Charlie's Blog: August 2019


A Life of Ceaseless Suffering

Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren. In labour and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

Life is suffering, and this suffering is ceaseless. There is no happiness. There is only misery. These are depressing thoughts that come from a black place, but they need to be embraced. You have to go to this black place in order to find the light. To live without delusion is to live in the darkness. As horrifying as it is, there is comfort in the darkness. When pain and suffering come to us, we should welcome them as friends who scour away our delusions of finding fulfillment in this empty and meaningless world.

We all know people who got it in this life. These are life's winners. They enjoy fame and fortune and worldly success. These things create in them a sort of perpetual delusion of happiness and satisfaction. They find bliss in their ignorance and feed themselves on constant distractions to cover over the emptiness inside. Their excesses turn to addiction and vice. Their livers enlarge from excessive drinking. Their lungs become blackened and cancerous from tobacco use. Their brains become foggy and clogged from smoking dope. Their relationships sour as they flit from one sexual partner to another. Their family relationships become poisoned as spouses and relatives become tired of the vices and betrayals.

If money brought happiness, rich people would not be so miserable. Once upon a time, I thought money and success would bring happiness. But God disabused me of this foolishness. It is called the Book of Ecclesiastes. Here is a particularly depressing passage:
I said in my heart: I will go, and abound with delights, and enjoy good things. And I saw that this also was vanity. Laughter I counted error: and to mirth I said: Why art thou vainly deceived? I thought in my heart, to withdraw my flesh from wine, that I might turn my mind to wisdom, and might avoid folly, till I might see what was profitable for the children of men: and what they ought to do under the sun, all the days of their life. I made me great works, I built me houses, and planted vineyards, I made gardens, and orchards, and set them with trees of all kinds,
And I made me ponds of water, to water therewith the wood of the young trees, I got me menservants, and maidservants, and had a great family: and herds of oxen, and great flocks of sheep, above all that were before me in Jerusalem: I heaped together for myself silver and gold, and the wealth of kings, and provinces: I made me singing men, and singing women, and the delights of the sons of men, cups and vessels to serve to pour out wine:  And I surpassed in riches all that were before me in Jerusalem: my wisdom also remained with me. And whatsoever my eyes desired, I refused them not: and I withheld not my heart from enjoying every pleasure, and delighting itself in the things which I had prepared: and esteemed this my portion, to make use of my own labour.
And when I turned myself to all the works which my hands had wrought, and to the labours wherein I had laboured in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun. 
King Solomon is widely considered to be the author of this work. I encountered this book from the Bible when I was 18 years old from hearing a series of sermons on the book from an evangelical preacher. At the time, I had embraced what I call my "Great Gatsby" folly. I decided that I needed to be a go-getter in life, so I put together a book of goals and lists for self-improvement. It was like the self-improvement program of Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby:
He seemed reluctant to put away the picture, held it for another minute, lingeringly, before my eyes. Then he returned the wallet
…and pulled from his pocket a ragged old copy of a book called Hopalong Cassidy.
“Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy. It just shows you.”
He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see. On the last fly-leaf was printed the word SCHEDULE and the date September 12, 1906. And underneath:
Rise from bed 6.00 A.M.
Dumbell exercise and wall scaling 6.15–6.30 “
Study electricity, etc. 7.15–8.15 “
Work 8.30–4.30 P.M.
Baseball and sports 4.30–5.00 “
Practice elocution, poise and how to obtain it 5.00–6.00 “
Study needed inventions 7.00–9.00 “
General Resolves
No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]
No more smokeing or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents
“I come across this book by accident,” said the old man. “It just shows you, don’t it?”
“It just shows you.”
“Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that…”
The part I found interesting was "study electricity." Today, that part would be "learn how to code." There is nothing wrong with self-improvement or having a program to that end. But the purpose of such a program is to arrive at some happiness. Compare Gatsby's program to that of Ecclesiastes. It is essentially the same thing. The author of Ecclesiastes elects to withdraw his flesh from wine and get to work. That guy was a go-getter. But what did he get? Vanity.

Fitzgerald's novel and this book from the Bible are very much the same story. Jay Gatsby achieved much, but he did it illicitly. He was successful in the world, but his success ends with a car crash and him deciding to take the rap for the love of his life. The novel shows the absurdity and emptiness of the Roaring Twenties. It was all so much foolishness which is what Ecclesiastes says about life in general. Your striving and labors for success in this life amount to working hard to give it to some layabout. As Ecclesiastes 2:21 puts it, "For when a man laboureth in wisdom, and knowledge, and carefulness, he leaveth what he hath gotten to an idle man. . ." What a waste.

