The Problem of Pain

November 29, 2009

It’s good to be home.

I listened to the soft breathing of my parents as they laid there sleeping. I am blessed and truly thankful for their continued health. Yet I think upon my brother in the Lord who has lost his mother due to cancer earlier this year. I think about the countless believers at my home church whose mothers and relatives are suffering through cancer. Then there’s my co-worker, a dear lover of Christ, whose wife is having complications in her pregnancy. There is just so much pain in this world. If God really is omnipotent and omniscient, how can he stand to just see us going through our pain and not answer our pleas for relief?

But this question that I ask comes from a third-person perspective. It is more of a problem of evil – it asks how God can exist when these painful and seemingly evil things exist. But from the first-person perspective, the question becomes less stoic and more personal. It does not ask whether God can theoretically exist, but where God is. The problem of evil can be tackled purely intellectually, while the problem of pain can only be tackled through faith of the Psalms and the faith of Naomi.

What then does this faith look like? First, it does not assume that God will deliver us by removing the source of our pain. While we desire relief and the removing of the thorn, this faith does not assume that God is obligated to do so. It does however believe that God works for the good of those who love Him; it does not waver in the conviction that God is good. We may sometimes be puzzled by how our painful experiences will lead to God’s glory and our joy. We may see God’s good promises, and our present circumstances, and struggle to see how they can connect to each other. But this type of faith never doubts that ultimately God will be glorifed, and that ultimately we will come to take joy in Him forever. This faith does not assume that a miraculous healing is the only way a prayer over the sick is answered. It does not place God under our whims, nor does it desire the healing more than God. It does not make prayer and devotion into acts for which God will bless us. This type of faith stems from trust in God’s whole being and His promise of holiday at the sea, rather than our own short-sighted desire for mud pies.

Secondly, this faith relies on God’s answer that has already been revealed. This faith fuels us to pray and plead in order to remind us of what this answer was. To a world full of pain and sin, God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to share in our sorrow, to share in our brokenness. The personal problem of pain, can only seem to be solved when someone who knows what we are going through comes besides us, hugs us, and cries with us. This then is the significance of the incarnation: God is with us. When we ask in our painful experience where he is, he answers Immanuel – God is with us. We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with us.

Thirdly, this type of faith results in hope. There is more to this incarnation than God crying with us. All our sufferings of this present age are temporary. But they refer back to the very nature of sin that causes suffering, as well as to the ultimate consequence of seperation from God. This faith trusts, this faith hopes in the God who not only cried with us, but took on our shame, took on our sins and died for us. This type of faith can see how our painful experiences can be redemptive, not only because we can relate to others who are going through the same thing, but because it brings glory to God. This type of faith hopes that our own painful experiences can redemptively be shown to have been for God’s glory, for it can see how the most horrific touture and murder of the Son of God, is used for His glory.

Lastly, this type of faith spurs us to love one another. This type of faith makes us want to cry with our brothers and sisters, to pray for them, to provide for them. For by this the world will know we are His disciples, when we love one another. This type of faith, the faith that hopes in the death and resurrection of Christ, spurs us to love one another as Christ loved us, to lay down our lives for one another. Right now, the body of Christ may look a lot like how Jesus’ body looked on the cross; beaten, broken, and bleeding. But this type of faith knows of the resurrection and eagerly awaits for the renewal of the church, the body of Christ, and makes us love it dearly.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that pain is God’s megaphone. Sometimes we may be only listening for the answer we want to hear, and so He seems silent. But we must realize that He has already given the answer – His son, who has suffered, died, and resurrected. Death has lost its sting; our pain here is temporary. Therefore, in light of all this, let us love one another.

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