Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The War with Pain

 (submitted by Kerry Patton)
“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7b-9 NIV 
It Still Hurts
Author William Goldman wrote in his story The Princess Bride: “Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”For most of us, life began with a crisp smack on the behind to help us start breathing and has been seasoned periodically with a reminder that perhaps Goldman’s quote may not be far off target.  
As Christians, our experience of pain and suffering is affected and even directed by the direct influence of our faith and our relationship with a loving and compassionate God.  Just as we love and are concerned with the wellbeing of our own loved ones, even more so God loves us and is not unmoved by our sickness, suffering or pain. Scriptures are littered with stories of God’s healing of the sick, providing for the poor or suffering, and comforting the anxious or grieving heart.
Praying for the sick or suffering can sometimes seem like risky business for the Christian.  We can take on the responsibility for the release or restoration of those suffering, and after we pray – should the request seem to go unanswered, it can feel like or be interpreted as failure on our own part.  For the suffering, it may seem like God has chosen to NOT heal him or her.  “Was it because of my sin?”  “Am I not good enough?”  “Does God not love me?”  In desperation, one weary faithful follower cried out: “Why doesn’t God take this pain away??” A good question…that I do not have the answer to.
Sometimes, only in the finality of death does God release us from our pain.  It is mysterious to me, but why one person experiences a miraculous healing, and another does not is known only by our loving God.  I am certain of this – it is NOT because he loves one less, nor that one is less worthy, nor is it punishment for some sin committed by the sufferer.  Suffering may be a consequence of sin, but it is not a punishment from the same God who gave his only Son to save us from sin… that sin of which the scripture says is cast into a sea of forgetfulness. (see Micah 7:19)
Not all suffering and pain in life is physical.  I believe that most all of us have deep regrets or guilt over things we have done or didn’t do, or because of things others have done to us.  Some of us deal with those things and move on. For others however, moving on is very difficult.  Sometimes, the pain of emotional injury or abuse can shut us down completely or cause our lives to divert into unimaginable difficulty that may take years to get over…or perhaps we struggle the rest of our lives with it.  I wish that weren’t the case, but it is a matter of daily living for some…some who perhaps continue to this day crying out to God for relief or release.  
I suggest that for most of us, a significant portion of life involves pain and suffering of some kind, and that our loving God will provide one or the other of the following for us: 
1.   Miraculous release from that suffering, but not necessarily an end to all suffering, or 
2.   His grace and strength to endure the sufferings of this life until at last we are rewarded with relief and rest in heaven with him.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul speaks of his thorn in the flesh;a suffering of undefined nature which he suggested God had given to him to keep him from becoming conceited.  The passages do not speak specifically of what that suffering, or pain entailed.  Some suggest that the thorn was the failure of Paul’s eyesight, which he eludes to in other passages.  Some suggest the thorn was a weakness of his spirit to endure the near constant stresses put upon him by persecution and reproaches.  Others speculate that Paul’s thorn was some sin that he longed to leave behind, but Satan kept buffeting him in temptation with.  
Whatever the suffering was, Paul leveraged that reality in his life as a vision of God’s faithfulness, His grace in suffering, and God’s strength manifest in Paul’s own weaknesses.  Whether God would heal him or not, Paul was clinging to the faithful God whom he knew would carry him toward his own maturity and eternal reward.

In the third verse of Bill and Gloria Gaither’s song Because He Lives, we find the following encouragement:
And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

The war with pain continues in the life of the believer, but the victory is ours. In our weakness, He is strong. Our suffering is but momentary in comparison to the relief and reward that is ahead of us.  And I thank God for this: pain and suffering have alwaysdriven me deeper into dependence, and a more intimate knowledge and relationship with Him…whose grace by which I stand. 
Father, O Father… some suffer so greatly in this life.  We cry out to you asking for relief, for release. Help us when we must endure pain, even great pain.  Give us strength, give us grace.  Help us in suffering I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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