The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) paints a bleak picture. For Schopenhauer, the stuff that makes up reality lies within ourselves, namely, our “will” – feeling, emotion, desire, and decision are all components of our willing. To will is to be. And if this is the case, then suffering resides at the core of our existence.
In his biography on Friedrich Nietzsche, Julian Young describes an aspect of Schopenhauer’s pessimism as “the stress or boredom argument.” The argument goes something like this (the reader might want to grab a cup of coffee): If my desires or will are not satisfied, then I suffer. For example, if I yearn for food or sex and am deprived of either, then I suffer under the stress of my desire.
When, on the other hand, if my desire for food or sex is met with the experience of either, then over time I grow bored with them. This boredom is suffering too, a worse kind of suffering. So, whether we desire or achieve, we suffer.
Amnon wanted Tamar feverishly, only to hate her after the fact. How many of our children’s toys stack up over time? Poor Buzz Lightyear!
Schopenhauer’s description of our existence rings true in places. We live in time, moving forward, caught between desire and boredom. As Frank Limehouse reminded me once, the sand in the hour glass pours a steady stream. In this steady stream, our adult lives often mirror our children’s boring stack of forgotten toys. We’re just a bit more sophisticated – just a bit.
The Apostle Paul also had a conception of time and an understanding of our existence in it. It’s quite different than Schopenhauer’s. Paul’s notion can be found in our reading today. “For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2, NIV)
It’s an interesting thought experiment to bring Schopenhauer and Paul into conversation. On a very basic level, Paul might agree with the “stress or boredom argument.” But he would be loath to allow this argument pride of place when framing our existence as Christians. Our existence resides in the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2 quotes Isaiah 49:8. We are not surprised to see Paul quoting Isaiah; it’s one of his favorite books. If Paul’s quotation is a tip of an iceberg, inviting us to investigate more closely Isaiah itself—and I think it is this iceberg’s tip—then we discover within Isaiah 49 the bigger picture of this day of salvation. Isaiah 49 promises a figure who will be the hope of Israel and the light to the nations. Paul lives in the fulfillment of Isaiah 49’s promise. So do we.
Our existence is located in the day of salvation because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our identity comfortably rests here. To live is to suffer. From one angle of vision, surely this is the case. But for Paul, to live is to reside in Christ. Instead of “stress and boredom,” Paul heralds “promise and fulfillment.” We do live in tension; our lives are marked by it. But our personal tensions and struggles, the stresses and the boredom, find their relief—and their forgiveness!—in the angle of repose created at the Cross.
The stack of toys witnesses to something in our lives. Under the burden of them, we hear a kind voice: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”