Dr. Chapman finishes Chapter 9 with three examples of people who are in painful circumstances, Clarence who has multiple sclerosis, Robert who was a homosexual, renounced that lifestyle and became a minister and lost his ministry, and Brad who wanted to be a singer in music ministry and could not carry a tune or beat out a rhythm. He was told he did not have what it takes to sing.
To make matters worse, Clarence was a language of touch person who had no control of his muscles. Robert was an acts of service person who had his acts of service opportunity taken from him and Brad thrived on words of affirmation and he was told he could not do his love—no words of affirmation for his music.
Tim Keller*, one of my favorite Christian authors, talks about the way Christians refer to pain, the metaphor is “walking through the pain.” He states “walking through [pain] is something difficult, perilous and potentially fatal. [But] the walking metaphor points to the idea of progress. Many ancients saw adversity as merely something to withstand and endure without flinching, or even feeling, until it goes away. Modern Western people see suffering as something like adverse weather, something you avoid or insulate yourself from until it passes by.”
Today we want to avoid pain at all cost. We have high powered pain meds, when life gets too painful, we go to rehab, when we need a break from pain, we call in “sick”, when stressful times come, we deaden the pain with alcohol.
Can suffering lead to learning?
Can suffering lead to growth?
Sure it can.
Many people refuse to see God in pain but He is there. He may not be the originator of the pain but he can get you through the pain.
The pain itself is a way to find out who you really are. Again Keller says “If you believe in Jesus and you rest in Him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold. Do you want to know who you are—your strengths and weaknesses? Do you want to be a compassionate person who skillfully helps people who are hurting? Do you want to have such a profound trust in God that you are fortified against the disappointments of life? Do you want simply to be wise about how life goes?” You can get all that from the pain and disappointment of life.
But what about the pain that breaks a person down, relentless pain?
Sometimes it happens that way.
Keller says to avoid this, “you must walk with God.” He likes the idea of walking associated with pain because walking “consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up in a sustained way for a long time….A walk is day in and day out praying; day in and day out Bible and Psalms reading; day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of a church. It is rhythmic, on and on and on. To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.”
You literally walk through pain with a steady walk with God.
What happens to lots of people? In the midst of pain, they give up on God.
I am reminded of pain when I experience pain in my daily life.
One of my strong love languages is quality time, so every morning I meet God in an upstairs room in my house. I am 63 and I have sixty-three year old pains from time to time. This morning when I was with God and I had persistent neck pain, I thought about the pastor up the street with Alzheimer’s Disease, I thought about a good friend who has Parkinson’s Disease, I thought of a member of my church who has hospice in his home and I realized my pains are minor.
Pastor Keller takes relativity even further with Jesus. He talks of pain as being thrown into a furnace. He says “if you say to yourself when you get thrown into the furnace, ‘This is my furnace. I am not being punished for my sins, because Jesus was thrown into that ultimate fire for me. And so if He went through that greatest fire steadfastly for me, I can go through this smaller furnace steadfastly for Him. And I also know it means that if I trust in Him, this furnace will only make me better.’”
Through pain, Clarence found God and became a prayer warrior. Through pain, Robert began a ministry to help homosexual people who are conflicted with their lifestyle choices vs. Christianity. Through pain, Brad became a powerful Bible study teacher at his church.
None of these things would have been possible without pain.
And the fact that all three men chose to “walk through it.”
*From Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller