[Originally posted Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:56am]
The world can be a miserable place sometimes. It can be a painful place, in more ways than one. I am often astonished at the amount of pain and suffering I see around me, and even more amazed to realize that there is so much more that I do not see. When you are experiencing trials it is so easy to think that no one else is struggling or suffering – I have been guilty of this far too often. But we all suffer – some more than others, and more frequently. But the truth is that this world is full of pain, and often a miserable place to be. It is tempting to want to leave this world at times, to just run from the pain, to give up and stop struggling. But what should be our attitude towards these difficulties?
I was reading some excerpts of G.K. Chesterton’s writings the other day and on passage from his “Orthodoxy” stuck out to me. He said,
“The world is not a lodging house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is a fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is, the less we should leave it…”
I think that Chesterton makes a great point about the world and life. Too often we think that this life is about our “happiness” and that should mean that we avoid pain. Buddhism is proof enough that our world thinks that avoiding pain and suffering is what we need – that’s what their whole purpose is: get rid of suffering. So when we experience pain or trials we think that something is going wrong – the world is not as it should be. God is not doing His part. So we think we could just leave. But this world is not a summer house that we go to just for our happiness, it is a battlefield where we are on the front lines. Does pain mean that God is not answering prayers or doing His part? Absolutely not! Perhaps it is the very proof that God is here and doing His part. Perhaps the pain is God’s answer to your prayer. I am tempted to say that what this world needs is more pain, more suffering – especially Christians. What I (personally) need is more pain – even when I don’t want it. Why?
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to a deaf world.”
— C.S. Lewis
Pain is a tool used by God, for His glory and our good. I am not saying that all pain is given by God – there are many things in life that I believe are a direct result of sin — death for instance. I don’t think there is ever a “good time” for someone to die, and I can see no good reason why my dad died when he did. This is a broken and fallen world, where unjustified pain is rampant. But that does not mean that God does not use that pain for His purposes. We may not always understand why God brings us through pain (take Job for example) but we ought never to be bitter that we must endure any pain at all.
So what are the benefits of pain for us? Watchman Nee says that “No one manifests more beauty than the one who is broken.” He goes on to say, “It is most vital that the Lord breaks us… Oh, we must realize that all life’s experiences, troubles, and trials which the Lord sends are for our highest good. We cannot expect the Lord to give anything better, for these constant difficulties are His best.” These constant pains are for our highest good and we ought to be thanking God for giving them to us. Charles Spurgeon says that some people are put where there is no water because that is where they produce the best fruit. Jim Elliot understood this principle and prayed to God in his journal, “Yes, send persecution to me, Lord, that my life might bring forth much fruit.” And C.S. Lewis, in one of his poems, states this paradox this way, “The pains You give me are more precious than all other gains.” You see, one of the benefits of pain is that we can bear more fruit – and thus it is the best thing that God can give us.
On the other side, another benefit of pain is that it gets rid of what is lacking in ourselves. C.S. Lewis says on this point: “Love may cause pain to its object but only [if] that object needs alteration to become fully lovable.” It is because of this quote that I often wonder at how little pain I have endured, comparatively. If pain is God’s loving way of altering me to become more loveable, then I have a whole lot of pain coming in the future. How much pain we all need to be loveable! I think that Lewis gets this idea from George MacDonald, who said,
“For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more… Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.”
“Such is the mercy of God that He would hold His children in the consuming fire of His distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son…rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.”
It is God’s mercy that He should give us pain both to consume that which must be destroyed in us, and to make us more fruitful. Both are necessary, and both are in our best interest. So what should our attitude be towards the pains and sufferings that God sends our way?
In the past year I have grown to love the Psalms, and now read them every day. I love them because they are the cries of people that are going through the same things I’ve gone through: pain and suffering. They are written by people who face pain and trials and cry out to God to deliver them. Open the Psalms and begin reading anywhere – it won’t be long until you see phrases like “hear my prayer”, “answer me”, or “hear my cry”. It would seem that the Psalmists are either constantly on a mountain or in a valley – and yet there is something interesting in how they respond to the pain in their lives. There is only one Psalm that I know of that ends on a note of despair (I believe it is 88) – the rest, although beginning in great despair and hopelessness, all end with hope. I think this is place to see the proper response to pain. One of my favorite Psalms is number 13 – I love it because it is the exact opposite of what I think (42, 43, and 73 do this too). I am with it until the last lines, because they quite frankly baffle me at times. It says,
“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.”
(And this is where I get lost. Up until now I am tracking – I know exactly what he’s talking about…. Then this….)
“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,”
(And this is where I am totally dumbfounded…)
“Because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
Bountifully?!?!? How can he say that?! He just cried out in distress for 4 verses! And that is how God has dealt “bountifully” with him? What!?! And he will “rejoice” because of this? He just said that he was about to “sleep the sleep of death”! How can he rejoice and say that God has dealt bountifully!?!?! …and yet… it is so true. That IS how He deals bountifully with us. (You can really see how this works out in my note on Psalm 73) C.S. Lewis echoes my sentiments exactly when he says this, “[I am] not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for [me, I am] wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” God’s going to do what is best for me, it is up to me whether or not I realize that He is dealing bountifully with me and be thankful, or just complain. My attitude ought to be like the Psalmists, “I will sing to the Lord” — an attitude of thanksgiving.
Look at how Job responds to all the suffering he went through — I love this verse — it is one of my favorites.
“Though He may slay me,
I will hope in Him…”
What a response to pain and suffering — especially when he knows it is from God. He knows it is God who has slain him. Oswald Chambers says that our hearts ought to jump and rejoice at the opportunity to glorify God at the small price of our pain. “It doesn’t matter how it hurts as long as it gives God the chance to manifest Himself in your mortal flesh.” How much pain am I willing to go through to become more like Christ, to be united in His sufferings and conformed to His death? Oh that there would be no limit! Oh that my happiness were secondary to His glory! Oh that I might “count it all joy” when I encounter trials, pain, and suffering!
And so I leave you with this…
“If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.”
— Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest