Dr. Alan Noble, assistant professor of English, delivered the chapel message Wednesday, Oct. 23, at OBU. He discussed mental health, suffering and the human condition, and encouraged students to seek help, through therapy and doctors as well as spiritually, when they struggle through difficult times in their lives.
He began by discussing his growing up around suffering people.
“As a kid, I knew a lot of people that had painful tragic lives, but I thought I was an anomaly,” he said. He detailed how people close to him were abused by family members and friends, and how many sought harmful solutions to ease their pain. “They were addicted to alcohol, meth, cocaine and God knows what else. They went hungry and lived in filth, they were orphaned, abandoned, neglected and imprisoned, willing to do almost anything to feel alive…including overdose. They lived hard hard lives, where their daily experience was either acute suffering or prolonged numbness.”
Noble said he assumed that most people lived simpler lives and that by experiencing these things in his family and close friends, that he was an anomaly. He later came to realize that pain and suffering are part of the broader human condition, and that he was not in fact unique, as most people are either dealing with personal pain or walking through it with loved ones.
“Almost every cultural institution promises you a good life if you just do what they ask,” he said. “Make the right life choices, marry the right person, go to the right church, get the right education, work the right job, buy the right product. Whatever challenges we face in life can be solved, that is our society’s promise.”
Noble shared that he later realized he was wrong about his original assumption and that not only is he not an anomaly, he is a part of the norm. He noted that the people around us that seem to be normal or have it all together are often actually very broken and have very hard lives. Yet, since we tend to hide these things from others, we often fail to see the brokenness around us.
He then challenged chapel attendees to accept two facts: first, that life is hard, and second, that during some periods it will seem all but unbearably hard.
“Remember, tremendous suffering is the normal experience of being in the world, not the anomaly.”
Closing his message, Noble admonished the audience to remember that life is a miraculous gift and that in this life we are to glorify God by honoring his creation. He noted that we should recognize that we are all going to suffer in life, but suffering is not the essence of living, rather the grace of Christ is. Suffering is normal, and we should hold each other up in this life and encourage one another.
“Life is an awesome responsibility and a burden,” he said. “Like it or not, if you give up on life, it will open up the possibility for others to give up. You have the solemn responsibility to bear witness to the goodness of life by living despite suffering, despite the fact that the pleasant life ism’t actually normal.”
Noble has been teaching composition and literature for over a decade. Before joining the OBU faculty in 2014, he taught at Baylor University as well as Antelope Valley College in his hometown of Lancaster, California.
He earned both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from California State University in Bakersfield. He then earned a Ph.D. from Baylor. At OBU, he teaches courses including English composition and classical literature, Western civilization, literature of the Western world, professional editing, transatlantic modernism, contemporary literature and topics in drama and film.In addition to being a professor, Noble is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Christ and Pop Culture. He is also the co-founder of the evangelical political organization Public Faith and he is a member of the leadership council of the AND Campaign. In his additional time, he works as a freelance writer, with work published in The Atlantic, Vox, Buzzfeed, First Things, Christianity Today and the Gospel Coalition. He has given talks on literature, popular culture, technology, secularism and related issues at a number of colleges, churches and organizations. His Twitter account, @TheAlanNoble, has a large following.