Since Monday morning at 10 am, every move has involved discomfort. I lifted a small thing and somehow injured my lower back, making every move painful, causing me to think about how to best accomplish the smallest tasks. That pain has raised my awareness of the ordinary – like tying my shoes, picking up something on the floor! Even more significantly, that small injury renewed my appreciation of being in a network of friends, a clear reminder that I am not self-sufficient.
The problem of pain is an old question in the world. “Why does God allow suffering? What purpose does pain serve?” At least part of the answer is that it is one of His ways to call us to pursue Him, to invite us to participate with Him in eternal work in this world. C. S. Lewis wrote that “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
When I am well-fed, healthy, and at peace in my world I can easily go day after day in a self-satisfied state. The troubles of others can slip out of view, the need to engage in worship become secondary to living the good life. Who needs God when the sun shines, life is rich, the kids are healthy, our marriage is happy, and our job secure?
Jesus told a story about a successful man, who found himself with a good harvest. That man forgot the source of his blessings. He said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
This is the paradox of a blessed life. God loves to bless. He has created a world for us that is filled with good things, with beauty and abundance. As we enjoy those things, the common path is to forget Him, to grow selfish, to allow greed to possess us – and in the process to destroy the very blessings we could enjoy because we have forgotten the God who gave them to us in the first place.
Moses, the leader of the people of God, warned of the sin of self-sufficiency and pride. In a long song in Deuteronomy 32-32, there are these lines:
“But Israel soon became fat and unruly;
the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed!
Then they abandoned the God who had made them;
they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:15, NLT)
Yes, pain is one of the tools God uses to shape us into His glory. His own Son, Jesus completed the work of saving the world with suffering. “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10, NIV)
Could we lose our desire for ignorant bliss long enough to consider that God loves us in such a way that He is willing to allow pain in our lives to turn our attention to greater things that we might leave behind our animal existence, pre-occupied with food, sleep, trinkets, and sex, and become His true children, creations on course for our heavenly home?
We might like to think ourselves noble enough that pain serves no purpose other than to make us miserable but in that we are deluded. Suffering can be purposeful, lifting us higher. If we are unwilling to experience it, we will pass through life without deeply engaging with our spouse, with fellow Christians, with true service. Why? Because to deeply engage will bring surely to some difficulty. To care, to love, is to create the possibility of disappointment and pain, which then challenges us to care even more, like our Father in heaven who loved us ‘while we were still sinners.’
Yes, it hurts! Faith can lead us to use the pain, instead of allowing it to make us bitter or cynical. Will you trust Him, hold onto Him when it seems too much?
Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit give us eyes to see beyond today.
“All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God’s comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, NLT)
Abba, form Your life in me.
If you must allow pain to chisel away the
sinfulness and selfishness, then help my faith
to survive the trials.
Help me to long for You more than my own comfort,
to be willing to engage with the world in which I live
even at the expense of knowing pain, sharing the grief.
Jesus, the mystery of suffering is hard.
Whisper to the depths of my heart about how I am being
‘perfected’ through it, for God’s glory.