From “And Jesus Wept,” by Pastor K. David Oldfield
Clear and Present Danger
This Autumn story is a familiar one in the Western mountains: The scarlet-clad hunter found some fresh deer tracks in the snow and began to follow them, hoping for the first kill of the new season. Minutes turned into hours, and with each excited step he got farther and farther from his companions. Then, as the sunlight began to fail, he came to his senses and realized that he was lost. Every tree looked the same to his bleary eyes; every rocky outcrop appeared to have the same shape. The pain of his anxiety grew at twice the rate of the aching in his legs and lungs. He tried to call his friends, but there was no reply. He fired his rifle into the air, and still no reply. His response to the dilemma? Panic!
Having learned that the pain that we find in this world comes either directly from the Lord, or through His unused veto powers as the Sovereign God, the heart of the sufferer is sometimes opened up to the sharpest sting of all: the hatred of God. The greatest peril of pain is the temptation to raise a clenched fist toward Heaven.
The Israelites often panicked in their pain: “Because the LORD hated us, he that brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us” (Deut. 1:27). Because the Lord can’t help me, He has left me here to die! Because the Lord won’t heal me, I will hate Him!
Someone has wisely said, “Don’t let the pain of disease become the pain of dis-ease with the Lord.” Don’t panic!
History is rife with illustrations of pain patients in panic. Some give way to despair and bitterness. The gutters of our cities are filled with others who have tried to drink and drug away their pain. Short spurts of hedonistic pleasure is the resource that others try. But then a small minority turn to the Lord. The first three examples are forms of panic; the last is a case of rare wisdom.
This penchant to panic is not confined to the weak or weak-hearted person but can strike anyone. Joseph Parker (1830-1902) was a well-known British Congregational preacher and the writer of many helpful books. In his autobiography he says that from his conversion until age 68, he never had a religious doubt, but then his wife died. “In that dark hour,” he wrote, “I became almost an atheist. For God had set his foot upon my prayers and treated my petitions with contempt. If I had seen a dog in such agony as mine, I would have pitied and helped the dumb beast; yet God spat upon me and cast me out as an offence–out into the waste wilderness and the night black and starless” (Quoted by John R. Stott, The Cross of Christ, Pg. 312). Parker panicked and fell into the peril that anguish can cause.
Just like the lost hunter, the sufferer has several means to escape his dilemma: He can put his rifle to his head and, like a coward, pull the trigger, running away from his problem. This seems to be more and more an acceptable escape in our sin-laden society – but not before God. He can blindfold himself and start walking, going to this doctor, and that one, the herbologist, and the acupuncture practitioner. He can sit and cry, or stand and cry out. He can build a fire and wait for whatever might happen, like Eli: “It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good” (I Sam. 3:18).
Our hunter might even use the things he has learned of wilderness survival in order to not only escape his problem, but overcome it. He might first take time to rest, then to leave obvious indications of his presence and slowly move toward the place of possible safety, following hill-crests or down a stream.
One of the common traits of nearly every kind of pain, in every kind of sufferer, is the ability to drive us into a decision-making situation. What shall I do now? Shall I deny that I have a problem? See the Doctor? See the Druggist? Talk to the Pastor? Go to a Witch Doctor? Which doctor? Should I start going to Church? Shall I try to learn to pray? Should I ask others to pray? Should I worry? Should I “eat drink and be merry?” for it looks like tomorrow I shall die.
The sufferer has all kinds of alternate choices. Whichever he chooses he must not panic and fall into pain’s ultimate peril.
Please, don’t give up! There is undoubtedly a purpose for what you are enduring, and if you are a child of God, “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).
Don’t assume that by your own will-power you will escape these problems. Sometimes this might be the case, but perhaps not this time.
Don’t worry about whether or not you are a good “outdoorsman” in other peoples’ eyes. What is important is how you deal with your pain before the Lord, not whether or not you can put up a good front. Stoicism is a heathen, not a Christian, philosophy (Acts 17).
Don’t turn within, becoming a self-centered complainer. This is one of the real dangers about being in pain; it can turn us inside out. Remember that within the beautiful snail-shell there lives an ordinary, ugly slug.
Take the steps of the experienced woodsman to escape your dilemma: Avoid the peril of pain by building a fire in your heart for God, in order to gain His warmth and companionship. If that fire is big enough it will in turn repel the wolves of despair and bears of depression. After some time of reflection, and hopefully the catching of your breath, start following the signs that lead back to civilization. Follow the stream of God’s sovereignty as found in the pages of His Word. Couple that to the path of His love. Make the stars your assistants: stars like Jacob in his trials, Paul with his thorn in the flesh, David in his family grief, and Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Take up a good straight walking stick, such as the promises of the Lord. Listen for the call of the Holy Spirit, and rest often; rest upon the Lord (Ps. 37:3-8).
Remember that for every soul who becomes a hero through pain, there are ten or more depressed, dehumanized and despairing derelicts.
Don’t become a statistic.