From “And Jesus Wept,” by Pastor K. David Oldfield
One Plus One is Two; Two Plus Two is Four
Perhaps it is not the greatest or most important question ever asked, but the certainly the toughest is the one screamed from the sick bed or mortuary chapel: “Why? Why, Lord, has this tragedy been permitted to enter MY life?”
This question is easy to ask but impossible to answer with any real certainty. Often it flows off people’s lips without them thinking or even waiting for an answer. The fact is that there can be no single and final answer given by anyone but the Lord. We can’t run all the information about a particular case into a magic computer and have it spit out a precise analysis, answer or solution. There are no special Bible concordances that lead us to a verse which exactly fits our life and our hurt.
Assuming the Lord’s sovereignty over pain, there could be many things that it might accomplish in a person’s life. There could be a single objective or a large number of them. The best that any godly pastor can do to help a sufferer is to point to some POSSIBLE explanations and then try to take him beyond the “Why” to the “What now,” which is far more important.
What might be God’s intention in permitting you to suffer?
To Allow the Lord to Work
Jehovah, in infinite wisdom, has sometimes made suffering His tool of choice. The dentist could use a variety of devices and techniques from hammer and chisel to acid or silly putty, but thankfully he picks up the most practical. The Lord, in infinite wisdom, does the same.
Of course, the highest objective that God has ever had, humanly speaking, is in providing salvation for fallen creatures like you and me. Don’t strain your mind looking for alternatives to redemption; there are none. The fact is, God chose one way: the painful pouring forth of some very special blood. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was a man acquainted with sorrow (Isa. 53:3) for the purpose of saving souls. He suffered the worst that God’s justice and man’s sin had to offer. If there was any possibility of providing salvation in any other way it would undoubtedly have been used. Putting it simply: There could not possibly be salvation from sin if it were not for the suffering of Jesus on the cross. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). His pain allowed God’s grace to work.
This being true, it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that it is also true in other cases as well.
How many millions of grief-stricken souls down through history have been encouraged by the events recorded in John 11? God has blessed the hearts of multitudes through the suffering of a few that we find there.
That chapter discusses the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus and raises several questions: To what degree did dying Lazarus hurt? What was his death-bed ailment? Was the pain excruciating, or did God mercifully put him into a coma? It appears from the anxiety of Mary and Martha that his pain was severe. Yet, “when He (Jesus) heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was” (John 11:6). Jesus permitted the man to suffer; He let the man’s sisters suffer. They slept little; ate little; prayed much; worried more. God the Father and God the Son prescribed Lazarus’ sufferings and death so that we could see that man live again and learn that Jesus is the “resurrection, and the life,” and that all who believe on him should live again (Jn. 11:25). The wisdom of God, in this case, decreed that the best way to illustrate and teach that comforting lesson was through the misery of Lazarus.
Who is to say that your pain might not be used of God in the blessing of others in a similar way?
In John 9 the disciples saw a man suffering from permanent blindness. They asked the Saviour the age-old question: “Why?” “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind” (Jn. 9:2)? The Lord’s reply was that sin had not directly caused this man’s loss of sight; “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (vs. 3). He was blinded to allow the miracle working power of God to be seen by us in him.
Why did Pharaoh and Egypt have to be destroyed by those ten devastating plagues? Although the answer is not a simple one, Exodus 15:14 is a part: “The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.” In addition to the glory brought to the Lord (Ex. 14:17) and some other effects, the destruction of Egypt assisted Israel in the subduing of the Promised Land.
One of the most poignant histories found in God’s Word is about the grandson of King Saul, Mephibosheth. Apparently an orphan at the age of five, he was tossed between homes and families, constantly in fear that the new king, David, would have him executed. He was stripped of his inheritance, had it restored and was reduced almost to poverty once again. These would have been painful enough, but Mephibosheth was also crippled. “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled; and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth” (II Sam. 4:4). David, of course, had no desire to harm the young man but rather wanted to bless him for his father’s sake. The story folds together like a beautiful picture of God’s amazing grace, and it’s all the more beautiful because the beneficiary was lame, permitting David to show kindness that otherwise might have been inappropriate.
