Pain and suffering is part of the Christian life. It’s in times when the pain is high that confusion follows, and from there it can lead to questioning some of the fundamental beliefs we have as Christians:
Is God really morally perfect? Does He really care? Is he really there? Does he really love me? Is it all really true?
Pain, depression, anxiety, long-suffering. They have the ability to call into question some of the very tenets of the faith. I’m good at this one. When things get tough, I start to question. But usually there is something very fundamental as to why I’m upset in the first place.
Guess what it is? Yep. You guessed it. I’m usually trying to play god. Sometimes I forget that I don’t control the universe. So I start trying to control everything, and make things happen just the way I want them to. And then when they don’t go how I want them to, and people don’t stick to the script I’m thinking in my head, I get pissed off. I start to romp and stomp and spiral into a bitter morass of self pity and angry depression.
I’m not God. More specifically, God isn’t my humble servant. He doesn’t exist to give me a better life and get me a new car, better job, or perfect spouse. I’m his humble servant. He is God. He has an awesome, perfect plan for not just my life, but for the life of every single person that belongs to him. My part in all of this, is searching out God’s will for me, and God’s will for the world, and then finding out how to get on-board with that plan, and serve him faithfully, helping out whenever I can.
Really that’s a wonderful revelation. I don’t enjoy playing god because it never works out. I just end up angry, annoyed, and upset. So I’ve got prayers for times like these, the first one goes like this:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.”
“God, grant me the serenity to love their best and never fear their worst. Amen.”
“God, help me to understand that I can’t change people, places or things. Help me to accept my situation as being just as it should be at this moment. Nothing happens in your world by mistake, what needs to be changed is my attitude, not the situation. Amen.”
It’s hard though isn’t it? When we fall into pain and suffering. We don’t always stop the process before we get very low. And sometimes the pain is just entirely overwhelming, like when a long relationship ends or a family member passes away. For me, often as an active addict I spent time in jails or mental hospitals. The pain was always very powerful in jail, and I’d often read from the book of Job while within those institutions. Bible reading does help during those times though, doesn’t it?
Job 30:17 (ESV) The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
Romans 8:18 (ESV) says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The things that we go through, that I’ve gone through and that I go through today are temporary. 80 or 90 years on this broken fallen sin planet will seem like the blink of an eye as we spend eternity with the Lord, face to face. After say, 10,000 years of peace and incredible joy with God the Father, we’ll probably think back on those 80 or 90 years that we had, and be so very thankful that someone told us about Jesus. We’ll probably be so incredibly thankful that our hearts were softened to the message of eternal life. We’ll be so thankful that we chose to plant seeds for eternity.
And after 10,000 years of life in eternal torment, those who failed to receive the message of eternal life, as they were offered it time and time again in their 80 or 90 years, will probably desperately wish they had just one more day on Earth, just one more day, to drop to their knees and call on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, and the redemption of their souls. But that memory will be their only consolation, as they endure pain, for all time.
It will be right that they endure such, because I have seen the folly of the wicked and it is truly terrible. They lead Christians into sin, they work night and day to confuse and shipwreck the faith of the elect. They make play things out of vulnerable women and entrap vulnerable men to serve them. In the meantime they are offered the gospel time and again, welcomed to this church, shown this verse, cared for in their hospital bed, handed a Bible by a stranger, but still they mock and ridicule those who tried to help them, and the people who tried to help them then struggle in the future to help others, because they’re afraid of the same lash-out they received from the wicked. So I’m telling you the truth, that God’s judgment is right, true, and just. He was just and right to offer them mercy, forgiveness, and grace many times throughout their life. God is so very wonderfully patient, but after so many refusals of his loving mercy, his patience runs out, and so does their time.
That is the way of things. People lash out at the idea of hell, eternal torment, and so on. They talk about it like an average person is just standing their, minding their own business, being good, loving others, but never met Jesus, and then God angrily tosses them into hell. That’s not the way of it. These people are not innocent. They are wicked. And they’ve made sport of hurting others their entire lives. They then receive the just deserves for their actions. Punishment.
We can’t stand the idea of that today, discipline. Yet it’s how our government functions. We applaud when a pedophile is sent to prison, or when a murderer is caught. We applaud and cheer when animal abusers are caught and punished. But somehow that should be different for God? He needs to be unconditionally loving us no matter what we do. Can you imagine if your parents were that way with you? Never disciplined you once? I’ve seen kids like that. They’re pretty scary.
The point here is, there is a solution to the problem of pain. Especially while in the midst of pain, the solution can seem so very far away. But the solution is found in 1 Peter 4:19. It says “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
The solution is to reaffirm, in a powerful manner, utter reliance on God the Creator. Reaffirm total trust in God, his ways, his plan, his Son, and his book! Last night in an utterly depressed mood I did this, with prompting from God, by yelling my reliance on him at the sealing. Loudly.
Coupled with complete trust, is doing good. In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous it says, “When all else fails work with another alcoholic.” Why does this tactic so effectively help the alcoholic to stay sober? Because it gets the alcoholic out of himself. When you’re helping someone else you don’t have time to think about how miserable and sad you are. In addition, when helping someone else you gain a valuable truth perspective on your own suffering. Most importantly perhaps, you identify and understand you aren’t alone.
Psalm 131 (NIV)
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.