The Purpose of Pain

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5: 3-5

Simply put, I would say the purpose of pain is to indicate that something is wrong. When my finger hurts, the pain tells me that I need to take my finger off the stove. God designed our bodies that way. Pains in LIFE indicate something is wrong too, with the world. It’s affected by sin. But, God doesn’t STOP it. He ALLOWS it, sometimes even SENDS it. Ask Job.

A friend’s recent e-mail contained the following: “When GOD solves your problems, you have faith in HIS abilities. When GOD doesn’t solve your problems HE has faith in your abilities.” I would add the qualifier, “He has faith in your abilities,” PUT there by His “training” and His Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:3-5, talks of “exulting in our tribulations,” because they bring about certain thinking, which results in certain behaviors and HOPE.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s  devotional, “God is on the Cross,” says “In suffering, the deliverance consists in our being allowed to put the matter out of our own hands into God’s hands”

Job never did get an exact answer to the WHY of his suffering but he learned much from it that wouldn’t have been learned without it. To me, the story of the silversmith gives understanding and hope, though many answers are still lacking. Malachi talks of the silversmith who sits over the fire while the silver is in it. If he doesn’t let the silver in the fire long enough, he won’t burn out all the impurities. If he lets the silver in the fire too long, he will ruin it and either way, it will be worthless to fashion into something of value to him.

So how does the smith know the silver is ready to come out of the fire? The silver is ready, when the smith sees his image in the silver.

Then He can fashion it into what He wants it to be. But first, He has to cause the heat, the pain, and what appears to be neglect; He has to cause all these things to work together for………well, you know.
~Lee Mielke

As If We Were There

Surely he took up our pain 
and bore our suffering,
 yet we considered him punished by God,
 stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
 the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

And how shall we pray those psalms of unspeakable misery and suffering, the meaning of which we have hardly begun to sense, even remotely?  We can and we should pray the psalms of suffering, the psalms of the passion, not in order to generate in ourselves what our hearts do not know of their own experience, not to make our own laments, but because all this suffering was real and actual in Jesus Christ.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We just passed the third anniversary of the 3-11 (earthquake/tsunami/nuclear) disaster. Many of us who are personally connected to it still feel a very immediate and emotional bond and let that bleed out into our social media posts. But I observed that the overall reaction was generally limited, even tepid, in comparison to other years. And there was some discussion (not on mine but observed) equivalent to: time to let it go and move on with your lives. And this is true on some level. We shouldn’t wallow in it or make it about us. But we do need to remember that it really happened, and it still is having a profound affect on Japan, the Japanese, and on us.

All the unimaginable horror and suffering of 3-11, 9-11, and the rest of the nightmares we have observed or experienced in our lives, pale in comparison to what Christ endured for us. If we can’t even begin to imagine the horror of someone caught in the Oso mudslide, how do we begin to comprehend and interact with Jesus’ experience? Perhaps it is best kept in the abstract: out there, holy. If it is unspeakable, why talk about it? But Bonhoeffer gives us a formula for interacting with this “unspeakable misery and suffering.” He calls on us to not only read, but to turn into the active act of prayer the words of Christ’s suffering and passion. Not, he says, so we can be empathetic or to seek understanding about what can’t be understood. Not so we can make it about us. But because it happened. Really. And it affects us every day because as a result of His suffering, we are healed. Treat Christ’s death as if we were there. Treat it like it was this morning. Say the words prayerfully, respectfully, and with awe and tears. Gratefully.
~Brian Vander Haak

Enduring Suffering

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him.
If we disown Him, He will also disown us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
For He cannot deny Himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13

 

I don’t like suffering – thinking about it, talking about it, much less actually suffering. But God’s Word pulls no punches.

There is much we must endure.

A friend’s business fails. A brother’s cancer returns. A sister loses her job. My child loses his hearing. Suffering is our daily reality in this sinful, broken world. Suffering must be a curse – the enemy.

Elisabeth Elliott turns my thoughts right-side up.