Illustrations from God’s Word could easily be multiplied, showing that God’s recipe sometimes calls for a tablespoon of pain, a pinch of suffering, or a half a pound of affliction in order to produce the most luscious treat.
What if the baby Moses had not cried so hard before the motherly ears and eyes of the daughter of Pharaoh (Ex. 2:6)?
Would Jonah have gone on to Ninevah if it had not been for his affliction?
How would Jacob have ever been brought back to his son Joseph if it had not been for the famine (Gen. 41:56; 45:5)?
In Zarephath there lived a widow and her son. Despite the miracles and wisdom of Elijah, the woman was not fully a believer in the Lord, and then suddenly her only joy died. Scripture seems to indicate that the death was slow in coming and produced great bitterness in the widow. Then Elijah raised the child from the dead. The effect was just what the Lord ordained: “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth” (I Kings 17:24). Would that mother have ever learned that lesson without the pain she suffered first?
In the great masterpiece of God, pain makes many things more beautiful by putting a shadow in the picture and thus perfecting the light.
But we can be more specific.
To Whip the Devil
Matthew 4 gives to us the history of the temptation of the Lord Jesus. Oh, what a blessing it is to read that our Saviour “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He shows us that we need not give in to the Wicked One as we lean upon Christ. But it was a painful victory! In fact there would have been no victory at all without the pain; that was a part of the temptation. “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered” (Matt. 4:2). That hunger must have been fierce, and Satan used it in an effort to pry the Son away from the Father: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (vs. 3). Of course, Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Pet. 2:22) and sent the Devil packing.
Another instance of pain being the tool of the Lord to defeat Satan can be seen in Job. “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1:8-9). The battle began in Heaven, but it soon raged around one man, sorely wounded, stripped naked and near death, but God got the victory and Satan was routed! It couldn’t have happened without the suffering of Job.
It should be the prayer of every saint, “Lord, use me any way that you like to thwart the Devil!”
To Save Another
Both scripture and history abound in illustrations of this.
Perhaps the greatest missionary ever to serve our Lord was the Apostle Paul. In any study of his life it is virtually impossible to separate Paul’s service from his chronic and acute pain.
God’s ministry in Paul began with the suffering and death of Stephen. That great servant of the Jerusalem church gave his life in testimony to the Truth of salvation through Christ Jesus. “And the witnesses laid down their clothes,” before stoning him, “at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (Acts 7:58). That young executioner was later born again and renamed Paul. The bloody and painful death of Stephen undoubtedly left an unforgettable impression on Paul for he often referred to his hideous life prior to meeting Christ.
From that time on Paul’s own pain rubbed off with good effect on others. At the city of Lystra he was stoned (Acts 14:19), but on a later visit there he picked up young Timotheus to train for the ministry (Acts 16:1). Were those events connected? In Philippi he and Silas were beaten and jailed for preaching the truth and helping souls. Directly connected with that was the salvation of the jailor of the city (Acts 16:23, 34). There were attacks upon Paul in Thessalonica, Ephesus, etc., and only the Lord knows how many were won to Christ by watching and listening to God’s great suffering servant.
In vindicating his ministry, Paul said, “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Cor. 11:23-27). During all of these things and in others which followed, Paul suffered willingly in order to save souls from hell and heathenism.
For some time Paul was kept in chains in Rome; perhaps it wasn’t the most painful period of his life, but neither was it painless. One of the highlights of that period was the salvation of the runaway slave Onesimus, “whom I have begotten in my bonds” (Phile. 10). We will perhaps never know if that slave would have been saved if it had not been for Paul’s suffering and lengthy imprisonment.
In II Kings 7 we read of one of the most grisly scenes in the Bible. There was an incredible famine in Samaria because of the sins of the people and the siege of the Syrians. Caught between the starving Israelites and the belligerent Syrians were four lepers. Their troublesome affliction had spared their lives, but starvation loomed just ahead. They decided to cast themselves on the mercy of the Syrians, only to discover that their enemy had fled, leaving enough food for the starving city. But the residents knew nothing of the bounty. If it had not been for the suffering of the four Samaritan lepers the people of the city would have starved.
Acts 11:19 gives us an interesting perspective: “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled…preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” We might criticize these early Christians for limiting their preaching, but it should be noted that the persecution they received WAS directly connected to the spreading of the Gospel.
Illustrations abound throughout history where the suffering of one person touched the heart of another.
In 1651 John Clarke, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes were arrested while conducting a church service in the home of a friend. Like the Apostle Paul, these good Baptist gentlemen were tried and put in prison for serving the Lord. Friends paid fines that secured the release of Clarke and Crandall, but Holmes was publicly whipped. He received thirty lashes which so lacerated his back that he was unable to lie down for several weeks. That trial and the whipping of Holmes led to the conversion of Henry Dunster, president of Harvard University. No doubt both are rejoicing today because of Brother Obadiah’s beating.
Suffering was a major part of the life of the great Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson. It was the horrible death of a close infidel friend that shocked Judson into a living faith in Christ. Four years later he and his wife sailed for Burma as missionaries. Years passed before a single Burmese was saved. After nine years there were only eighteen converts, but the hardships of those years were incredible, including months of starvation in heathen death camps. During the next five years, however, 355 people received Christ with 217 in that fourteenth year alone. Judson’s life by every human standard was terrible, including the death of two wives and several children, but his perseverance and suffering were the tools that God used to bring out great victories.
It doesn’t take long in the ministry even today to see how the hurting of some church members can lead to the salvation and restoration of others.
George Truett recounted the story of a beautiful Christian girl who married an antagonistic unbeliever. The young couple lived with his family: all full of the same hatred for God. “The most insidious attacks were made on her faith, from this angle and that, but she held calm and steadfast and true to Jesus during all of that first year of their wedded life.” One day, as she performed her kitchen chores, her clothes caught fire, and from those burns she died a few hours later. Despite her great suffering she was conscious to the last, yet never a word of reproach or bitterness left her lips. She quoted scripture promises and encouraged those around her. Finally, she stretched out her charred black arms to her husband and said: “Poor Charlie, the thing that tries me, and the only thing, about going away, is that I have not lived long enough to teach you and your dear parents and the dear old grandparents that Jesus is real and sure, that He is a Saviour, that He does help us, and that He is our refuge in every time of trouble and need.” Then she died. After the funeral the young husband spoke to his family: “Mary had what the rest of us do not have, and I am going to seek her Savior.” And the father said: “My boy, you are right. I know it. I feel it. She has taught me that, and I will seek him, too.” In three days all the men of that family were redeemed. Truett concluded, “A little woman, called to pass through the vale of deepest darkness and suffering, honored God through it all, and her testimony was irresistible. Be careful how you behave when trouble is on you! If you carp, cavil, criticize, murmur, and are vile in your speech, oh, how you will dishonor God! Trouble rightly borne will surely honor God!” (George W. Truett, A Quest for Souls, pg. 136).
To whom is it that the Lord is asking your pain to minister?
To Exterminate Pride
The sin of self-sufficiency has always been like the Sirens to Odysseus, it calls us away from the Lord and our responsibilities to others. But who are we without Christ? Could David have defeated Goliath in his own strength (I Sam. 17)? Could Jonathan have routed the Philistine garrison by himself (I Sam. 14:14)? Could Peter have escaped from the prison of Herod in his own strength (Acts 12)? Have you learned to turn off your pain or begun to use its maximum benefits? Pain can have the important ministry of killing our self-sufficiency and pride.
On the hill called Golgotha three crosses were raised. There was one self-sufficient, macho man, who died in his sin. On one was the All-sufficient Saviour who died for sin in others. And on the third was a man who melted under the strain of sin and pain and learned the lesson of his own insufficiency. That third man, by the grace of God, is in Glory today (Lk. 23:43). The pain of the Lord Jesus, in addition to his own, were a part of the ministry of grace in that man’s life.
Our human agony proves us all to be created beings and in constant need of our Creator. It reveals the evil that lies within our hearts. William Gurnall wrote, “Affliction shakes and roils the creature; if any sediment be at the bottom, it will appear then. These suds wash off the hypocrite’s paint. Sharp afflictions are to the soul as a driving rain to the house; we know not that there are such crannies and holes in the house, till we see it drop down here and there” (The Christian in Complete Armour, Pf. 245). We can’t see how rotten the roof really is until we take up the bad shingles.
Jonah thought that the whale was sent by God to kill him, but actually it was there to bring him to his senses and to ferry him to shore.
Pain has an ability to show us our inability to control ourselves, let alone to control the world or our futures. “Oh, how I need Jesus,” should be the theme song of the pain clinic.
All the sufferings of Jacob brought him to maturity: his service for Leah and Rachel; his fear of his brother Esau; his fear of Laban; and his struggles at Bethel and Peniel. All were school masters in his life.
Joseph’s brothers were put through great suffering, not so much to punish them for selling their brother Joseph into captivity but to prepare their hearts for reunion and blessing.
“Every man must know something, more or less, of afflictions, but it is only the true child of God that ever feels their sanctifying influence, and is blessed with the sight of God’s hand bringing good out of evil. He only who has experienced a deep and stunning affliction can realize how thoroughly it masters and absorbs the whole faculties, and throws a pall of gloom over every object in life. Man is short-sighted, and cannot look forward to the time when his wound shall be healed, and he shall enjoy renewed happiness. “Ah!’ he cries, “Let me die; life is not worth living; my sorrows are more than I can endure;’ and then, when every hope is gone, and everything man clings to is torn away, and he feels the depths of despair, then is often the time the Lord chooses to show His face and to raise the poor grief stricken man up and fix his hopes on Himself” (Mrs. J. C. Philpot, as quoted in, The Baptist Watchman, 4/88).
Paul was growing in his own self-sufficiency until his thorn in the flesh. Through pain he learned that true strength came only in weakness (II Cor. 12:9-10).
The Lord Jesus said that we must lose our life in order to find it (Matt. 16:24). Pain may be the only means of bringing some people to the brink of that loss. Why waste your strength trying to save that which really can’t be kept anyway?
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Eccl. 7:14).
Perhaps you are suffering in order to learn this lesson.
To Prepare us for Change
Very few children want to go home when they are really having fun somewhere else. They want it to last forever. The same thing can even be true of Christian adults. If we never got old, weak and in pain, some might never want to leave this sin-corrupted world. If the greatest thing in a person’s life is reunion with God, and if pain brought us to that realization, then isn’t it worth the hurt? If pain teaches us to “set our affections on things above” (Col. 3:2) then it is truly a gift of God.
Pain prepares us for the great changes of life. It is a part of birth, that first day at school and even marriage. The seed must die before it can begin to grow (Jn. 12:24). In a sense that acorn suffers in order to produce the oak.
The work of fire in a forest can appear to be devastating; good old stands of timber may be destroyed, along with the loss of animal life and recreational areas. But the fact is that fire in some cases is the only way to replenish that forest. Trees get old and rotten like anything else and must be removed. And it is a fact that the cones of several important species of evergreens will not open without the extreme heat of forest fire. The seeds are not killed by the blaze but made to come alive.
Like that fire, Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians was very hot and turbulent. The people appeared to repent of sin, but once the preacher’s back was turned, many of them returned to their sinful vomit. This drew from the man of God the two Corinthian letters found in our Bibles and apparently others as well. Paul reproved, rebuked, exhorted that congregation with all the authority that he could, and it seemed to do some good with many. In his second canonical epistle Paul said: “For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (II Cor. 7:8-11). Whatever pain the Corinthians felt, due to Paul’s anger, was good for them in that it brought them to their senses and real repentance.
