Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Purpose and Wonder of Pain

It scarcely defies reason that every human being feels pain--it is perpetual to the human experience. It comes with the life at birth and never leaves until death. Pain is a condition of life this side of eternity; and for some, purgatory will last forever more, but that’s a whole other debate and discussion!

Is there a purpose to pain, and is there a biblical answer? It’s a “yes” to both questions. There are two examples right from the top of my head, both leading to the same destination. The relevance to both is on what happens afterwards. But before we explore those, let’s dwell for a time on these thoughts:

“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.”
–C.S. Lewis.[1]

“The greatest sermons I have ever heard were not preached from pulpits but from sickbeds. The greatest, deepest truths of God’s Word have often been revealed not by those who preached as a result of their seminary preparation and education, but by those humble souls who have gone through the seminary of affliction and learned experientially the deep things of the ways of God.”
–Dr. M.R. De Haan.[2] (Italics mine.)

God doesn’t waste pain. It’s an intentional tool to assist us for the future, whether that is on this earth or in eternity. The second quote draws on the truth that it’s only those who’ve genuinely suffered who’re often able to minister the best, with the most readable sources of compassion.

The “deeper magic” described in The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a pleasant and congruent metaphor. It was the paradoxical nature of Aslan’s suffering and sacrifice (an allegory for Christ’s) that revealed the deeper magic and crushed the otherwise ignorant white witch (Satan). The deeper magic could not be employed without the pain of sacrifice; a theorem completely foreign to our basic human experience.

Perhaps the only way to grow closer to God is through such an experience of humbly accepting the pain that comes our way. Here is part of the wonder of pain. We become inwardly shaped and matured people through the furnace of affliction. In simple terms, we grow.

Paul says, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” –2 Corinthians 1:5 (TNIV). We never suffer alone. Yet, it’s only those truly of Christ who can identify properly with and gain from the purpose and wonder of pain--in its true and original context.

Others have no true idea how to best deal with it. They can only see what it costs them; it’s an utterly egocentric perspective. Yet, life is not really about us in that way. There is so much more to see than purely from only our own viewpoints. It’s from the overall life and growth perspective we derive real, sustaining comfort and hope.

Discipline is part of the purpose: “At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.”
–Hebrews 12:11 (Msg).

There’s a purpose to everything we experience in life. There has to be--we have to believe it. We just don’t always connect the dots. If only we could see visions from the perspective of hindsight and then we’d understand.

The wonder is in the paradox. For the personal cost of sacrifice for suffering well--in faith--there is a spiritual benefit that can’t be priced. The irony within the paradox is no one can understand this unless they see from God’s viewpoint; through Christ, his life, death and resurrection.

We must suffer well, in faith, with an open mind and heart. It’s the only card in the deck worth holding. The alternative, blaming God or others for our problems, is a deliberately hellish choice. Reason speaks for faith even though faith is not always reason-able.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Martin R. De Haan II, Why Would a Good God Allow Suffering – Discovery Series Bible Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: RBC Ministries, 2001), p. 12.
[2] De Haan, Ibid, p. 27.

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