Week 23: The Purpose of Pain
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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
As a pastor now for over 20 years, the question that people ask me more than any other is this, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” First of all, I’d say it’s an invalid question. There are not good people, see Romans 3:10 and 3:23. We are all by nature and nurture unrighteous sinners. And however, I understand the heart of the question.
The heart of the question is trying to reconcile a good all powerful God with the pain the we experience in our lives. How can God love me, be good, be all powerful and still I feel pain and tragedy?
Well, let us start with the foundation. God IS good and God IS for us. Romans 5:8 lets us know that God has ultimately demonstrated his love for us in this, that while you and I were still sinners, deserving God’s wrath that Christ took our place. The end of Romans chapter 8 says over and over and OVER that God is good, that He is in charge and that He is for us.
So why do bad things happen to us? Well, let’s be honest, sometimes pain comes our way because it is our fault. Now, I’m not saying that we are being punished because of our sin, but there are consequences to our disobedience. Much of the pain that we experience in this world is because of the collateral damage of dumb decisions and disobedience. Either by us or against us. And sometimes the pain that we experience, it’s a result of living in a broken world.
Romans 8 lets us know that we live in a world that has been subjected to futility. When sin entered the world through the rebellion of Adam and Eve, ALL of creation was cursed. That means that everything from weather systems, to economic structures, to our very own cells have been thrown into chaos. And sometimes the pain that we are experiencing is simply the loving discipline of God.
God is a good Father that loves to give good gifts to His children. One of those good gifts is the pain of discipline that’s a part of our sanctification. I don’t know any really strong people that have had a really easy life. The good news is that God is at work in ALL things, especially in our pain, for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).
A great example of this in the scriptures is the life of Joseph in Genesis 35-50. Joseph’s life is marked by pain. His story includes domestic violence, human trafficking, false imprisonment, abandonment and reputational assault. And yet in the end, God works all of these things for Joseph’s good and more importantly for God’s glory.
What Joseph perceived as a tragic detour in his life through enslavement and prison, turned out to be God’s redemptive path for the salvation of His people. At the end of the saga, Joseph is able to say to his brothers that with ill will started this seemingly tragic adventure, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20).
There is purpose in our pain. Only an almighty sovereign God that loves us could use even the pain in our lives for His purpose. And His purposes are ALWAYS good. God never wastes a hurt. That means that our pain is NOT meaningless. Even and ESPECIALLY when we don’t have the perspective in that moment to understand.
2 Corinthians 4 tells us that this pain, though seemingly unbearable today, will seem light and momentary compared to the incredible inheritance of glory that God has in store for His children. And not only that, but God is using this pain and trial for a particular glory for us that will be revealed one day.
So do not look to what is seen, but look towards the goodness of God as revealed at the cross. In fact, the cross itself is the most complete example of God purposing pain for His own glory and plan. The most painful and gruesome tragedy in ALL of history is seen at Calvary. God sends His one and only Son to save the world and we murder Him on a cross.
It seems like God has completely lost control when He dies on a cross. It seems that the enemy has won. If in that moment you were to stop and ask God, “GOD, what are you doing? Have you totally lost control?” The answer would be NO, I am redeeming the world and demonstrating to you that I love you and I have a purpose for this pain.
The cross fully and finally teaches us that God is good that God is in control and that God loves us.
CS Lewis says in his book The Problem of Pain, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Now, may God bless you or break you, whatever it takes to draw you into a DEEPER relationship with Him. Amen