One of the greatest Christian thinkers and authors of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, published a book in 1940 entitled The Problem of Pain. In this masterpiece, Lewis claimed that pain is a problem “because our finite, human minds selfishly believe that pain-free lives would prove that God loves us.”
In other words, we tend to equate a life of ease and without pain as a life that verifies the love of God. However, Lewis is spot-on when he asserts, “Love demands the perfecting of the beloved,” because like gold, we are perfected in the fire of adversity.
For the past couple of days, my back has been killing me. I can’t walk, sit, or even lie down without pain. I’m miserable, but somehow my pain creates a focus in me that is too often missing. I know for certain, besides dropping me to my knees in agony, it drives me to my knees in prayer. I also know it reminds me of my desperate need for God.
Whether we like it or not, and we typically do not like it at all, pain can be used to perfect us. We are, in fact, best molded into the image of God’s Son through suffering. Even Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered (see Hebrews 5:8).
I know how this reality sits with most of us. We hate it. We fight it. We can’t imagine how a good and loving God could ever allow us to suffer. Some of us have turned our backs on God precisely because of the suffering we have experienced.
In my early 20s, I walked away from God for a season screaming, “God, if this is the best you can do to take care of your kids (me), then I’m done trusting you with my life!”
I had the false belief that God existed to make me happy and healthy. I hadn’t figured out yet that He’s way more concerned about making me holy. As it happens, being holy leads to true happiness and spiritual and emotional health.
Yet for so many, life is so hard . . .
- A dear friend of mine is experiencing deep emotional pain right now.
- A cousin is suffering through the reality of breast cancer.
- A guy I’ve know for years as a mental stud is losing his memory to Alzheimer’s.
- A couple that has poured their lives into their children is dealing with the tragic rebellion of a son, and it’s breaking their hearts.
The pain and suffering of my friends and family makes my current struggle pale by comparison. But pain is still pain, and we can resent it or embrace it.
I choose to embrace what it can produce in me.
Of course, I will pray for healing.
Of course, I will fight and contend for a miracle.
Not for a moment am I suggesting we just grin and bear it. I’m going to pray and pray hard for God to intervene for me and for others.
But in the meantime, and despite the struggle, I want to become better, not bitter. I want to embrace my pain with patience and hope in a Father who always wants the best for me (even when I define “best” differently than He does). I want to develop a trust in God that is not contingent on my comfort or hinged on my happiness. (Click on the last line to Tweet it.)
Perhaps, we need a different perspective of pain.
Maybe the suffering we know, and even the suffering that comes through the sin of others against us, can be a tool in God’s hand.
Some react, “Are you saying that I should be grateful for the sexual abuse I suffered as a child?!”
“Are you telling me to be happy about the tragic loss of my child?”
“Are you suggesting that somehow my pain and suffering can be redeemed and recycled by God?”
Somehow, in a way that only God can accomplish, when we surrender our lives to Him (and I mean everything in our past, present and future to Him), He uses it to change us. God transforms our pain into a pathway to our perfection. (Click on last line to Tweet it.) He restores us and then releases us to comfort others as He has comforted us. (See 2 Corinthians 1:4)
As Lewis wrote, “”I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts.” Of course, it does.
But pain is not the end of the story.
My friend, Wm. Paul Young, suffered sexual abuse and parental neglect in the most horrible of ways as a child. Was that God’s plan? Not even close. But over 18 million people have read his book, The Shack, and it’s a book about pain. Paul’s tragic story and horrific past has literally touched millions and changed lives.
It’s what God does.
He takes our brokenness, our suffering, our pain and our wounds and He finds a way to use it to make us more like Jesus. You can reject that reality or accept it. I know from firsthand experience, acceptance is the wiser way.
Maybe, just maybe, pain can become a blessing in your life.
May I pray for you?
Jesus, you know suffering. You know pain. You know betrayal and even death. But that wasn’t the end of your story, and it doesn’t have to be the end of ours. Hold us close. Take our hand through this valley of the shadows. Protect us from evil. Heal our broken bodies and broken hearts. And in the meantime, help us look beyond the now to the joy that will be ours someday, either in this world or the next. Amen.
“Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect.
He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing
because of the joy that God put before him.
And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:2 (NCV)