I have seen this exact story play out, and I see it playing out. Rich people work hard to give it to lazy people who don't work. I know a man who began with nothing who has labored his entire life to build a company only to watch his son sell it off to a competitor and live in idleness for the rest of his days.

Reading Ecclesiastes at that young age had the effect of bankrupting my life before it had even begun. It taught me that chasing after money would not gain for me what I was really seeking which was happiness. So, like the Ecclesiastes writer, I began to pursue wisdom:
And when I turned myself to all the works which my hands had wrought, and to the labours wherein I had laboured in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun. I passed further to behold wisdom, and errors and folly, (What is man, said I, that he can follow the King his maker?) And I saw that wisdom excelled folly, as much as light differeth from darkness. The eyes of a wise man are in his head: the fool walketh in darkness: and I learned that they were to die both alike. And I said in my heart: If the death of the fool and mine shall be one, what doth it avail me, that I have applied myself more to the study of wisdom? And speaking with my own mind, I perceived that this also was vanity. 
Wisdom is just another word for philosophy. I put myself to studying what the philosophers from Plato to Camus had to say about life. The vanity of all that wisdom is that it didn't make you any better than the fool. As Frederick Douglass discovered on the plantation when he became an educated slave, his education did not liberate him but made his misery more miserable. As a friend told me once, "wisdom is the purest form of pain." Knowing the truth does not end the pain but only increases it.

Neither riches nor wisdom can bring you happiness. Those things solve some problems in life but not the ultimate problem of emptiness and misery. Riches and wisdom represent striving that achieves nothing. The philosopher Schopenhauer noticed this truth about the nature of things when he wrote:
…happiness lies always in the future, or else in the past, and the present may be compared to a small dark cloud driven by the wind over the sunny plain; in front of and behind the cloud everything is bright, only it itself always casts a shadow.
We labor in vain to attain a happiness that eludes us. We think that the attainment of a goal will make us happy, but it never does. Until the attainment of the goal, we think that achieving the goal will end our misery. Our lives are painful because of our unfulfilled desires for things. Then, when we have achieved our desires, we are left with emptiness. This leaves us two options--misery or boredom.

Misery and boredom represent an endless and fruitless labor. This is the yoke of striving, and it is a heavy yoke. People preoccupied with the cares of this world can never attain happiness or escape their misery. The result is that the rich man and the homeless wino end up in the same place. One man sits by the pool drinking scotch until he is plastered. The wino sits in the gutter with a bottle of Mad Dog in a plain brown wrapper. What is the difference?

Jesus pointed the way out of this trap when He said,
Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.  
This is a difficult verse to understand, but we can immediately answer one question. Jesus shows a better way than our way of striving for riches and knowledge. We seek to escape suffering. Jesus offers us a way to endure suffering.

We cannot escape suffering. It will never happen in this life. Suffering never goes away. We may see someone living the good life, but this good life merely masks the suffering underneath. It's like someone's glorious Facebook page that edits out the bad parts of life and only shows the good parts. People who live lives of conspicuous consumption and vanity are at pains to convince others of their happiness thinking that if others believe it then it must be true. Instead, they inflame envy and jealousy. That is the sadness and absurdity of it all. People hate others for a happiness that those others do not actually possess.

Happiness in this world only comes from the contemplative and interior life we have in relationship with God. People with religious vocations understand this truth. Fulfillment is found only in God. This is why Jesus says that His yoke is sweet and His burden is light and brings rest to the soul. The world strives mightily to arrive at unhappiness. With Jesus, you only have to strive a bit to find happiness. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. These words echo in our minds, but we are always forgetting them. The remedy for this amnesia is the cross.

Followers of Christ suffer more than those who are worldly. Catholics are always at a competitive disadvantage because of their morals and ethics. The world hates the followers of Christ and persecute them in various ways. On top of this, God Himself allows sufferings, misfortune, diseases, calamities, calumnies, and many other things to afflict His own. It is so bad that we can honestly say that the wicked prosper while the innocent suffer. Why does God allow this suffering?

