encountering pain

by Patti Cepin

It is possible that as you journal through your life, you will encounter painful memories. You may already be aware of some of these memories. Some may be new to you; others you may have chosen to avoid thinking about. Let me invite you to look at pain from God’s perspective.

Pain is a reality for those of us who are living outside the Garden of Eden. Keep in mind that the heart of God is also in pain because we are outside the Garden, not walking with Him face to face. We are not of this world, but we are in it, and Satan is the Prince of this world, which leaves us living in the presence of sin. But God is a redeeming God. Not only does He redeem our souls from destruction, but He also redeems the painful situations that we have lived through in our lives.

It is so easy to trust in our own abilities…to trust in what God through Jeremiah calls the arm of the flesh (Jeremiah 17:5-8). We can trust in the Lord or we can trust in our own ability to make our worlds work. The consequence of making our world work on our own is that we won’t even know what good is or what it looks like when it comes. We will not understand what God calls good. God is inviting us to trust Him, not our own ability or perceptions. He is inviting us to walk into the Refiner’s fire where He promises to meet us. Look at what He says in Isaiah 43 about His invitation to enter the fire and the water and about His heart towards us. He meets us there. “When you walk through the fire, I will be with you.”

If God is sovereign and God is good and yet there is pain in our lives, then God has purposed it or allowed it for our good. If it is true that God is in our pain, then our problem is not pain. Our problem is our demand that we no longer experience pain. At the core of pain is the problem of sin: our sin against someone else or someone else’s sin against us, or the presence of sin in a fallen world. Sin causes pain, and we demand relief! We are unwilling to stay where God has placed us--that is, in pain.

Pain is an invitation to which we must respond. C. S. Lewis has said that “pain is God’s megaphone to wake a sleeping world.” Our heavenly Father uses pain for a variety of purposes. Pain comes from many directions into our lives, but always the hand of our Father directs it because He loves us.

Pain teaches many lessons. To list only a few:

  • Pain brings me into a deeper understanding of God. “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42
  • Pain requires that I be dependent on and connected to God. “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, them I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • Pain enables me to comfort others with the comfort God brings to me. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all out troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • Pain perfects me and completes me. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
  • Pain brings me to repentance. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (II Corinthians 7:10-11)
  • Pain draws me into His arms where I find the intimacy with Him my heart was created to enjoy. “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.” (Hosea 6:1-2)
  • Pain accomplishes God’s purposes for good. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
  • Pain produces an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

Think about the consequences of no physical pain. If I have leprosy and a rat bites my toe, or if my tooth is abscessed, what happens? I cannot feel it. In a fallen world what would be the product of no personal pain? What would happen if God removed the consequence of sin? What if there were no consequences when I sin against you, if there were no consequences when you sin against me, if there were no consequences when I sin against God? The Israelites offering their children as burnt sacrifices to the god Molech is a sneak preview (II Kings 23:10). The wickedness of man would have no end!

We see in Hosea 2:6-13 how God uses pain. God brings pain on Israel. None of her strategies to independently get what her heart longs for are successful. Look at the contrast in Psalm 63:1, at God’s purpose for doing all that: Therefore, behold, I will allure her, I will bring her into the wilderness, alone and apart, and I will speak kindly, tenderly, to her heart. (Hosea 2:14; author’s paraphrase)

In the verses that follow, He shows us what He does once He has His beloved’s attention. He gives her from His hand all that she has sought from her lovers. Have you ever realized the pains to which the Lover of your soul goes to get your attention? He loves you with an everlasting love; He has created you as His portion. He stoops down with all the love of a nursing mother, and with all the love and passion of first love, He draws you to Himself. He wants you to know how He feels about you.

Dan Allender has said that “it is in the Valley of the Shadow of Death that He sets a table before us and He gently treats our wounds.” We will be wounded, we will walk in that dark valley, but He is there, waiting for us. Only those with the courage to go with Him into the valley will know the secret of His presence.