Jesus was born into a world of pain and suffering. From the time of His birth, He lived the paradox of being absolutely safe in the plan of eternity but also experiencing suffering. As a young boy, his family moved to a foreign country in order to evade a murderous king. The king went ahead and gave it his best shot:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” Matthew 2:16
This was a horrible, senseless slaughter. We are wise not to miss the reality that pain and suffering is not ignored in the Gospel. God is not afraid to talk about it. He is sensitive to suffering and does not run away from its presence in the world. On the one hand, the great hope of the Gospel is that one day: “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) On the other hand, until that future day, God speaks to us and uses our pain and suffering.
In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis suggests:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Suffering, if we engage with it, opens our ears to hear God in ways we don’t when life is merrily humming along. It’s not that God actually shouts in our pains; it’s that we have the opportunity to be more sensitive and open.
If you are experiencing some kind of suffering in your life, you have choices. You can distance yourself from it through running away to new relationships, new circumstances, new whatever. You can deny that the suffering is even going on through acting like nothing is really wrong … this can be a flat denial or a “religious sugar coating” which ignores the hurt and pain of suffering through platitude. You can also despair though hanging your head and letting the pain be the only reality in your life. There is another way … the way of dependence. It is a place of listening and attending to God. Most often, we can’t know the why of suffering but we can experience God’s voice in deep, significant ways. Oswald Chambers counsels:
“Are you in the dark right now in your circumstances, or in your life with God? If so, then remain quiet. If you open your mouth in the dark, you will speak while in the wrong mood— darkness is the time to listen. Don’t talk to other people about it; don’t read books to find out the reason for the darkness; just listen and obey. If you talk to other people, you cannot hear what God is saying.”
Suffering and pain brings the gift of a softened heart … if we let it … if we listen. The Apostle Paul dealt with a thorn, a suffering, that would not go away. He prayed and listened. And, he prayed and listened. God spoke to Him clearly, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) Suffering can be a gift because it can strip us of our independence and self-sufficiency. If living a life of dependence upon God is not a value, then pain will never have a purpose in our lives. Certainly, there are large picture ways that God uses suffering and some of that will not be apparent until eternity, but for now, He graciously uses pain to shape and mold us. Will we let Him? Will we listen to the message He has for us in our suffering?
Today, consider the following: what suffering is present in your life? How have you been thinking about and speaking about your pain? Stop and ask God: what is your message for me in all of this? You may not hear for a while so be persistent. If can take time for all the other voices to quiet. When you do hear, be ready to listen!
Once again, pray these words from your heart:
Father, help me to silence every creature, including myself. I want to listen to You as I hear your voice. Help me to learn stillness so that I might be attentive to Your good and gracious voice. As I hear, may I have the courage to follow Your heart from my heart. Thank you for desiring to do life with me.