Learning anything from the pain?

Learning anything from the pain?

Suffering1   I knew I was beginning to recover from surgery when I became aware of the sticky square shapes in odd places on my body, the residue of monitoring patches. Now that I had the sense to realize they were there, it was time they were scrubbed off.

Hadn’t noticed them for a week. My days were filled with meds, meals, sleep and occasional trips to the loo.

Major problem; major surgery. Pain and suffering. Weeks of recovery.

I hope no one has told you that once you become a Christian, all your problems are solved. No more suffering or pain, just smooth sailing ahead.

It’s a lie. If someone told you this lie, I hope you don’t believe it. All it’s going to bring is disappointment with God over something He never promised.

Scripture actually teaches that we can expect trouble. Pick your translation and the upshot of 2 Timothy 3:12 is this:

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer…”

Not might, will.

Most of my real problems started once I became a Christian. (Before Christ, my “problems” were mostly the by-product of my sin.)

When I embraced Christ, I made the mistake of inviting my running partners, now called “road dogs,” to my baptism. That pretty much cleared my calendar. The ones who stuck around, thinking this was just a phase, exited stage right when they realized I really was a changed person.

I suffered the loss of “friends.” Then there were the family members who went a little crazy, the religious people who didn’t go for all the “saved” stuff. The person who had given me my first Bible became unglued. To this day, our relationship is strained.

Bodily suffering can pale compared to emotional hurt. Still, all suffering hurts. We’d all like to avoid pain, but don’t believe that other lie that if you  “just had enough faith,” you wouldn’t get sick.

If Christians were immune to sickness, there would be no need for all the New Testament teaching on healing. Paul, who wrote much of it, suffered a thorn in the flesh that God refused to remove. Instead, He reminded Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

God is with us in all our suffering. I encountered Him in the longtime nurse who brought cups of warm broth to soothe my aching throat after surgery left me barely able to swallow. I glimpsed Him in the bright bouquets that arrived on my doorstep, the meals brought, the cards mailed. I felt His embrace in the hugs of family and friends, heard His voice in their phone calls.

Suffering is part of the journey, not an aberration. It doesn’t last, but it will happen. When Paul encouraged disciples on his missionary journeys, he did not sugar-coat the reality of what it means to follow Christ, saying: “We must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

No servant is greater than his master. Jesus suffered; we will suffer.

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

I’m learning that dust bunnies will wait. That the people I care about are more important than the work I do. That feeling good is a gift easily taken for granted. That, in spite of everything, God is good. He is faithful and worthy of obedience and praise.

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God The Father, not The Bodyguard

 Whenever there’s a natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe such as the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., or the shooting of Sikh worshipers in Wisconsin, invariably someone asks: “How could a loving God allow this to happen when He could have protected those people?”

Fair question, but I think it’s the wrong one. Most of us live our everyday lives independently of God. Aside from mouthing an occasional “God Bless America,” we want God to mind His business while we mind our own.

My question: Why do we expect a God we ignore to come running to our defense when all hell breaks loose?

The God of the Bible does not obligate Himself to act as a universal bodyguard. God loves the world (John 3:16) and is rich in mercy to all His creation. He rains on the just and the unjust, extending common grace to us all.

Yet, God specifically reserves His protection and deliverance for a subset of humanity:

  •  “The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Psalm 34:7
  • “The Lord watches over all who love Him….” Psalm 145:20(a).
  • “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.” Psalm 37:8

God knows if we love Him based on whether we do what He wants.

Jesus told the story of two brothers whose father asked each of them to go work in his vineyard. The first initially refused to go, but he finally did. The other said he would go, but did not. Jesus asked: who actually did the will of the father? The one who did what the father asked.

Think of God’s care as a kind of umbrella. When we rebel, we step into the rain. God’s love is unchanged; we just don’t experience its benefits. “Your sins…. have cut you off from God.” (Isaiah 59:2) If this sound unfair, I hear you. But it’s simple family dynamics.

I take responsibility for nurturing and protecting my children. They are a part of me; we have a blood tie. It’s not that I have no concern for my neighbors’ children. If they have a need or are in danger, I can help. But I am not obligated to do so. We don’t have that kind of relationship. Even my own children can refuse my help; and I cannot make them accept it.

Similarly, the Bible says, “I will be a Father to you, And you shall by My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:18)

A Father is responsible for His own children; obedient children submit both to their Father’s loving care and His correction. Yet, we expect God to intervene at crisis points in the lives of people who may want nothing to do with Him.  This is a wrong-headed expectation for two reasons.

First, our safety isn’t God’s only concern. He wants to make us holy, which sometimes means allowing us to suffer. Life happens to us all. God has not promised all rainbows and roses. He simply has said He will never abandon us.

Secondly, while God’s explicit protection is a family privilege,  the Good News is we can be adopted into His family. Whether we start out near to God or very far away, through Christ “we have access by one Spirit to the Father.”(Eph 2:18)

My challenge, perhaps yours too?, is to let God be my Father when there is no crisis – when I like it and when I don’t. No one can invoke God’s favor as some kind of force-field against the vicissitudes of life, but we can choose to trust Him day by day. He obligates Himself to us only when we commit ourselves to Him.