To Have Never Been Born
September 19, 2010
A friend of mine visits the sick in hospitals. For the last few weeks, he has been spending time with a young mother and her deformed baby. This baby was born without parts of the stomach, can’t digest food, has a laundry list of problems that have largely kept the baby in a place of suffering for almost a year. The baby is swollen, bloated from problems associated with her illness, “She’s going to die.” my friend told me. When he visits, the mother just cries and talks about how she is angry at God, if she believes in Him at all.
Should this baby have been born? The mother knew about the deformation while the baby was just a fetus. We could all do this baby a favor and get rid of it, right?
Wrong. Life is good. That’s not mitigated by suffering. Nor is life made good simply through experiencing pleasure. This little girl knows her mother loves her. My pal can tell that both the baby and the mother love each other, and respond to each other’s presence. While grotesque suffering is a powerful thing, it’s not as powerful as the love between a mother and her child. It’s easy to see suffering, but harder to see relationships, bonding and love.
We are terrified of suffering. That’s what a culture of comfort, pleasure and a lack of suffering has gotten us… an unreasonable standard of living. In the olden days, people would have 8 kids and only a few would survive into adulthood. More people in general were exposed to a difficult life, it lowered expectations which will always produce a more grateful, happy individual.
The classic definition of happiness used to be a life well lived in pursuit of virtue. Now it’s been changed to a life in pursuit of pleasure. So more than ever, the idea that a life can be worthwhile though full of pain and suffering with little pleasure is unfathomable. That’s why you’ll hear the justification for abortion as being “a mercy killing for a child born into poverty with no chance to have a good life.”
At the end of time, I can imagine that suffering baby standing before God. The Almighty asks the baby girl, born into suffering and pain if she would rather have lived her life or never to have been born. Mind you, to never have been born means she would never have a name, would not know the beauty of another person’s face, to hear the voice of her mother, to love and be loved. I can’t think of a life that would rather not exist, even if existence meant living just 24 hours in pain.
I would ask the same of the Holocaust survivor. You can never have been born and been spared starvation, torture and the gas chambers, but you also couldn’t experience love, sex, fatherhood, that time your granddaughter made you laugh so hard you were brought to tears, your children wouldn’t be born, nor their children, etc. They would likely rather choose existence over being blotted out from history. One of the few things more terrifying than living a life in suffering is to never have existed at all. Even a fetus would rather have a few months than nothing. In short, all life loves to live.
Finally, I’d like to make a case that the good is more powerful than suffering. I know abusive people whom I’ve also shared good times with. The abuse is bad, it’s always bad, but it can’t remove the good times. Suffering can’t take an absolute good away. Think of a kiss shared with an ex girlfriend or boyfriend. If the kiss was good at the time, even a bitter break up can’t kill that kiss. Or as they used to say, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
To have never been born is to never have loved at all. There are worse things than suffering.