The Test of Pain and Memory – Three Selections

It’s not often that one’s unrelated current readings overlap each other topically, but such was the case this week.

“We Bene Gesserit sift people to find the humans.”

He lifted his right hand, willing the memory of the pain. “And that’s all there is to it—pain?”

“I observed you in pain, lad. Pain’s merely the axis of the test . . .”

. . .

They spoke the truth. His mother had undergone this test. There must be a terrible purpose in it . . . the pain and fear had been terrible.

Dune, Book I

I listen to the pain . . . Pain as the proof of past life. There are no other proofs, I don’t trust other proofs. Words have more than once led us away from the truth.

I think of suffering as the highest form of information, having a direct connection with mystery. With the mystery of life. All of Russian literature is about that. It has written more about suffering than about love.

—Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

. . .

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Letter to the Hebrews 2:9โ€“10, 17โ€“18 (NKJV)

These texts resonate with a conviction that has been growing in me in recent years: that it is in actions (and the pain and sacrifice alongside them) where we find reality, or the truth about who we are. What are words—or ideas, or faith—if they are never tested?


      1. Although I like the whizzy stuff I soon realised that what most intrigued me was the politics, sociology, culture & philosophy surrounding the world building involved in making SF feel real. I think I’m a natural born social philosopher and reading SF put me on the road to studying it @ Uni.

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        1. That’s really neat! ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, I think sci-fi provides a space to think about these topics that is “safe,” for lack of a better word. We can debate about Star Trek or Dune politics without ruffling too many feathers (well, hopefully ๐Ÿ˜† ). Fantasy can do that, too. But I guess sci-fi more often overlaps with many of the questions we have to face today or which are coming down the pipeline (AI law & ethics, etc).


          1. True. SF is a great way to run ‘what-if’ scenarios where you can play with thought experiments from all sorts of angles. It’s why sci-fi is so mind expanding in so many ways.

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  1. Your thoughts make me think of how people feel more “alive” when they’ve done something risky or adventurous and, sometimes, have even suffered injury from it; A flesh wound makes one feel more alive, somehow. I think it’s part of the mystery of humans as both spiritual and physical (corporeal) beings. And I think that’s partly why Jesus (incarnate) took on flesh, like the Hebrews text. Related, that ideas or faith being tested is how they’re made real reminds me of what James wrote about, that faith without works is dead. So for faith to work, it must be alive, and to be alive, faith must work out (be exercised). (Hopefully I didn’t just confuse the matter.)

    As for sci-f-, have you read Asimov’s Foundation? Or do you like The Matrix movie (philosophy, politics…)


    1. Not confusing… in fact, “faith without works is dead” has been on my mind lately, too. It’s a controversial topic in some circles, but I take a pretty simple view of it. I don’t believe we are saved by works themselves but that they demonstrate our love of God, and that they are the tangible manifestations of our belief. At the end of that passage, James compares faith & works to the body & the spirit, so viewing them as essential components of the same thing, instead of conflicting concepts, seems to make sense.

      Foundations has been on my list for quite a long time, I hear such good things about it. I did watch The Matrix fairly recently, but couldn’t get into it (it was a bit more action-violence heavy than I like!).

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      1. I’m about to start (in the next month or two) re-reading the Foundation series of books. I read the first 4 books *many* years ago and have picked up the subsequent 3 (which I’ve never read) earlier this year. All prompted by the Apple+ TV series of course which, as far as I know, diverts quite a lot from the books. The idea of ‘PsychoHistory’ and the thought of actually and scientifically predicting human history has intrigued me since my teens.

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