When Nathaniel Hawthorne lost his job he was devastated and considered himself a failure, but his wife knew how to help. She greeted his bad news with delight. “Now,” she said, “you can write your book!” Then with her encouragement he sat down and penned “The Scarlet Letter.”
Could it be that the Lord wants you to make a change in your life?
To Mature us in Holiness
Although Satan has made sin as attractive as possible, God, in great grace, has done exactly the opposite, making sin ugly and painful. Do you recall your initial deep puff of tobacco? Didn’t that first big swallow of whiskey burn every inch down your throat? Did you enjoy your first look at an immoral picture; didn’t you turn your head in shame?
It is a fact that hurting makes a lot of people quit sin.
It grieves the pastor’s heart to see Christians ruin their lives through disobedience. For example, many of God’s servants have seen their Christian friends struck down with heart attacks. Sometimes the cause was obviously tobacco, but did those people quit smoking? No. Did the wayward child bring the parents back to really serving Christ? Did the burning ulcer teach the work-a-holic to give up his second job and begin to worship Christ?
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin” (I Pet. 4:1).
Be careful not to misunderstand this idea: Some people think that pain is the cleansing of sin and means forgiveness. No! Sin and pain are relatives only and not names for the same thing. Pain only points out the sin. To let pain take its course through a person’s life, or to get medication to end the suffering, does not remove the sin that may have caused it in the first place. That must still be remedied through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary. “If we confess our sins, (not our pain), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).
Nationally Israel suffered a terrible defeat at Ai (Josh. 7:5), with several families becoming fatherless. It was all because of Achan and his sin. That pain became a national lesson in practical holiness.
John R. Stott reminds us that the Bible gives us three good illustrations on the way that suffering can make us more holy or Christlike: the father disciplining his children (Deut. 8:5; Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-11; and Rev. 3:19), the metalworker refining his gold (Ps. 66:10; Isa. 48:10; Zech. 13:9; and I Pet. 1:6-7) and the gardener pruning his vines (Jn. 15:1-8). He says, “All three metaphors describe a negative process…but all three also underline the positive result-the child’s good, the metal’s purity, the vine’s fruitfulness” (John R. Stott, The Cross of Christ, pg. 316-17).
David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word” (Ps. 119:67).
Paul Schilling spoke of the beautification process of pain with this illustration: “On the path leading from the parking area to the Visitor Center in Acadia National Park the tourist’s attention is attracted to a rustic placard with this message: ‘Mt. Desert Island is a rock fortress surrounded by its outpost islets at the edge of a hostile sea. Allied with other natural forces of land destruction the ocean forever seeks to level these heights down to a plain. This endless struggle has…resulted in all the beauty that surrounds you. For nature it is simply the course of things. To man it means not merely physical recreation, but an uplifting of the human spirit and increased understanding of all life-including his own” (S. Paul Schilling, God and Human Anguish, pg. 147).
“When, through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials, thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply,
The flame shall not hurt thee – I only design,
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
– Author Unknown
The effect of pain and anguish can be illustrated in the danger-fraught journey of Paul to Rome in chains. With Euroclydon both about to drive the little ship onto the rocks and to swamp her, the sailors chose to lighten her by throwing the wheat into the sea (Acts 27:38). Chronic pain makes people re-evaluate the cargo of their lives. Those items which are hindering our progress in the things of God can and ought to be tossed aside.
To Chasten and Correct
It has been many years since Benjamin Spock published his book on how to raise babies. At that time it was considered to be controversial and anti-biblical, but in a round about way, the Lord has been glorified through it. The general direction of society and the generations raised with Spock’s idea of the innate goodness of every child, proves that God was right and the good doctor was wrong. Without discipline many of our most important lessons simply will not be learned.
God’s Word demands that parents exercise the discipline of chastisement upon their rebellious children (Prov. 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13, etc.). Would kids always listen if there was no threat of a bit of well applied pain?
It cannot be denied that sometimes God sends pain to chasten his people. The Lord said, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” (Deut. 8:5). The wayward man “is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain” (Job 33:19). “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5).
