Several nights ago, I introduced Celena to The Truman Show. Have you seen the movie starring Jim Carrey? One of the supporting actors is Ed Harris. Harris plays the role of Christof, the eccentric Hollywood director of the show. He created the show, chose Truman to be the main character and considered himself a father figure in Truman’s life. In his mind, he created a near perfect world for Truman. If you recall the story, Truman began to put the pieces together over time and, finally, realized that he needed to escape from Seahaven. Although he was afraid of the water due to a traumatic experience as a youth, Truman boarded a sailboat and headed out to sea. When Christof located Truman, he did everything he could to stop him, even putting Truman’s life in peril. Truman, however, was indefatigable. He survived a wicked storm and continued sailing.
Then the unexpected happened.
Truman crashed into a wall!
He had reached the end of the set. And the reality of what he had begun to conclude hit him like a sledge hammer. He cried and slammed his fist into the wall repeatedly. Then he found a walkway at the foot of the wall. He began to walk and shortly thereafter he found a stairwell. When he reached the top, he saw a door with the word “Exit” on the knob. After a brief pause, Truman opened the door. As he prepared to leave the unreality of the set and his artificial life, Christof called to him. He pleaded with Truman to stay, telling him that life on the outside was filled with pain and suffering. Truman chose reality. The last we see of him is his back as he exits the set. And the Truman show finally goes off the air.
As I re-watched the movie, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha lived 500 B.C. in northern India. He was the privileged son of nobility. He was also a very protected and sheltered son. His father, a devout Hindu, ensured that his son was not exposed to the realities of pain and suffering. Siddhartha was not allowed to see elderly or sick people. He was told that the world outside the walls of the palace was identical to what he was experiencing inside. But he wasn’t buying. So, like Jasmine in the tale of Aladdin, Siddhartha stealthily left the castle to view the real world.
He was surprised at what he found.
We are told that Siddhartha went on several excursions outside the castle. On his first trip, he encountered an elderly person. For him, that was a first. On his second journey, he saw a sick individual. Another first. To pour insult on top of injury, he came across a corpse on his third walk. Pain and suffering were tangible realities. His disillusionment with the established religion of the day–Hinduism–was complete. As the account goes, Siddhartha left the castle (and his wife and child) and wandered for a while. He would end up at the foot of a bodhi tree. That’s when he entered into a seven-week trance. It is said that when he awoke, he had become “enlightened.” Thus, the title Buddha was born (lit. “Enlightened One”). Siddhartha walked to the closest park and delivered his first homily.
You may have guessed the content of that initial teaching session. Suffering.
The Buddha is reported to have stated that (1) suffering exists, (2) suffering is caused by wrong desires, (3) we need to cease having wrong desires and (4) we need to walk the correct path in life. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism isn’t a religion where a god or multiple gods are worshiped. Buddhism is an ethic, a way of life. The goal is to experience peace in a world of chaos. The eight-fold path of Buddhism describes the characteristics of a life which can remove the presence of suffering. The key to understanding the path is the word “right.” According to Buddhism, we need to have the right view, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, concentration, and mindfulness. Space constraints do not allow me to delineate on each of these, but experience teaches us that, regardless of how hard we try to live the “right” life, we still very much experience the effects of a fallen, sinful world. We both reap the consequences of our own sin as well as experience the effects of the sin of those around us, even those who live on the other side of our planet! As Wesley so accurately put it to the bride, “Life is pain, highness.”
Can I get an amen from the congregation?!
We could all tell story after story of the difficulties we have experienced just in this particular month now that it reached its conclusion. Our family has had expensive car repairs this month (transmission and new tires). A computer we purchased has become lost in the mail with vendors pointing the finger at each other (good-bye computer and the $700 we paid for it), Jodi’s plantar fasciitis has been bad. Celena’s first car died. I finally became sick. Need I continue?!
Many of you have had an even more difficult month! Some of you have lost a loved one. Others of you are fighting cancer. Still others have seen long-lasting relationships dissolve. Life is indeed pain.
I trust Truman experienced that reality shortly after leaving the protective bubble of the Hollywood set. And had he adopted Buddhism, he would have eventually realized that however much he tried, the absolute remains: pain and suffering are part and parcel to life on planet earth.
And yet life can still be accurately described as abundant for a particular segment of society. Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). In fact, we have great hope. We have a sure hope–a hope based upon the reality that the promises of God will indeed come to pass. All things are working together for our good (Rom. 8:28). God is in the process of making us more and more like His Son (Phil. 1:6). Jesus Christ will return (Rev. 22:20). And, the effects of sin–pain and suffering–are absent in heaven (Rev. 21:4).
This month may have been brutal, but the difficulties you faced were not wasted. God was present and active in your situation if you are in Christ. He knows what He is doing and what He is doing is good, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time (Ps. 119:68). Our escape from suffering is in the future. Today, like Truman, we courageously walk through the door, believing that life in a fallen world with God sure beats an artificial one without Him!