears during my PT, later on I appreciated that it actually gave me a lot of hope and reason to keep going, and in the same way the message that there is a home in heaven waiting for us can give a person hope and a reason to keep going even when they don’t feel particularly comforted by that message.

So in the end, there is some truth to the accusation. Indeed, we do find hope simply in knowing that someday all the crap in this life will come to an end. But really, isn’t that a good reason to hope? This life is crummy, but it’s temporary, and when it’s over, you get to spend forever being happy. Seems like a pretty good message to me.

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4 thoughts on ““Cheer-up, when you die you will suffer no more.”

  1. I think I’ve become far more guilty of a related Christian suffering bumper-sticker: “All things work out for the good of those who love Him!” Well, yes, it’s true, but simply slapping that on a situation that involves pain and turmoil of the heart will do little good. However, ripping this promise apart and showing why it’s true and how it’s true CAN be comforting — in the same way, I think, the title of this article is true: in a nutshell, not often helpful. When delved into, to show the truth behind it — wow!

  2. thank you for writing this. As you know, I have a physical disability, and I hear that from physical therapists ALL THE TIME. So often, I feel like saying what you felt like saying. Very often. But I rarely do, mostly because that would be shooting the messenger. I mean, what else are they going to say, anyway?

    This is basically going to suck for the rest of your life no matter what we do, making our job rather pointless?

    I will be honest and say that sometimes my faith is very very very mustard seed like. Especially lately, as I am going through some heavy stuff. And sometimes people quoting the Bible as the be all and end all to whatever struggles are going on get so annoying; because they all act like they’re the first person to ever mention Job or Paul, etc. (you wouldn’t believe how many people pray for me on the bus to be healed and then get angry at me when I don’t get up and walk. Like, that’s not a good idea on a moving bus anyway, but whatever. :-))

    that is what the person who wrote the e-mails, because they sent similar ones to me, was protesting at first. And if that was the spirit that your reminders were sent in, I would’ve protested as well. But I knew better, so I just thank you and moved on.

    Something interesting have discovered about my own faith in this process. Even when I’m unsure and doubting (redundantly LOL) about my own faith, I’m still living it for other people; still helping the little girl with autism play with her peers today at the mall, still smiling and nodding at the gentleman on the bus when he announces that he is only going through his regular day program for mentally challenged individuals because he is in the federal witness protection program and they make him act like that. Still making a little boy smile because I can address him in his native Spanish.

    For me, that’s the truth behind the bumper stickers, and a testament to the Holy Spirit. Nothing else. It doesn’t make my trials go away. But it might make them come around less often for those I encounter and it keeps me from falling into the trap of a pity party (very often).

    I love you.

  3. @ luke: You can’t eat the nutshell; you have to crack it and eat the meats inside!

    @ Amber: I’m sorry to hear that you have a disability, but it’s good to hear that you go on through and persevere so well. I probably wouldn’t hold up that good under that pressure. And you still have time to believe in God to get you through everything!

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