“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son. The cross was the proof of His love – that He gave that Son, that He let Him go to Calvary’s cross, though ‘legions of angels’ might have rescued Him. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”

Did we really think that “take up your cross” meant wear a really pretty necklace?
~Julie Garrett

 

The Fuel for Suffering

“God is a God of bearing”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

Give me strength to bear what you send, and do not let fear rule over me.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from ” Prayers in Times of Distress”

 
 
As I write this, some dear friends of ours are homeless; nearly all of their possessions have been lost or destroyed at the hands of an angry mob. In a matter of hours, their future became tenuous. Their losses aren’t a result of foolishness on their part; they were following God’s call, walking through doors that only God could have opened. They were seeking to be obedient, and it has cost them.
 
Our response to suffering says much about our motives for following Christ. In the gospels, Jesus gives some grim promises of suffering to those who follow him. And yet, just as surely as we are guaranteed suffering, we are exhorted to live in love, to actively reject self-seeking ways, anger and bitterness (I Corinthians 13). But this is hard, because suffering is nearly always linked to injustice, nearly always having to do with badly behaved people taking what is precious to you.
 
What is our fuel?  What could possibly arm us to be gracious in the face of losing what the greater world sees as our rights? Wendell Berry writes that we are a cumulative of the love borne down to us from our parents and theirs before them. Or, to put it Biblically, “we love because he first loved us.” There is no other power for suffering than Christ’s love.
This is the life Christ lived for us. This is the mystery we are empowered to demonstrate, and by which the outside will always be baffled.
 
Thanks be to God! Even in the midst of our losses, we can be confident that He is utterly trustworthy. After all, who can doubt someone who offers his only son?
~Breanna Randall

Release and Recovery

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4: 14-19

When in the midst of unbearable sadness, unspeakable tragedy, physical and emotional suffering, there is no hope aside from the spiritual recovery offered through Jesus.

He is the rescuer digging through the mudslides of life that have taken our loved ones and our hearts and hopes with them; only He can release us from our bitter losses and lead us to affirming with joy the greatness of His Spirit in His people.

He is alongside us in our suffering, weeping as we weep.  He knows how deeply we long for the freedom of release and recovery.

He is who He says.

~Emily Gibson

Pinned to the Lord

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
II Corinthians 12:7-10

None of us like trouble, but it is inevitable in this fallen world, and Christians are not exempt.  In fact, the Bible is quite clear that we who know Christ, will sometimes suffer above and beyond the rest of humanity.

So what is God doing?  “Why?” is the familiar question on the lips and in the minds of sufferers. Well, II Corinthians 12, suggests two answers to the “why?”.

First God desires us to be humble.  Paul admits that it was to keep him from becoming conceited that he was given a thorn in the flesh.   Pride is the Evil One’s game, but in the Beatitudes Jesus blesses the poor, the meek, those who mourn and those who suffer.   The things we suffer drive us to the end of ourselves – humble us, break us, and make us useful to the Lord.  How precious to us, to be helplessly pinned to the Lord.  It is the path of true greatness.

Second, God’s purpose is to demonstrate his own grace and power.  Now, if  you wanted to showcase a gold trophy, you wouldn’t put gold foil behind it; that would detract from the trophy.  Instead, you would put black cloth behind it, so that only the trophy is seen.  Similarly, when God wants to demonstrate his mighty power and grace, he does not pick the strongest, most capable, most righteous people; he picks the weakest, most helpless people.  And against the backdrop of our darkest days, God’s glorious power and wisdom are displayed.
~Pastor Bert Hitchcock

Focused on God

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
Luke 22:44-46

It is not difficult for us to think of things that can distract us these days. We are bombarded with screens and often pointless information from dawn til dusk, for many of us any moment of quiet is interrupted by our phones or something else trying to grab our attention. It often feels as though we truly are at the mercy of many things not in this world. And yet in Luke we see that these distractions from God can come in even giving in to tiredness.

For a long time it almost seemed unfair in my mind that Jesus would get upset over his disciples tiredness. However it has become clearer to me that any form of putting our supposed needs before Christ’s is giving in to the sin of thinking ourselves higher than God. It surely isn’t easy, but it strikes at the core of our relationship with Christ. While the disciples were sleeping, his concentration on God was so intense his sweat dropped like blood.

We need to approach God with that same utterly complete focus, and say with Christ, not my will, but yours be done.
~Brandon Dieleman
One thing remains clear or at least sensed: doubt and temptation about the meaningfulness of being cast to and fro, of being at the mercy of things, will not cease as long as we remain focused on ourselves, as long as in one form or another “the other” (i.e. that which is not of this world) does not step into our lives.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer