While attending International Bible College, I had a dear friend, a suitemate from another part of the country, regularly use a four-letter word that my parents would never have permitted me to use. The more I interacted with this friend and with others raised in the region from which he came I began to realize that profanity differed from region to region.
Today, I want to have a frank discussion about a four-letter word. No, you wouldn’t wash your children’s mouth out with soap for using this word, but it is a word I wish didn’t exist. That four-letter word? PAIN
Over the next few days, I want to have a frank discussion about pain. My pain has quickly reached a point where it is nearly excruciating. Walking across the floor has become an exercise in tolerating the pain instead of screaming. The more I walk (“shuffle” might be a better word at this point) the worse the pain becomes. Some sessions I desperately wanted to attend at Polishing the Pulpit (PTP) I’ll need to hear on my thumb drive because I just couldn’t do anymore. Pain has become a constant companion.
How can we deal with pain? Today, I want to give one answer: We know whom to blame!
When tragedy comes people want to know why God could allow sorrow to befall them. Scripture provides only partial answers, but God, through His inspired Word, tells us the following:
First, God has not provided all the answers. Job suffered greatly, and when they heard of his suffering, three friends came to comfort the suffering man of God. For a week, they kept silent, and they provided more help and comfort in that week than they did when they opened mouths (let that lesson sink in for a moment). When they began speaking, Job’s friends expressed a simple theology: God sends suffering upon people for their sins; therefore, Job’s great sufferings necessarily mean that Job has sinned greatly.
Job argued his case against his “worthless counselors” to no avail. Job finally expressed a strong wish that God would appear so that he, a mortal man, could question the Creator. YHWH came before Job in a whirlwind, and He declared,
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job 38:4-7, ESV
Those who wish to stand in judgment of YHWH today need to answer the question God put to Job: “Where were you when He laid the foundation of the earth?” God is in control. God reigns with absolute sovereignty over His creation.
Second, God does not cause suffering. Suffering has come into this world because sin is in this world (Rom 5:12). God deserves none of the blame. The blame for suffering in this world lies squarely on the shoulders of Satan who brought sin and destruction.
In the 2013 race for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a passage Republican candidate E. W. Jackson had written in his book Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life came under intense scrutiny. Jackson wrote, “Keep in mind that the whole cosmos has been made imperfect — wounded — by sin. It is the principle of sin, rebellion against God and His truth which has brought about birth defects and other destructive natural occurrences.” Democratic candidate and eventual winner Ralph Northam ran television ads featuring a teary mother saying that sin did not cause her child’s birth defects.
Jackson’s words were, in my opinion, not the most tactful way to express biblical truth; birth defects are a highly emotional subject for families facing that affliction every day. That does not, however, make his words any less true. All sickness, all disease, and all death lie at the feet of sin and the evil one who marred God’s perfect creation by sin.
Third, God allows suffering for our benefit. What? Suffering can be good for us? You’d better believe it. On January 3, 2000, I awoke about 3:00 am in the worst pain I have ever suffered. The weekend of the Y2K scare I was more sick with diarrhea than a human should ever be (sorry, but I believe transparency with my health is important to tell my story; it is, after all, a part of life).
I was visiting my dad’s parents in Seymour, Indiana, and I became quite seriously ill. My wife, one year-old son, and I were planning on leaving Saturday morning to head back to Kentucky. Diarrhea hit. No big deal. I would take some of Mamaw’s Imodium, and I’d have no more problem. After four pills and no stopping the diarrhea, I began to get concerned.
Tammy and I felt we needed to get back to Kentucky, and so we left Mamaw’s. I couldn’t eat; I was far too sick for anything to sound remotely good. The only thing I wanted was Coca-Cola from the fountain at McDonald’s (I love fountain drinks from there and their french fries). As soon as I would finish one large Coke, Tammy would have to get off an exit, find a McDonald’s, and get me another.
I arrived home without much difficulty, but the diarrhea would not stop. Over the course of the next few hours and into Sunday, I had at least (no exaggeration) about fifty bouts of diarrhea. My wife begged me to let her take me to the doctor, but it’s Sunday (she and RJ were able to worship with the saints), but my only option was the emergency room. I would not go to the emergency room and tell them I’d been having diarrhea non-stop for the past two days. I had agreed to see my general practitioner on Monday (let’s face it, I didn’t have a choice).
I did not see Dr. McLaughlin on Monday as I had planned, for about 3:00 am I awoke with horrid pain, pain like I’ve never experienced before or after. Amid the cries and the screams and the tears, I had no trouble consenting to the emergency room. After being checked over and having a CT scan, the diagnosis was appendicitis and a surgeon was called. He examined me and rapidly ruled out appendicitis; instead, I had c. diff, a colon infection. My colon was actually in danger of rupturing; without that horrible pain, I would not have headed to the emergency room, my colon would have ruptured, pouring toxins throughout my body, and I would likely not be in this world.
Pain can draw us closer to God. That’s precisely what Paul said happened when he was in Asia. Paul’s suffering in Asia made him and his companions despair even of life, but that despair drove Paul to God. In Paul’s own words, the suffering he and his companions endured “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:9, ESV). We cannot do everything ourselves. We do not have all the answers. Pain causes us to walk more closely with God and to allow Him to walk with us.
Tomorrow, we will think about how the Lord may discipline us through pain. Let’s walk with Him!