Monday, April 21, 2008

A Purpose Bigger Than the Pain

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God..." (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Pain is universal.

It doesn't take long after birth before a human being begins to suffer feelings of discomfort, even as simple as hunger pains. Everyone, at some point in life, endures pain on the level of:

Common illness.

Rejection.

Disappointment or disillusionment.

Inconvenience or unnecessary delay.

Lack of consideration shown by others.

On another level, certain brands of pain can be understood only by those who have endured them. Those who haven't, can only imagine the feeling of:

A chronic or serious illness that seems beyond cure.

The death of a child.

The betrayal of adultery.

Financial catastrophe.

Unjust punishment.

These and many other trials find their way into people's lives every day. Lives are changed by the impact of these experiences.

The question for the Christian is not whether pain will come, but how to respond when it does. Will the painful trials we endure pull us away from Christ, or motivate us to draw closer to Him? Every Christian must answer this question.

One of the most common questions asked during times of suffering is some variation on the theme of: "Why does God allow bad things to happen?" This question is easy to ask, and hard to answer. While there are deeper waters in which to dive for more complete answers to this question, every Christian should first come to grips with the basic reality of what God has and has not promised His children. God's promises have to do with eternity after this life, and with spiritual peace during our lifetime here on earth. His promises have never included any kind of assurance that we will be exempt from pain, even tragic or undeserved pain, in this lifetime.

Someone might think, "Well, that's easy to say, when you're enjoying peace in your life."

Precisely. That's just it. Times of peace and quiet in life are exactly the times when Christians should revisit God's promises and remind themselves that trouble can come, that it is likely to come, and when it comes, our response will emerge from the depth, or lack of depth, of our faith. Christians cannot afford to wait and wrestle with these questions when they've just been hit by tragic news. That's a wrestling match we won't be likely to win. You can't build a levee in the middle of a hurricane.

But, no matter how much we try to prepare, when tragedy and sorrow do come, the question is also likely to arise: "Why would my God, who could have intervened and prevented this disaster, stand back and allow it to happen?" Even the most seasoned Christian, who has been with God through thick and thin, could be tempted to lose faith because of this question.

To remain faithful in the face of this question, the Christian must make a choice to have faith in a purpose bigger than the pain. Once a Christian determines to have faith in God's purposes, he can respond to pain by living in faith, hope, and love, in spite of whatever pain he might have to endure. The only other choice is to refuse to believe in a larger purpose, and then to suffer bitterly in times of pain, struggling with doubt and frustration.

The ultimate example of choosing faith in pain is Christ on the cross. Jesus would have preferred not to go there, and even asked His Father to find another way. But, the only way to redeem the human race was to follow through with the mission. The mission could not fail. The mission was more important than the pain Jesus would have to endure. So, the answer to Jesus's prayer was "No". He was not spared the pain, but He did not lose faith in the purpose for it. He committed Himself to the mission long before the pain.

How might this concept be played out in the life of the Christian? Is every painful situation so clear in its purpose?

Another concept Christians benefit from accepting is the idea that we may not always know or understand God's will or influence in a situation. We're never promised to be kept in the loop as to why difficult times come our way. We might or might not have the ability or the opportunity to see the purpose that is bigger than our pain. What then? Are we willing to maintain faith in God only when we can see the purpose bigger than our pain? Or, is there a better way?

For the Christian, there are several possible scenarios for times when we are in pain:

*"I see the purpose bigger than my pain, right now." -- The Apostle Paul is a good example of this. When he sat in prison and wrote his letter to the Philippians, he stated right up front that his imprisonment served to further the gospel, because it stirred up other Christians to do the work he was restricted from doing. He also saw his influence on those entrusted with guarding him in prison. Is the Christian prepared to endure pain for the sake of a purpose bigger than himself?

*"I didn't see the purpose bigger than my pain at the time, but I saw it later." -- Joseph is the perfect example of this realization. He didn't see any purpose in being sold into slavery by his brothers, nor in being falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, nor in being imprisoned and forgotten about by a fellow inmate he had helped. But, once it all came full circle, and his long-lost brothers arrived in Egypt seeking food during the famine, everything became clear. The reason for all his suffering was made plain. Is the Christian willing to have faith in suffering, holding out hope that he, like Joseph, might see the purpose for it later on?

*"I never saw the purpose bigger than my pain." -- Is this thought too discouraging to contemplate? It shouldn't be. Job is the prime example of this. Scholars may dispute what might be read between the lines, but the fact is that Scripture never states that Job ever really understood what happened to him. All through his story, he believes wholeheartedly that God, for some unknown reason, has chosen to punish him without cause. In the end, he humbles himself before God, and all is restored, but we're never shown anything more than Job's misunderstanding. He never knew that Satan was really behind it all, and that the cruel test inflicted upon him by Satan served God's purposes in the end. Can the Christian endure the pain of never knowing the purpose being served in his suffering? Will the Christian commit to remaining faithful, and accepting the fact that the answer might not ever come? Will the Christian accept the fact that much suffering exists simply as a result of living in a sinful world influenced by Satan?

In the end, there must be some degree of acceptance of the message of Deuteronomy 29:29. According to this passage, there are some things that are secret, understood only by God Himself. Whatever these things are, they just don't belong to us right now, perhaps not ever. Can the Christian make peace with that? Will the Christian commit to faithfulness till death, even if that means living with questions unanswered? Even if that means suffering pain without seeing the purpose?

Will your anchor hold in a storm?

Will your house stand against the wind?

Will your faith remain strong in times of pain?

Are you preparing your faith now, or waiting for that storm to hit?

1 comment:

Gorgeous Smiles said...

That's a tough pill to swallow. I need to move from the shallow end, and anchor down in the deep. Unfortunately, I've allowed my pain to cause me to be tossed to and fro. Not good!