Monday, January 2, 2017

Do you want to live a life without pain?

Have you ever wanted to live a life without pain?

No hurt, no wounds, no death. No regrets, no sorrow, no heartbreak. I think a part of all of us longs for a life like that. We’re made in God’s image, and even from the depths we’ve fallen we still grasp at faint echoes of Eden. We all wish we could again live in a perfect paradise, and for Christians, we have a steadfast faith that we will one day life in a new world without death and suffering. It will be glorious.

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea

Isaiah 11:6-9.

What do we do with pain in the meantime, then? Why doesn’t God let us escape it now, in this life? Was He not powerful enough to crush Satan before he tempted Eve in the garden? Why is it that we still experience tremendous pain after accepting Jesus as Lord? If He’s defeated death, why is it still our enemy? If only we could live life without pain or suffering right now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, didn’t He?

Why then, why all the pain?

If we truly believe God is who He says He is, than we know for sure it is not a question of whether He can obliterate all suffering, it’s a question of when. He will one day set all things right, but for now, God has chosen to allow suffering and pain in our world and lives. There is no way to get around that. We also know that God is good, which means His plan is good. He’s holly, and His choices are perfect.

It sounds like a quandary—a contradiction that cannot be resolved. Unless, that is, we are to believe there is some redeeming purpose to pain.

A couple nights ago, we watched an interesting movie called The Giver. This dystopian tale centers on a society that has found a way to eliminate suffering. They’ve made a world without war or crime or even hurt. The trade off? Citizens can’t think for their own. The world is wiped of any choices or emotions. A select few elders regulate how you will live your life, and thanks to your morning brain-numbing injection, you follow along without complaint. In the process of destroying suffering, they’ve also destroyed love, creativity, beauty, joy, and kindness. The film offers a bold message: You can't truly experience the joys in life without the pain, and without choosing to receive both.

Is that it? Can we really experience the good in life without contrasting it with the bad? Would we ever grow more in a relationship with God without the contrast?  Would we even be thankful for the good in our lives? Would our lives in reality be worse off without pain?

Yesterday, our church had a time of sharing—an open mic for anyone who had a testimony of thankfulness or praise to God. With each joyful testimony, my heart swelled near to bursting. I rejoiced with my family in Christ, praising God for all His blessings. A couple testimonies made me tear up, a couple made me laugh or clap wholeheartedly. What ran through all of them, though, as I think about it—what made the stories truly worth praising God for—was pain.

It’s true.  Almost every testimony featured pain; a couple were even heartbreaking. But that only made the joy and peace that came out of them that much more sweet. God is so good, that He can use such sadness and trial to draw us closer to Him. We really do grow, and we really can see the value of pain. We can even praise God for it!

3  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  4  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  5  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

Last night, I had to say goodbye to Meemom and Papa Bob as they head back to AZ for the rest of the winter and spring. Goodbyes are so sad! But I can trust that the season of being apart will make seeing them again that much more joyful. You see, pain doesn’t have to break us. For us Christians, it can enhance our experiences of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—because we know what the opposite is like. Pain really is part of experiencing abundant life on this earth!

Do I want to live a life without pain, then? No! I can trust in God’s perfect plan for my life. I can trust that the trials He brings are for my best—even the most heart-wrenching. Thank you, Lord! You really are worthy of all our praise. Your ways are truly higher than ours, and your plan is perfect, pain included. Like the song says, “Oh how sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word!”