In church today the pastor used as his text the first chapter of Philippians. This book of the New Testament was written by the apostle Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome. The sermon explored what it mean to be “in the valley,” that is to be subject to pain, depression or fear.
It is human nature to avoid pain. But often, instead of avoiding it, we reach for it. An example is a child who falls, and on getting up looks for his mother before letting out a frightened cry. We want to be seen when we get hurt.
Reaching out for our particular piece of the pain pie is the current global avocation. There isn’t a person alive today who hasn’t at least once claimed to have been the subject of pain. The country is filled with people claiming victim status. Bill Clinton used the phrase "I feel your pain," appealing to millions who wanted validation that they, or their ancestors, had been wronged. Outside America’s borders, tribes and nations claim their share of pain, and use their pain as the reason for slaughter.
Listening to the sermon I could not help but think about the fact that Barack Obama has spent a lifetime defining himself by finding pain. It's in one of his autobiographies . Via Althouse:
I don’t know. I didn’t have the luxury, I suppose, the certainty of the tribe.... I hadn’t grown up in Compton, or Watts. I had nothing to escape from except my own inner doubt. I was more like the black students who had grown up in the suburbs, kids whose parents had already paid the price of escape. You could spot them right away by the way they talked, the people they sat with in the cafeteria. When pressed, they would sputter and explain that they refused to be categorized. They weren’t defined by the color of their skin, they would tell you. They were individuals.
Ann Althouse comments: Note the potential sarcasm in the use of the word "individuals." Obama, neither white nor black, not being part of the American “black experience” of ancestral slavery, wanted very much to be part of the tribe, to be defined by the pain. And in America you can be what you want to be, and if you had the skin color Obama had you can be sure that your wishes with regard to self-identification would be granted.
But this is a story about redemption. Paul’s redemption, and ours. In one of the most famous passages in the Bible Paul tells the Philippians that if he lives he will see them again and if he dies he will be with God.
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul is a man who knows who he is. If he lives, he will proclaim the good news of Christ’s redemption of man’s sin. And if Caesar should decide to execute him, Paul knows that he will meet Jesus in eternity.
Let us live so that we are complete in ourselves, having no need to reach for pain to create our worth and our identity. To live life fearlessly and at the end to know that “to die is gain.”