In 2004, the Tylenol Company ran a television ad campaign with this tag line: “Pain is a waste of time.” Amazing, isn’t it, how one commercial can tap into the core values of an entire culture? The folks at Tylenol know us all too well. We don’t have time to hurt. We believe that life is good when we feel good.
Advertisers are merely doing their job, right? They’re only trying to sell us what they think will get us what we want. And what do they believe we want? Every commercial is selling the same product: the good life! And every ad is making the same promise: “In order to live good life you need to have this, get that; dress this way, smell that way; get an app for this or a map for that; drive this truck, get insured by that duck . . .” and on and on it goes, the never ending story our world tells us: “Here’s what you have to be and do to get the good life.”
What is “the good life?”
Our culture offers us two alternative definitions, one religious and one irreligious:
- Irreligious: “Life is good when I get what I want when I want it.” We define the good life by our own standards and are determined to achieve it.
- Religious: “Life is good when God gives me what I want when I want it.” We still define the good life by our own standards and demand that God (or some “Higher Power”) provide it.
And so, we either depend on ourselves to get this me-first good life, demand that God give us a good life that we define, or a combination of both.
But Story of the Bible defines the good life differently: “Life is good when God gives me what He wants to give me when He wants to give it.” God defines the good life by His standard. God decides what is good to give us, when to give it, how we can receive it.
Advertising works because it first convinces us that we don’t yet have the good life, and then it tells us how to get it. Every commercial is a “gospel” presentation. First, the bad news: you’re life is hell. But wait! There’s good news: buy this product and the good life is yours!
But the advertisers’ diagnosis is wrong, and that means their cure misses the mark as well. You see, they say “Life is hell because you’re not getting what you want when you want it.” If that is true, then of course the cure is to get what you want when you want it, either by your own effort or by manipulating some “God” to give it to you.
But the Bible says that life is hell when we don’t have God, and in fact, eternal hell is eternal life without God. The Good News of the gospel, then, is this: “Life is good when God gives you Himself when and in the way God wants to give you Himself.” And you can’t earn this good life by your own achievement. You can’t demand that God give it to you on your own terms. You can’t buy it. You can only receive it freely by faith as paid in full for you by the blood of Christ.
So then, is pain a waste of my time? Not if it’s in and through the pain that God chooses to give me Himself. If suffering is how God intends for me to get God, then the good life will include suffering and it will be time well spent. Even in the midst of the hell of hurting I can know that Jesus has taken a greater hell away from me, the hell of not having Him. Sure, I have troubles in my world, but the troubles that trouble me most are in my heart. The troubles of the sin that separates me from God. But because of the promise of the gospel, I can know that Jesus has redeemed me from my sin even if He hasn’t relieved my suffering.
And sure, who wouldn’t want both the redemption of sin along with the removal of suffering? I’d like that, but it’s not what Scripture teaches I can have now. That version of the good life is yet to come. “One day He’s coming! Oh, glorious day!”
So, no thanks, Tylenol. I’ll take the Penalty Remover over the pain reliever. And I’ll call the good life having Him here however He chooses to give Himself to me until that glorious morning when I wake to see Him face to face.
[Update: As I read what I’ve written, I’m compelled to make something clear: I am preaching the gospel to myself here. I do not like pain. I hate to suffer. I love comfort. I struggle to believe that a personal redeemer is better than pain relief, I really do. But if the Bible is true, then I have to cling to the conviction the Bible sells me: God is the good life . . . period. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.]