April 14, 2013

No pain ever again

For most people, the joy of something new does not last very long. For most, the honeymoon is over in six to eighteen months. A new car loses its shine even faster, as do new shoes, clothes and other material things. The delight of a new baby might stick with us, but all parents know how that joy also has its ups and downs.

Pain is another thing. It can stay with us for years, which means that our capacity for pain is greater than we would like it to be. Jesus was fully God was also fully human. He sweat blood in the garden and endured pain on the cross that we cannot fathom, demonstrating the human capacity for pain. Joy does not last that long, at least here and now. Yet one day both capacities will change when…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

I’d like to avoid pain right now. The pain of childbirth is one thing, and for most is quickly forgotten, but other suffering is not so quick to disappear. However, today’s devotional reading reminds me that that pain is at the root of life and growth, so much so that through pain we are carried to higher levels.

In suffering I was born. Pain informs me when something is wrong and teaches me lessons I do not forget. By the pain endured by Christ, I was redeemed and set free from the power and penalty of sin. Yes, pain is a curse, but it also has power. The devotional writer points out that we owe our laws to it, and all our art, our immortal books and especially our salvation.

Also, in every country and in every age people have looked on suffering and pain as something that was acceptable to God. What is so mysterious about pain that folks instinctively sense that in bearing it, God will be pleased? While such thoughts can have their twisted side and motivate bizarre methods of “pleasing the gods” such as walking on fire or sacrificing children, this universal instinct points to a reality; God says that sorrow is better than laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:3). The New Testament adds that…

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8–11)

Pain and affliction bring death to the old nature that God might bring forth the life of Christ that is in me. Sin is such that I cling to what is easy, familiar, and especially what gives me comfort and even glory. God’s way is self-denial, not to earn His favor but to get out of His way. Jesus lives in me but I can block Him by wanting joy all the time. Yet in this body and life, I do not have the capacity to be joyful all the time. In fact, supreme and extended joy can actually give me a supreme and extended headache.

The good news is that God’s Word also says the pain I dread now will be wiped away. God will give me a new capacity for joy, one that can handle an eternity full of it. Until then, these words encourage me…

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

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