Today, we’re going to talk about a difficult topic – pain and suffering.
This topic is tough to discuss, because pain can run so deep in our lives that it can be overwhelming. I want to affirm the depth of pain and hurt each of us has experienced and may be experiencing right now.
Pain comes in many forms. There is physical pain as we are struck with cancer or a devastating accident. There is relational pain from dysfunctional families, prodigal children, adulterous betrayals, and friction between neighbors, church members, or co-workers. There is financial pain as we struggle to make ends meet, prepare for retirement, or meet unexpected large bills. There is spiritual pain as we are battered with doubt, despair, and discouragement. The list goes on.
Pain comes in many degrees. We can have a very bad day, or a very bad year. One person may struggle to cope with a single problem in life, while someone else might be hit with multiple challenges at once. One person may feel like they are being pulled under by a situation that another person can handle apparently easily.
What I have found is that it doesn’t matter what form pain takes, or what degree it is. Pain hurts. It doesn’t matter whether I stub my toe or break my leg – at the moment I am hurting, the pain is all that I care about. It is all-consuming.
In that moment of pain, I want one thing, and one thing only: “Get me OUT, and get me out NOW!” Stop the pain. Stop the suffering. I want it to end. Whether that means physical healing, emotional healing, relational healing, financial healing, spiritual healing … whatever I am going through, my prayer tends to be the same, “God, make the pain stop! Fix the situation! Get me out of this!”
Sometimes, God does answer in that way – instantly, completely, and even miraculously. And we rejoice and overflow with gratitude, and testify to the great things that God has done in our lives. We see examples of this in Scripture: Jesus calms the storm the moment the disciples cry out to him. God halts the sun in the sky so that Joshua can rout the enemy. Elijah and Elisha raise the dead children of the widows who helped them. Moses raises his staff and the Red Sea parts for the Hebrews to cross to the other side.
But there are other times – perhaps even most times – when God does not answer with an unqualified “Yes” to give us instant relief and release from the pain we are undergoing. What do we do then?
The answer to that is a tough one. Because, the fact is, God does not always give us what we ask for. But – and this is vital to remember – he always gives us what we need. In ALL God’s responses to our cries for help and healing, God is ALWAYS loving. His response – whatever it is – is designed to achieve our good and his glory. He loves us, so he will always do what is best for us.
We often don’t realize this truth because we are looking at our situation through a microscope, viewed from the single moment in time that we occupy. God looks at the big picture: at the full array of our needs, at the sum total of our circumstances, at our complete sanctification, at the span of our whole life – recognizing that our life doesn’t end on this earth, but continues forever in heaven.
From this big picture perspective, God knows that an instant and unqualified “yes” to our cries for relief may not always be in our best interest, or according to his best purposes. So he has other responses that he might give to us. These responses aren’t usually our first choice, but – and here’s the key – if we listen to what God is saying and accept his decision and work with him in the way he directs, we will find that God’s choice is always the BEST choice.
This, while a post in itself, is also an introduction to other posts I will be putting out in the next few weeks. In those posts, we will take a look at how God has spoken to others in their times of pain. By understanding the variety of answers God may have to our cries for help and healing, we will be better positioned to hear him and to receive what he wants to give us. We’ll learn to listen to the many ways God may choose to speak into our pain, and to bring the healing, the wholeness, and the holiness that only he can bring.