I saw this question written on the wall by ASCAL, the pathway between Palma Hall and the CAL Faculty Center.
Rarely do I see a thought-provoking question written in blood-red spray paint on a newly-cemented wall. These, so far, are the thoughts it has provoked:
1.) Before answering the question, I would like to comment on it. I am inclined to believe that such a question is built on the premise that pain is something ‘ugly’.
I find it easy to sympathize with this notion as like most ‘ugly’ things because it does not evoke warm, pleasant feelings. Like most ‘ugly’ things, we are not drawn to it; on the contrary, we are appalled by it. Pain – in plain language – is ‘ugly’ because it is not ‘cute’. We are not made happy by pain and we are thus inclined to avoid it.
Now, while I understand where this viewpoint may be coming from, I think that pain may not necessarily be an ‘ugly’ thing. I think there is such a thing as pain which is beautiful, perhaps because of its consequences (like the pain one feels with having one’s broken tooth pulled out), or because of its motivations (like the pain one might feel in dying for one’s country), among other things.
To abhor pain, to find it ‘ugly’ for the mere fact that it hurts and to exhaust all means – whether good or bad – to avoid it, would not only be shallow and conceited, but also is cowardice.
Our pleasure-crazed culture may frown upon such an idea, but I think the notion that some experiences of pain are not only necessary but beautiful as well should not be denied. For honor, glory and excellence are not borne out of maximizing pleasure, but through laboring through and enduring pain.
2.) That being said, there is such pain that may be found to be downright ugly, even by those who think that there may be beauty hidden in pain: the seemingly arbitrary, undeserved and cruel pain, which does not seem to produce either glory nor fulfillment. Such pain may include car accidents, killing sprees, rape-slay cases, etcetera.
The torturing and killing of the innocent neither as martyrs who welcome it, nor as heroes who have fought through it and lost, but as children who do not know any better: if there is such pain which invites the question the most, it is this kind of pain. How can undeserved, unwanted and unnecessary pain ever be made into something beautiful? It is I think, the only legitimate case against an all-powerful and all-loving God. And I, too, struggle with it everytime I see cruel injustice and oppression and untimely deaths.
To answer why God would permit such evil to prevail, however is another matter for another time. But is important to note that this is what makes the question difficult to answer. There is the kind of pain which is beautiful as it builds us up, and another kind which is just simply pain which hurts and kills for no apparent reason.
3.) In answering the question, I distinguish between the two kinds of pain.
The first kind of pain, the pain-as-means-to-an-end, may only be as beautiful and good as its own end. And the way to make such pain truly beautiful is to suffer it without hiding, transcending cowardice and regard for one’s safety.
Such pain’s beauty wasted when the cause is abandoned in the name of fear or conveniece. Christ’s sacrifice, for example, is beautiful because He did not opt out. He saw it through. Even if it means death.
The second kind of pain cannot be made beautiful. It must be eliminated. It is why there are causes which require us to endure hardship like good revolutionaries: because there is a war needed to be won.
Injustice can only be made beautiful by defeating it. Oppression can only be made beautiful by ending it. Evil can only be made beautiful by destroying it.
And in suffering through the realization of Goodness, of Justice, of Heaven – whether it is in this life or the next – is what would makes us truly beautiful.