Agony or Ecstasy

While grieving over the sudden and violent loss of a wisdom tooth this week I have been reflecting on the experience of pain and suffering. 

There are some, I am told, who do not believe pain is a reality, but that it is merely a function of one’s imagination.  I think, perhaps, those folks have been using too many questionable home-remedies in ways that they were never intended to be used.  

There are others who would cynically suggest that pain and suffering are proof positive that our “loving God” is finite and therefore unable to eliminate it.  I think those folks would make poor parents. 

Others would piously suggest that pain and suffering are not God’s will but, rather, are the result of weak faith.  I think those folks, especially those who authoritatively teach that, should be shot in the glutes at dawn in order to strengthen their faith.

I find that the consistent testimony of the Scripture is that suffering is to be expected as part of the normal Christian life.  Physical, Mental and Spiritual suffering is common to the experience of every believer just as it is common to the experience of every man.  We all suffer, though we do so in different ways and to varying degrees.

That being the case, the question that occurs to me is: “How should I respond when I suffer.”  I must confess that I am prone to look for the ejection button.  I want to get out of the circumstances which are causing my pain and suffering as quickly as possible.  This week I bemoaned the fact that while Jesus took my place on the cross (for which I will be eternally grateful) He wasn’t somehow going to take my place in the dentist chair. 

Think about this for a moment.  When you are in pain and suffering mode, is it not true that your prayers are more that God would remove the suffering and discomfort rather than that He would use them to accomplish His purpose in your life?  It’s true for me!  I’m a wimp when it comes to pain and suffering.  I want to escape it as quickly as a wet watermelon seed escapes the pressure of your thumb on the kitchen table. 

It is a true saying, however, that God never permits your pain and suffering with the intent of training you to become an escape artist.  He permits them in order that we may be taught endurance.

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul clearly says that suffering in the life of a believer is actually a proof of sonship! (v.16,17)  I love the idea of being a child of God.  I don’t necessarily relish the truth that being a fellow-heir of Christ requires sharing the suffering … as well as the glory … the agony as well as the ecstasy!

But Jesus said, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘no servant is greater than his Master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15.18-20)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “If you are suffering as a Christian, and because you are a Christian, it is one of the surest proofs you can ever have of the fact that you are a child of God.”

So, what is my plan for dealing with suffering?

I will not be surprised when suffering occurs.  I will remember that I live in a fallen world.  Disease and decay will come.  Plans will fall through.  Nut cases will wreak havoc.  That’s just the way it is.

I will not place my hope in any human solutions to pain and suffering in this world.  Human beings are incapable of any lasting solutions and they are helpless before the onslaught of sin’s effects upon us.

I will keep my eyes on Jesus who alone is worthy of my confidence.  I will remember that in the same breath that He told us “in this world you will have trouble”, He also said, “but be of good cheer!  I have overcome the world!”

I will look for the fulfillment of his promise to return in glory and when He does I will see him … and become like Him (1 Jn. 3.2).  What a day that will be!

H. G. Wells once said, “Man who began in a cave behind a windbreak will end in the disease-soaked ruins of a slum.”

Paul disagrees!  The groan, he says, will be followed by glory.  The agony, by ecstasy.

Suffering is but a brief inconvenience on the road to glory!  Praise God!  For me … that is enough … as long as I don’t have to have any more teeth pulled 🙂

How about you?