A friend/co-worker/person smarter than me because I get to call her doctor recently posted this video of Tim Keller talking about his new book, Walking With God in the Midst of Pain and Suffering. I’ve been thinking about some of his points regarding pain and suffering. Why, you ask?
Because life gets hard.
I am not in great emotional pain at this point in my life. My husband is human, but a pretty rockin’ one. My health is adequate and I have all my limbs. I haven’t lost my parents, and I haven’t lost my job. It’s not that I don’t have problems and questions I’d like answered: I just don’t have anything in my life that is likely to send me to despair.
But I see pain around me. I listen to my friends talk and I ache. I watch the news and it is hard and horrible and hideous. There is so much suffering around the world (at least if you read/watch BBC or any other non-fluff site), and it’s not easy to see or live through.
Even with my small issues, I find myself living as a martyr. The husband didn’t unload the dishwasher…again! I’m running late to work and there’s a traffic jam…oh, despair! (Please imagine my most dramatic voice while reading these.) How dare I have to stay at work an extra hour? What the? Pain in my back? This must stop!
Apparently, I’m not alone according to T.Kizzle (my new rapper name for Tim Keller, although my husband says that a name “T. Kizzle” hasn’t been a rapper-type name since 2007 and that I am sadly mistaken). T. Kizzle (because it’s fun to say) stated that our western world really struggles with suffering because we are surprised by it and that those in the eastern part of our globe aren’t surprised and therefore handle pain better. It’s this part of his interview that really grabbed my attention. I’ve been puzzling over why there’s a difference in our part of the world – is it our consumer-driven mindset, our culture of instant gratification, our relatively pain-free life due to medical advancements, electricity, Walmart??? Why? And why my own personal shock? After all, I’ve been through hard times.
As I was thinking about it, I realized part of my problem is that at some level I do not believe the Gospel. Oh, yes, I believe the good parts about Christ’s love for me and His death on the cross being sufficient for my salvation. I even believe that in response to His love I should be motivated to love others. Yes, yes, yes. What I do not believe, based on my surprised response to hurt or discomfort, is that sin entered the world bringing death, pain, and suffering.
If I believe that sin came into the world and ruined everything, why am I so shocked when things go wrong? Death, loss, pain, and all the rest of sin’s nasty little children (shout-out to James 1) should be expected. It’s the natural result of a ruined world, and I have failed to grasp the deep gravity of the consequences sin brought to this earth. Still, even when I intellectually understand this and even feel the weight of creation groaning, I still find myself buying into the idea that I, out of all the people in the universe, am somehow above painful experiences.*
Why do I think I should get a pass on suffering? Have I found the Christian cheat code that allows me to skip to level 14 and bypass all the hurt in life? I have this sneaking suspicion that my belief in the “rightness” of my comfort has more to do with the idea that I deserve a comfortable life. In fact, I would go as far as to declare that believing I should be exempt from all pain is a way of saying that I don’t need a Savior, because I am clearly not part of this messy, broken system. I am perfect. But that’s not how God works. He’s a God of redemption, not exemption. So, He will use the dysfunction of the world to chip away at my dysfunction and make His glory known. Against this black backdrop, how can He not shine a little brighter?
I am not saying that pain is always a result of our sin, just that it is an evidence of sin wreaking havoc in the world. I am also not saying that we should not hurt or cry or be honest about how deep the wound goes. God is honored with our vulnerability and if He didn’t want to hear our brokenhearted wailing, I doubt He’d have inspired Psalms. I also think that He gave us the church, His body, to walk with us through these times. We need to be each other’s cheerleaders. (For a well-balanced view on suffering check out this post from Jen Hatmaker, who writes amazing good stuff.)
What I am saying is that I no longer want to be surprised at suffering in my life or in the lives of others. I want to be waiting not for the pain to come or go, but for what God will do through it. Suffering isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t. God can reap a harvest from even those seasons I don’t want: I’d like to see what He does.
*Disclaimer: I am not perfect. Just ask anyone who has ever lived with me, talked with me for more than ten minutes, or ran into me at the grocery store while I was scowling and mumbling to myself like a crazy person.