“We know the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:21).
Why Does It Hurt So Much?
by Steven Clark Goad
How does one rejoice in the Lord always when he is in constant pain? Is it possible to remain cheerful and positive when beset with unremitting suffering due to maladies beyond our control? In light of the text in Romans that admits to the continual presence of childbirth like groaning, how is it possible to keep our faith vibrant? This is a dilemma for many of us.
One thing our Lord was completely candid about was that those who took him and his teaching seriously would face severe trials and hard temptations. But he also told his followers that they would be blessed abundantly and that their joy would be made full. It sounds almost oxymoronic to say we can have joy while suffering. Who can believe it?
Just how do we reconcile what seem to be opposites—joy in the midst of suffering? The answer can be found in the very life of Christ himself. He said, “I do always the things that are pleasing to my Heavenly Father” (John 8:28). He had the same hardships that we face today. He got splinters. He was hungry when his disciples reminded him it was past lunchtime. He replied, “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Part of our struggle with pain is that we often forget why we are here. Our purpose is not to live a life among roses with no thorns.
We live in a spoiled society. We have been pampering ourselves so lavishly for decades that now when the bills must be paid we find ourselves insolvent, not only as a nation, but often as individuals. Many of us have lived sheltered and pampered lives. We live in a society of entitlements. We are provided the best food and clothes and medical care, whether we work or not.
Dave Ramsey, CEO of Financial Peace University and radio and TV personality, said: “If the US Government was a family, they would be making $58,000 a year, they would be spending $75,000 a year and are $327,000 in credit card debt. They are currently proposing BIG spending cuts to reduce their spending to $72,000 per year. These are the actual proportions of the federal budget and debt, reduced to a level that we can understand.”
What Is Suffering?
We have lost the concept of what suffering entails. Some might think it is going without our bottled water for a day. Evian spelled backward is naïve. Are we? Or going without getting our nails done this week. Or being unable to buy season tickets to all those necessary ball games. Or having a toothache. Or not being able to buy three times the house we are actually able to purchase with our present income. Or__________fill in what you might think of as pain and suffering.
There is little joy to be found in having unrealistic expectations of what we are to possess in this transient life. It often appears that everybody wants to eat at the government’s table, but few are willing to do the dishes. One Christian couple is actually being challenged in their faith. Their baby boy was born with a hole in his heart. His chances for survival without surgery are nil. And they have no health insurance to cover the expensive surgery.
Tyson Gosch just moved with his wife and five children ages 3 months to 8 years from California to a new job in Texas. Jenny, with a newborn on her breast, became ill. She rushed to an emergency clinic. Within days she was dead, leaving Tyson with five little ones to parent by himself. Now that is a challenge. That involves heartache indescribable.
We Have Grown Soft
I won’t speak for everyone, but one thing I know, many of us have grown weak and feeble as individuals. We find air-conditioning comfort and full bellies the norm rather than the exception. Our standard of living over the past decades has been phenomenal. Rarely do we understand the hunger and poverty that is within a shadow of our own doorsteps.
We have personally been trying to help a prison inmate. He grew up in the church. He had advantages many did not. But his drug lifestyle found him repeatedly behind prison walls. After years of attempts to help him reform, it occurred to us that the words “work” and “jobs” were just not part of his vocabulary. Last time I mentioned his getting a job, he replied, “I am hoping to get some kind of aid when I get out.” Our handouts have ceased. We have decided not to facilitate his high expectations of life without pain.
My handicap? I was born to be the butt of short jokes. At 5’ 7” I recall not being able to play power forward on my Indianapolis high school basketball team with the Van Arsdale twins. It’s enough to make one weep. Missing those necessary tall genes and now follicly challenged to boot, I should be wringing my hands as I type. Some of us have to create pity parties in order to solicit sympathy.
Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs. He didn’t even have appendages of any length at all. The only think remotely to be considered a limb is something like a toe or flipper that extends from his hip. He was stared at all his growing up years. Mocked worse than the elephant man, he lived a life of doubt and wonder. Though born in a Christian home with the best of love and care that his parents could provide, he had horrible doubts about God and life.
Nick has a ministry called “Life Without Limbs.” I recommend readers to Google it and be encouraged by the joy and hope that emanates from the\is young evangelist. He is an inspiration to anyone who is having a bad hair day or actually struggling with physical maladies. If Nick can be that positive with what life and circumstances dealt him, then I must rethink some of the miniscule matters that cause me personal grief.
The Faith Healer
Faith is not only a beginning point in our walk with God, but it renews us as we allow it to grow. Paul writes that faith which accomplishes anything is a “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Every trial calls for faith. By the exercise of faith in obedience, it is strengthened so that one is prepared for even greater trials. It was Jesus’ formula for obedience under stress. It can be ours as well.
The more we live to please the Father and to serve others the more we are at odds with the world. And whenever a new hardship or new form of suffering presents itself, the more precious will be the faith that grows and sustains us. The Lord does give us seasons of refreshing, even if it is only medication to ease the bodily pain. Trials will always be with us. We have never been promised immunity from suffering—just the opposite.
Discipline In Suffering
Those who bend under the pressure of suffering are robbing themselves of the maturity that comes with it. When we follow Christ, we must accept the growing pains of change and obedience. The discipline he demands of us is severe, but with it comes his love and aid, and in the end eternal life.
Jesus never hinted that we would have a recliner of ease throughout life. He offers the same struggles he encountered. “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2). Even the apostles who were imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Our Pain Threshold
How much pain would be required for you to lose your faith? Cancer? Job loss? Having to walk away from a house and mortgage? The death of a beloved mate? We are in this thing called life for the long haul. There are no guarantees except eternity with God. Jesus told Martha “one thing is needful.” That “one thing” is still our pursuit and our hope for living. It is ours whether we endure much or little pain.
All that required the great evangelist Charles Templeton to lose his faith was to see the lifeless body of a baby in the arms of his starving mother. That image stuck in his mind and caused him to turn away “from a God who would allow such suffering to exist in the world.” May we be sure that Satan has no weapon in his arsenal that would cause us to turn our backs on God.
SIDEBAR: Life with Christ is not a rose garden without thorns.
SIDEBAR: “It is by those who have suffered that the world has been advanced.” —Leo Tolstoy