The Old Testament teaches us one thing. The children of Israel suffered from constant amnesia. They were always forgetting God. When God blessed them, they would forget Him. And when God afflicted them, they would remember Him. As Ecclesiastes 12:1 puts it, "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the time of affliction come, and the years draw nigh of which thou shalt say: They please me not:" We must always remember.

Constant affliction refreshes the memory. This is why the New Testament is a stark contrast to the Old Testament. The followers of Christ live under chronic affliction. You read about this in the Acts of the Apostles and the many references in the epistles. Those guys were always taking a beating. With Christ, the misery does not end. It only increases. Ecclesiastes says something about this:
I turned myself to other things, and I saw the oppressions that are done under the sun, and the tears of the innocent, and they had no comforter; and they were not able to resist their violence, being destitute of help from any. And I praised the dead rather than the living: And I judged him happier than them both, that is not yet born, nor hath seen the evils that are done under the sun. Again I considered all the labours of men, and I remarked that their industries are exposed to the envy of their neighbour: so in this also there is vanity, and fruitless care. 
Both the winners and losers of life are hated. The world will beat you or will seek to beat you. You are always going to have to endure the hatred of other people. It never ends and never will end in this life. Famous people receive adulation but must endure seeing their names smeared in the tabloid press, receiving death threats in the mail, and having to keep bodyguards to protect them from the public.

The world is an unjust and evil place. The wicked prosper as the innocent suffer. Ecclesiastes has this to say on the matter:
There is also another vanity, which is done upon the earth. There are just men to whom evils happen, as though they had done the works of the wicked: and there are wicked men, who are as secure, as though they had the deeds of the just: but this also I judge most vain. 
This injustice of the good suffering while the wicked prosper will drive you to despair. This is so pernicious in this life that you can only conclude that there is no reward for doing good in this world but punishment. Evil men trample good men in the dust. When good men cry out to God, they hear only silence in their misery and pain. They have not forgotten God, but it appears that God has forgotten them. God is absent in these calamities and injustices. Why does a good God allow evil to exist? Asking that question is a waste of time. Ecclesiastes says this,
And I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to understand the distraction that is upon earth: for there are some that day and night take no sleep with their eyes. And I understood that man can find no reason of all those works of God that are done under the sun: and the more he shall labour to seek, so much the less shall he find: yea, though the wise man shall say, that he knoweth it, he shall not be able to find it. 
There is no answer to the problem of theodicy. If you do good, you will suffer for it in this life. If you do evil, you will receive great rewards in this world. None of it makes sense, and you will torment yourself seeking an answer to this problem. There is no answer.

If you think there is some worldly advantage to living a righteous life, there isn't. Ecclesiastes makes this clear.
All these things have I considered in my heart, that I might carefully understand them: there are just men and wise men, and their works are in the hand of God: and yet man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love, or hatred: ... But all things are kept uncertain for the time to come, because all things equally happen to the just and to the wicked, to the good and to the evil, to the clean and to the unclean, to him that offereth victims, and to him that despiseth sacrifices. As the good is, so also is the sinner: as the perjured, so he also that sweareth truth. ... This is a very great evil among all things that are done under the sun, that the same things happen to all men: whereby also the hearts of the children of men are filled with evil, and with contempt while they live, and afterwards they shall be brought down to hell. 
Both the good and the evil are headed for the grave. Death makes all men equal. The ones that crucified Christ are dead now, and the ones who lived for Christ are also dead. Regardless of the prosperity and suffering you encounter in this life, you are doomed to die. No one gets out alive.

These are depressing thoughts, and they come from a man who had all the good things in life and despaired. When I read them as a young man, I despaired also. It is said that Ecclesiastes had a large impact on Ernest Hemingway especially in writing The Sun Also Rises. What does Ecclesiastes conclude about life? Here is the final word:
 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened in, which by the counsel of masters are given from one shepherd. More than these, my son, require not. Of making many books there is no end: and much study is an affliction of the flesh. Let us all hear together the conclusion of the discourse. Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is all man: And all things that are done, God will bring into judgment for every error, whether it be good or evil. 
The gist of this conclusion is that seeking for answers will yield no results. You should just respect God and live a righteous life in anticipation of Judgment Day. That is when everything will be put right.

I love Ecclesiastes and pair it with the Book of Job. Where Job loses everything and suffers greatly, the writer of Ecclesiastes enjoys the good life and comes to despair. As Oscar Wilde put it, the two tragedies of life are not getting what you want and getting what you want. They amount to the same thing.

