This was a comment on a thread in a Gnostic discussion group. What follows is such a great reply that I wanted to share it.
With all due respect, I’m not sure that’s true, and at the very least, it would be speculative for me to confirm, since I know of no lives that do not experience, encounter or exist outside of this realm of suffering so as to testify otherwise.
Moreover, I can imagine a world where this wouldn’t be the case.
But then, I’m forced to imagine it, because it doesn’t exist (not that I know of).
In any case, I have to say, such a pre-requisite of suffering for appreciating life would be an awfully convenient situation for any Demiurge or would-be fan of the Demiurge, since it not only lets an apparently sadistic, lesser God off the hook for creating an inferior realm and causing all sorts of trouble in our lives, he/she actually gets congratulatory pats on the back for our suffering.
As an added side note, if suffering is necessary to truly taste and appreciate life then traditional notions of Heaven as being naught but ecstatic joy must be tossed aside, because Heaven would (per this understanding) require even greater helpings of suffering and evil (i.e., the infliction of suffering) in order to experience the requisite joy that Heaven promises. Man, wouldn’t that be something to look forward to?
Some might say, good riddance to such formerly naive notions of Heavenly paradise, and while I can understand this sentiment, I likewise can understand the desire for a posthumous break.
Mind you, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get whatever we can from the suffering we’re subject to (or the suffering we cause for ourselves), whether this begets compassion, an appreciation of non-suffering and/or any other helpful insights and experiences, and I’ll readily concede that the sour taste of suffering generally does make the good times sweeter, however, I have always wondered if those who elevate the virtues of suffering to unreasonable heights are either
1) sadistic themselves;
2) they represent cosmic cases of Stockholm Syndrome;
3) they’re simply mindlessly parroting New Age ‘feel good’ shibboleths; or
4) they simply haven’t suffered enough and/or they haven’t fully contemplated or “truly appreciated” or personally experienced/felt (thankfully, lucky for them) the stupendous depth and immensity of suffering on this planet, such is our limitation?
Actually, one of the nicest things one can say about the Demiurge is that on an individual level, this creator made it so we can only suffer so much or so long before our system shuts down and we die.
But this isn’t to say there can’t be mind-blowing suffering along the way. For example, if you’ll indulge some personal sharing here the day after Mother’s Day, my mom suffered through ALS for the last years of her life, and I’m curious as to how you see such an event fitting into the perspective you’ve described here?
I’m not trying to be a wise guy—I’m genuinely curious as to how you reconcile these things, since I can’t—certainly not in any easy way or one that at least ‘sounds’ as nice as the way you’ve put it.
Thing is, the unique nature of ALS is such that it’s nothing but take away—at least physically. That is, you progressively lose your neural connections day by day, and none of them ever come back, and there’s not even any hope of remission.
Life is pretty much identified with the ability to move, and so, with ALS, you steadily lose all motion, starting with extremities—maybe starting with your toes, maybe your fingers, and so on, until you can’t move anything externally, and then your internal organs collapses—maybe the neural connections you depend upon for your heartbeat, or maybe the neural connections you depend upon for your brain to work so that, ya’ know, you’re able to reckon how wonderful all of this suffering is, or, if not the suffering itself, then how wonderful the rest of non-suffering reality is, er, once was (since as an ALS victim, it’s game over for you)?
Oh, as for truly appreciating the “taste” of life, you depend on your neural connections for the sense of taste, so these are often lost as well, that is, before you lost everything.
Now, in fairness, I’m sure you meant “taste” metaphorically, but it is no small challenge to appreciate the metaphorical taste of anything when you’ve lost your literal taste of anything. And I might add, in the end, we all have our neural connections taken away from us.
I know these are tough questions, but this is a tough world, and for more than a few Gnostics, these are central questions—defining questions—and they leave most with a decided distaste for the nature of this reality, such as it is.
No doubt, lurking behind this distaste is a belief that there is something better, and in fact, the knowledge of the existence of this very belief is perhaps the greatest testimony that there must be something better.
In this specific sense, the typical Gnostic might concur with your assessment of the value of suffering, which is to say, about the only one good thing (in any ultimate sense) that comes of suffering is the belief, awareness and/or knowledge of the possibility of transcending suffering and evil.
In other words, in the long run, I’m pretty sure most of us want exactly what you describe—i.e., truly tasting and appreciating life. However, this doesn’t come easy for most of us in the short run of this life, which can feel pretty damned long at times, if not pretty damned insufferable.
In short, it’s a long way from there to where we hope to go. If you’ve already gotten there, good for you (sincerely), but I’m not sure everyone else is ‘feelin’ it’ or perhaps is as well positioned to ‘feel it.’
But, hey—maybe that’s our oversight. Maybe we’re not looking deeply enough into the matter so that we fail to see the light of Paradise all about us, or as the Gospel Thomas puts it, “the Kingdom of the Father is spread out over the Earth and men see it not.”
I’m entirely down with that in a sense and to a degree, BUT, lest I even let Thomas get away with a bit of superficial wisdom, I’d quickly ask him, “Gee, Tommy, I wonder why that is?”
Or maybe I’d retort, “The Kingdom of a Lesser Father is also spread out over the Earth and men see all too much of it.” But in fairness to Thomas, maybe what he meant wasn’t that everything was sunshine and light and we see it not, but simply that the hope, belief and knowledge that there might be something better is what’s spread over the Earth. I’m not sure if that’s what he meant, but that’s one possible defense.
Anyway, you only made a relatively brief comment, and I sincerely don’t mean to unfairly stack the deck against you with a long reply. I assume you have deeper thoughts on the matter and, again, I’d like to hear your further thoughts.