Jonah learned obedience through the things that he suffered, and so have many others. Could it possibly be that the Lord wishes to correct you? It is a question that we must ask, and answer. God’s purpose is not to simply send sorrow to hurt people, but it could be to embitter us against sin.
To Test and Purify Faith
Do you remember your school days, especially the day when the big test was coming? You studied as best you could, then entered the torture chamber in fear. There may have been a time when all of sudden your mind went blank under the pressure of four sheets of questions. Back home you knew: “Whatsoever is not of _____________ is sin.” You knew that “Above all,” we should take “the shield of ___________ wherewith we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” You knew that “Without ___________ it is impossible to please God.” Oh, but when the test day came, it was so difficult to remember.
That is why the Teacher often gives us those “pop quizzes.” To keep us on our toes. Our trials, pains and griefs measure and strengthen our faith. The quality of our spiritual life can be judged only when the seas are rough.
Think of Hebrews 11, the great chapter on faith. Cheat that chapter of its painful element and we’d have to wonder if the faith of those people was really genuine. How much suffering did Noah endure? When Abraham left Ur did His heart ache? As He raised the knife over the throat of his son did he hurt? How much did it sting Moses to turn his back on the wealth of Egypt? “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented” (Heb. 11:33-37).
Isn’t the Bible a more noble Book because godly men and women faced some of the same pains that we must face. They put their feet squarely on its neck? These people remind us not to look at fancy sermons, but to the face of the Lord.
Spurgeon is quoted to have said, “I bear my willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord’s workshop. I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod. When my schoolroom is darkened, I see most.”
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:6-7).
Permit me to twist the logic of James just one half a turn: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18). The Christian is someone whose citizenship is in Heaven. How can he possibly expect to be happy then amassing fortunes on earth. James demands; “Prove to me your faith. Let’s see your works.” Pain gives us that opportunity! “Strip him of his health and afflict his body. Let’s see his faith.” “Rob him of his family, does he have brothers and sisters in glory?” “Rob him of his wealth.” Can we be sure of genuine faith, when because our seas are always smooth we’ve never been tested?
Pain makes the heart reach for the promises of God. The hand that it uses is faith.
To Train to Comfort Others
If I made a new soft drink with ingredients that included the juice of a barrel cactus, a touch of cinnamon, crushed Kiwi seeds, and the inner rind of Canadian melons, and then I asked you to describe that drink to a third person, how would you do? Not too well?
Likewise, sympathy is a shallow stream in the soul of one who hasn’t suffered. Luther said that suffering is one of the best books in the minister’s library.
The etymology of the word “comfort” boils down to “strength with” and to “call along side,” depending on the language that you are using.
Have you ever felt inadequate to help someone in pain? That is a common feeling of the pastorate. But take heart Mr. Comforter, if that is your ministry, you can never really go alone, because Jehovah is the God of all comfort. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf” (II Cor. 1:3-11).
George Truett, in his sermon, “The Ministry of Suffering,” described a mother who had just lost her baby, a day and a night after his birth. The parents were not Christians, but through the care and concern of others, both were won to the Lord. After several months the pastor was called to help another grieving family. Once again a lost mother lost her baby, but this one would not be comforted with scripture. Truett did all that he could, but failed to bring this lady through her grief, and then she met the first lady. First, they wept together, then they learned to pray together, then they read the Bible together. The only thing that bonded them was that both had lost a child. Initially, the one thing that helped the second mother was the knowledge that her new friend too had suffered as she had. Just as one drunkard often makes another, one comforter can make another, even better than the first.
“Suffering enlarges the heart by creating the power to sympathize. If we pray eagerly for ourselves, we shall not long be able to forget our fellow-sufferers. None pity the poor like those who have been or are still poor, none have such tenderness for the sick as those who have been long in ill health themselves. We ought to be grateful for occasional griefs if they preserve us from chronic hard-heartedness; for of all afflictions, an unkind heart is the worst, it is a plague to its possessor, and a torment to those around him. Prayer when it is of the Holy Ghost’s teaching is never selfish, the believer does not vie for monopolies for himself, but would have all in like case to partake of divine mercy with him” (C.H. Spurgeon, as quoted in The Baptist Watchman, 4/88).