How do we make sense of all of this gloomy wisdom? The bottom line is that there is no satisfaction found in this world under the sun. Atheist philosophers like Schopenhauer come to much the same conclusion. Camus said that philosophy boiled down to deciding whether or not to commit suicide. When you see so many rich celebrities killing themselves, that's all the evidence you need for the utter futility and emptiness of life.

Where is God in all of this insanity? As I heard one of my professors put it, the Old Testament asks all of the questions while the New Testament is the answer key. Once you are emptied out and broken, then you can accept the answers that Jesus gives us. We don't appreciate the answers until we have asked the questions. This is why the Old Testament was written before the New Testament. I will put those questions in a Q & A format.

Q: Can you find happiness in anything other than God?

A: The answer is no. Who is happy? In the history of the world, what person attained this happiness apart from God? No one has. There are all sorts of wisdom about winning battles, getting in shape, curing diseases, being a better lover, beating the stock market, and on and on. But the happiness issue is a gigantic black hole of human ignorance. Philosophers and religions have made attempts at tackling this issue, but they have all failed. You must turn to the Bible which is why it endures and reassures all those who read it.

No one should ever despair that they missed out on life's "secret" or on success. There is no secret, and success in this world is meaningless and vain. I have lived long enough to see a rich man envy a poor man. This world has nothing to offer you except misery and emptiness.

Q: Is it better to be good or evil?

A: You should be good even if you end up suffering for it. A great example of this is abortion. I have met many women who have been in horrible situations with unplanned pregnancies. Many of them still struggle to care for their children often with no help from the fathers. They have it tough in life. Yet, I haven't met a single one who regretted having their children. Conversely, I have met women who have procured abortions, and they express regret over their decisions. It haunts them and always will. Whatever convenience the murder brought them, it has left them scarred and hurting for the rest of their lives.

No one who does evil is ever happy because of it. The best they can do is become empty unfeeling socipathic monsters. They must deaden their consciences. There is no happiness in evil. Speaking from personal experience, when I have done wrong, it brought me no pleasure or happiness. Doing wrong always brings grief.

Q: Is it better to prosper or to suffer?

A: It is better to suffer. Prosperity in this world will probably cost you your soul in the next world. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus tells us this. Likewise, 1 Peter 5:10 says that we must first "suffer a little." When you compare the tortures and martyrdoms of those first century Christians, that verse is quite an understatement. But it makes perfect sense in comparison to suffering a great deal in Purgatory and Hell.

No one really prospers in this life. Prosperity is an illusion. As the rich man in the parable discovered, his provisions for his life were for naught as he died that very night. Even in this life, the rich and the comfortable become spoiled and soft and a disgrace to themselves.

Q: How should you live?

A: You should obey God and His commands. You should practice piety and do your daily labor. You should live a simple life in peace with all people. You should endure all hardship and suffering in patience and meekness knowing that it all gets settled and fixed in the future. Leave it all to God.

Ecclesiastes is a depressing read, but it never counsels anyone to disobey God or do evil. Suffering is never an excuse to do evil, and it never cures suffering. Being the bad guy is not an option. Additionally, suffering is not optional either. Anyone who thinks they can escape suffering believes they can turn Hell into Heaven. This will never happen.

You have to make a choice between interior life or exterior life. If you choose exterior life, you may acquire things that hide the emptiness inside. Conversely, if you choose interior life, you will find fulfillment even if the exterior looks awful.


Why is it a life of ceaseless suffering? The suffering is ceaseless because winning the lottery in life won't end that suffering. As Schopenhauer put it,
What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.
In these lines, Schopenhauer repeats the truths of Ecclesiastes. The world has nothing to offer you. Whatever unhappiness you feel now, it will be there no matter what good fortune comes your way or what you achieve in this life.

Happiness can only be found in God. And when you find this happiness, the world will hate you for this and beat you to death for having found it. You will meet persecution and misfortune in this world because you love God. But you will be able to endure these misfortunes with God much better than the wicked endure their good fortune without God.

The saint and the suicidal atheist can agree on one thing. This life has nothing good to offer. What it does offer are two paths. You can suffer in fulfillment as you turn and embrace God. Or, you can prosper in emptiness as you turn away from God. I can say with the writer of Ecclesiastes and all the saints that it is better to suffer with God than to enjoy the comfortable embrace of this ungodly and empty world.