Does Pain Last Forever?
In my last entry, I wrote that there is a fine line between an archetype and a cliché. Well, this episode is just one big old string of clichés. There's the "save the children from the evil headmaster" theme. There's the "love triangle," fancied up into a love rectangle, if you know what I mean. There's the "temptation of ultimate power used for ultimate good" idea, with a good bit of "You shall be like gods" tacked on for good measure. . There's the "You really had other women before me?" surprise. There's the "You left me without saying goodbye" heartbreaker. There's the "I'm immortal and will outlive everyone I love" theme, which is a double heartbreaker. And finally, there's the old solution to the Problem of Evil, which is that all of our imperfections, pains, and sufferings really make us who we are; we wouldn't be who we are without the pain of our past.
And in spite of its being such a string of chestnuts, it works. It still tugs at the heartstrings. Well, mine anyway. That's probably because David Tennant is such a good actor, and the other aren't too shabby either.
But it puts me in another theological conundrum. Sorry, when I set out to do "cultural critique" of the series, I didn't mean to get all doctrinal in every entry. I guess that's just the default way my mind works. I'm sure I'll have other ideas as we go along, but here's what I've got for now.
Sarah Jane Smith persuades the Doctor to refuse ultimate power. He is tempted to accept an offer that would allow him to go back in time and prevent the war that killed all of his people, thus saving the lives of his entire species. Sarah Jane stops him by saying, “Pain and loss: they define us as much as happiness of love. Whether it's the world, or a relationship, everything has its time, and everything ends.” This is certainly true in our temporal realm. Our griefs become part of us; our heartbreak blends into the shape of our character. But it is true universally, eternally? The Doctor seemed to think so. He gave in to the inevitability, turned away from the power offered to him, broke Sarah Jane's heart again, and set Rose up for future heartbreak. Again, and again, and again.
If change, pain, loss, endings, and heartbreaks are necessary to being human, how could Heaven be possible? The promise of Heaven is a place without tears. We are never told it is a place without change, so that is one possibility: there, we will develop eternally, changing, growing, blossoming, learning. But we have faith that we will never lose anyone there. That we will never have our hearts broken. That we will never have to say goodbye to so much as a tin dog that we love. Does that mean we will stop being human?
Perhaps not. Here is an idea. Perhaps our pain, grief, and loss will go on into Heaven. They are part of us, and it is we who are redeemed, not some shadow of ourselves. Maybe there will even be some kind of sorrow that is eternally redeemed on through our heavenly existence, in a vital, evolving, real life. There seems to be the tiniest bit of Biblical evidence for that: Christ's scars were visible on His resurrected body. In Revelation He appears as a Lamb “looking like it had been slain.” If even His pain goes on into eternity, I imagine ours will, too. So perhaps Sarah Jane was right. Maybe pain and loss define us as much as happiness and love.
Here's a poem I wrote on this subject ages ago; it appears in my collection Caduceus.
Christ endured through three dark kinds of death:
His body, cold; His spirit, tormented;
His two-fold nature, from the Trinity,
somehow divided, lonely. There, the shade-as-
fire flaming dim unquenched Him; ashed-
thick-air untarnished Him, though plunged in Hades.
For harrowing [I wonder] He alone went
wandering: exquisite pains eternal
wracked Him, packed in one three-day atonement
through His Father’s solitude infernal.
He wears His wounds forever from that war-
fare, bears His glory in the beauty of His scars.