To Teach Eternal Truth
Have you priced the average professional seminar lately? A weekend seminar, or even just a single evening meeting can be $500.00 or much more. The cost of such a meeting can be astronomical because the teacher believes that either he or his information is that important.
If earthly lessons are this valuable, what price can we place on the eternal variety? God often sends pain and grief into people’s lives in order to teach things that are eternal. Sometimes the lesson is for the sufferer, but sometimes it is for others.
Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is an example. And God said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Gen. 22:2). Abraham obeyed the Lord, but with what kind and degree of pain we may never know. Isaac too suffered: his beloved father tied his hands and feet then laid him on the stone altar. The knife was raised, and death seemed imminent, until the angel of the Lord called to Abraham out of heaven (vs. 11). Many lessons were taught through the experience: the grace and faithfulness of Jehovah; the importance of obedience and the nature of substitutionary sacrifices. Probably thousands of souls have been won to Jesus Christ because of pain in Abraham, Isaac and the ram substitute, but the lessons would not have been learned without the pain.
Every bee sting, every bumped shin and smashed thumb should remind us of the important lesson: “It is appointed unto men, once to die and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). If pain did this, and nothing more, we should thank the Lord for it.
For the Jews the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. was a disaster, but through the resulting captivity in Babylon they encountered Persian religion. It drove many of them back to their own scriptures, to prophecy and to monotheism. For centuries the Word of God had lain neglected by all but a very few, but in their painful exile came an opening of their eyes to their own heritage and God. Polytheism and idolatry basically died during their national humiliation.
When Israel escaped Egypt and marched toward the Red Sea, it was under the direction of God Himself (Ex. 13:17-18). That direction brought the people of God into what appeared to be a trap between the Red Sea and a mountain range. When Pharaoh mounted an attack it appeared that Israel was doomed. The anxiety was stifling, but it was for a purpose: “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD…The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Ex. 14:13-14). The lesson would not have been learned if Israel had not been in immediate danger.
As C.S. Lewis has reminded us, in his book “The Problem of Pain,” “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain, pg. 93). Are there any lessons that the Lord is trying to teach you at this moment? “Pain plants the flag of truth in the rebel fortress” (The Problem of Pain, pg. 120).
Are you suffering? Perhaps Jehovah is trying to show you that there may be trouble ahead unless you learn and turn. Just as pain in the left arm may be a warning of serious heart trouble, God may use other kinds of pain to warn of other kinds of trouble. Balaam’s ass crushed his master’s foot against a stone wall, and the pain was designed to keep the foolish “prophet” away from the angel with the sword drawn (Num. 22:25). Pain may be the Cherub that keeps us from the tree of life.
Charles Spurgeon suffered many painful afflictions during the latter years of his life including gout, rheumatism and sciatica. Out of his experiences he wrote: “I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us, is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has…..Trials drive us to the realities of religion” (The Full Harvest).
I walked a mile with Pleasure. She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow, And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh, the things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me!
– Author Unknown
To Bring People to Christ
What was your purpose the last time that you talked to your doctor? Was it to invite him to church or out for a cup of coffee? Did you talk about the latest ball scores or the weather? Have you ever gone to his office simply to tell him that your health was never better? Where would your old family doctor rank in your life if not for your occasional sickness and pain?
We might ask the same about your dentist, your auto mechanic, your plumber and your God.
What things cause people to call upon the Lord? It’s not when there is a raise in pay, the health is great and a vacation in the Bahamas is planned. Have you ever prayed: “Lord deliver me from my prosperity?” “Lord, I’m growing spiritually insensitive; knock me for a loop?” Or, “Lord, I’m getting too healthy?”
These may not be our prayers, but God often gives us “above all that we ask or think.”
