Purpose to Pain Part I



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  • Purpose to Pain Part I

    I remember long deep conversations with a friend of mine, Beverly, out on my balcony. Conversations about literature, her poetry, and philosophy. Often times these conversations would converse into discussions about religion. She would often tell me that she could not believe in a God whom allows such suffering in the world. Suffering of small children without parents, the ache of life long marriage that ends in divorce, and the tragic end to a mother whose life ended much too short. I wasn’t a true follower of Christ at the time and I didn’t have any answers for her, and I remember just listening as she poured out her heart. I don’t think she was ready for answers at that point anyway. Unfortunately, Beverly and I lost track of each other throughout the years and I never had a chance to try to answer such tough questions. But I have found while writing about this topic that most of us, including my myself, have these inner questions about life. I hope that the discussion will start to shed a ray of hope into our thinking.

    Lets start with the basics. The world is corrupt and full of suffering because of original sin. That was the first sin that occurred back in the days of Adam and Eve, involving their disobedience of God. Prior to that event the world was perfect and without suffering. The nature of sin is death. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-[it is done] through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) What is Paul talking about when he says “body of death” in this passage. The “body of death” was actually a method of execution used in Roman times. A corpse would be attached to a prisoner in which the prisoner could not disengage himself from it. The rotting of the corpse would soon take place in which a plethora of infections and diseases would pollute the prisoner. This is a good illustration of what sin does in an individuals life apart from Christ. The sin attaches itself to the person and then it destroys everything. Without the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, we are plagued with this viscous cycle of wickedness. Hence, there are huge consequences for our sins. We often break the laws of God and wonder why bad things are happening. We will pray to God in such an anger accusing Him of causing this pain. In reality, we often have caused this natural punishment from our own dangerous behaviors that are guaranteed to cause pain. This is what I would call a standard bounded set answer that would suffice in any conversation with a theologian. I doubt if it would soothe the aching soul of anyone in real pain. God is the rule maker, why wouldn’t He change the rule seeing all of these people suffering for no reason?

    When I was in school, I worked at Riley’s Childrens Hospital as a rehab technician. I would often venture off into the burn unit to assist with daily functions. I remember helping the occupational therapist in making a full body splint for a very small toddler. I will never forget that child. The child had massive burn injuries to her body including her face. When she cried during the making of the splint her face had no expressions because of the scar tissue, just sound coming out from her mouth. It was as if she was wearing a mask. That image will be forever burned into my mind, and because of it I will always be a little on the anal side when it comes to watching my Katelyn. The 23:4 Psalm says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” One of the key words for me in this passage is the word “shadow”. A shadow is a dark figure or image cast on the ground or some surface by a body intercepting light. This world and the horrible things that can happen in our lifetime on earth are not a true reality. It is a “shadow” of the truth that is actually happening around us. The second key word for me is the word “through”. The Psalmist states that God will not take you above the problems but will help you ”through” the problems encountered in life. Often times, our self proclaimed problems are illusions, and in reality they have occurred for a purpose. When we devolop strong faith over a lifetime the questions of “why?” should become “Why does it matter? What does God want me to do with this?” It is not our responsibility to know why God does certain things in our lives. We do not have enough information to have that responsibility. Sometimes we have to let go and let God be God. I think a story from Dr. Dobson’s book When God Doesn’t Make Sense is a good illustration.

    I think often of a young man in his early teens whom Dr. Tony Campola described in one of his messages. This boy was named Jerry, and he had been afflicted from birth with cerebral palsy. Jerry walked and talked with great difficutly, yet he came to a Christian summer camp where Dr. Campola was the principal speaker. It was apparent from the first day that Jerry would be rejected by the older junior highers who immediately set about establishing a hierachy of social power. An “in group” emerged, as it always does composed of the good-looking guys and the cute girls. They were far too sophisticated and selfish to mess around with a cripple–a loser like Jerry. They were also rude to the other outcasts who lacked confidence. They didn’t stand a chance.

    All week Dr. Compola watched Jerry struggle to find his place. It was brutal to witness. The popular kids mocked the way he walked and talked. They would imitate his labored speech saying “Whhaaaaat…tiiimmmme….isssss….craaaaffftttsss….ccl llaaaassss?” Then they would all laugh hysterically as though Jerry were deaf. At other times, they avoided him like a plague. Dr. Campola said he has never hated anyone in his life, but he came close to it in that instance–seing what those insensitive and cruel teenagers were doing to the spirit of one who had already suffered more than his share.

    A service was held on the final morning of the camp, during which the students were invited to give their testimonies about what Jesus Christ had meant to them. One by one, the superstars came to the microphone–the athletes, the cheerleaders, and the popular kids. They delivered their little canned speeches, but there was no power in their winess. Their words were empty.

    Then as Dr. Campola sat on the platform, he was startled to see Jerry making his way down the aisle from the back of the auditorium. The other students say him too, and they began to whisper and point. Then a ripple of laughter passed over the crown. Ever so slowly, Jerry came to the platform and then carefully and painfully climbed the three stairs at the side. Finally, he reached the microphone. He stood for a moment looking at his peers, and then said with great effort, “I…..looooovvvvve……Jeeeeeesssssuuuuussss….aaaannnn nddddd…..

    Jeeesssssuuuuuusssss…..lovvvvveeeeessss….meeeeee”. Then Jerry turned to make his long journey back to his seat.

    Campola said Jerry’s simple testimony went through that crowd like a bolt of lightning. His expression of love for God, despite the physical disability and the ridicule he had taken, exposed the sin and selfishness in their lives. They began streaming into the aisles and down to a place of prayer at the front. The Lord had used the least capable spokesman among all those teenagers to accomplish His purposes. Why? Because Jerry was tough enough to be His vessel.

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