Would the man at the Beautiful gate have found the Lord if it were not for his pain? There he lay in abject poverty, lame from his mother’s womb, begging. Peter and John had no money, but they gave what they had: a measure of God’s miraculous grace (Acts 3:6).
Would the woman with the issue of blood have come to Christ if it had not been for the driving torment of her plague (Mk. 5:25; Lk. 8:43)? What of the parents of the child with the demon in Mark 9?
“Like as a woman with child that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O LORD. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind…” (Isa. 26:17-18).
If the babe is beginning to love the nurse more than the mother, he may feel the pain of separation and loss. But, if we are drawn to the Lord, does it matter if the cords are silk or chain?
I once pastored a gentleman who wrote me a note. In it he said, “For many years I’ve had constant pain from a degenerative type of arthritis in one part of my body and another type sometimes in most of my body. I don’t like pain as I’m sure most all people don’t like it. But this thing I’m sure of, God knows about it, even more than myself, and He knows why. I sometimes wonder why I have this pain, then the thought comes to me: maybe if I was in good health and had a strong, pain-free body, I might stray away from the Lord, and bring dishonor to His Name – a possibility. Pain is just for a short time. Heaven is forever with our Lord. Praise His Name!”
“And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken. Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the King of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God” (II Chron. 33:10-13). Isn’t the learning of this lesson worth the pain? In eternity Manasseh will likely sit back rejoicing in his Babylonian pain.
To Add to Future Joy
Many, many children have gone through the agony of a tonsillectomy. They suffer the separation from their parents, perhaps for the very first time. They have suffered often from severe sore throats. Then comes the surgery, the difficulty of swallowing and the general pain. It can be quite a traumatic experience for a little one. But once it is accomplished, there is usually a marked reduction of throat infections. Whether the child realizes it or not the pain is worth the trouble because of his improved health.
The same thing is true spiritually. Compared to the pain found in this life the joy in the next, for the children of God, makes everything right. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4:17). “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him (James 1:12).
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (I Pet. 4:12-14).
Just as love covers a multitude of sins, joy can cover a headache.
I have two children. When they were in junior high and in high school, they were studying subjects that I had studied and in some cases mastered. When they bring their work home, the day is running out, and they are truly tired, there is sometimes a temptation for me to do their work for them. Obviously, if I endured their homework pain, they wouldn’t learn the lesson. I can’t do their work for them, but if they do it, it makes them stronger.
The same is true of real pain. It can make the sufferer a stronger person.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:6-7).
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 2:10; 5:8-9).
A little girl had been hurt through disobedience to her mother. “I wish I had never been made!” she screamed. Her mother wisely reminded her, “Darling, you are just now being made.”
There was time as a boy of eight, when I had lost the use of my legs and had to relearn the art of walking. My father could have saved me a lot of trouble and grief by carrying me everywhere I wanted to go. He certainly was big enough and strong enough. But his wisdom told him that I must learn to walk myself.
The musician drives himself until it hurts, because there is no other way to become proficient with his instrument.
Yes, pain is a useful tool in the world of real growth. It is a part of the athlete’s life. The child thinks that the broken toy is the end of his life, but actually through it he learns that life is just moving on. Consider the role of persecution to the early church.
The events that have most enriched the average soul have been those involving some kind of pain; maybe it was embarrassment, maybe a spanking, but the lesson was learned.
“Ah, to have a world without suffering, wouldn’t it be lovely?” Someday that wish will be reality; but first it will have to be a world where the people have a new kind of heart. It is apparent that painlessness leads down the road of Godlessness.
In a world where the roses always bloom and where the snow never falls, the people become like those of Job 21:7-15: “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf. They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” Yes, these are good questions. What need have we of the Lord when everything goes so well?
The Lord has always known the hearts of His wicked people. “When the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land” so full and free, “beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut. 6:10-12). It seems that pain helps people to remember.
And bear in mind: Christians never suffer in vain.
Why vote to rid the world of the something that provides such blessings and teaches such lessons?