we rejoice in our sufferings.

There’s a dangerous line of reason that thinks good and evil are determined on the basis of how much I like something.  If I like it, it must be good.  If I don’t like something, it must be evil.

So ask a drug addict how good heroin is. Ask me how evil pain is. Start small. Exercise and vegetables are bad. Then get bigger. Ask about real pain. Sickness. Disaster. Those must be really evil. That line of reasoning is going to have trouble with a God who hurled a mighty tempest against a sleeping Jonah. That kind of thought wonders who sinned that a man would be born blind.  It’s going to hate a God who lets us hurt.

God is supposed to be good. So why is He doing all this stuff I don’t like? Don’t tell me”He’s not causing it, He’s just allowing it”. That’s a cop out. An all powerful God who could stop it and chooses not to is culpable.

I can work with the small stuff. I can say peas are good for me even though I don’t like them.  I guess I can see how running is healthy, even though it hurts.  The bigger stuff though…that’s what breaks people.

But what if God thought modest prosperity and temporary happiness weren’t enough for you?  What if He wanted to give you bigger blessings than you could imagine for yourself?  What if pain was the only thing to make us look up from our navel gazing and draw us towards the greater gift?

megaphone-hearing-GodConsider pain God’s megaphone to a deaf world.
It’s the Law from on High given natural shape. This Law already has 10 commandments worth of substance. Pain is that substance made concrete.  I can think about the 6th commandment, but I can really feel heartbreak.  A broken marriage hurts because of sin. Pain preaches a law that says sin really does break stuff.  If touching the stove hurts, don’t touch the stove. If sinning hurts, don’t.

Honestly, though, if pain has shown me anything, it’s that I need help. In the midst of pain, priorities are set straight real fast. Top of the list is “stop hurting”.  If we could just stop hurting, we would. Pain is an explicit dance with the Law that shows us our complete inability to save ourselves.  The Law says I can’t be good enough to save myself. It breaks my ego and drowns my old adam. Pain is the law part of the sermon you can’t tune out or rewrite to be about someone else.

So what do we say to pain that preaches law to a broken people? There’s only one answer.  Law without gospel leads to despair or Phariseeism.  Hurt without hope pushes us farther away

from God and leaves us broken, bitter, and angry.  Ya’ll need Jesus.

To be more specific, not a Jesus who gives you moral examples.  Not a Jesus who doesn’t stand for anything but nice feelings and lets you define good and evil as that which you like and hate. Ya’ll need a Jesus who is honest about pain, and then loves you enough to not stand back from it.  Ya’ll need a Jesus who follows you down into the depths of your pain and bears it for you, then gathers you in to grant peace, hope, and healing to a hurting people.  Ya’ll need the crucified Jesus.

pain-centerThe only Jesus worth having in the midst of pain is one who helps with it.  This is the kind of Jesus that doesn’t turn to mist when you grab at Him in need.  This is the kind of Jesus who sets up a hospital for the sick and dying to give life to sinners and names it His church, promising that hell itself will not prevail against it. This kind of hospital can withstand my pain.  This church doesn’t just peddle nice feelings that I can’t sustain when I really hurt.  It gives solid things to grab onto.  Here is where Jesus works.  To baptize. To commune. To absolve. To give hope and healing to a hurting people.  Here He gives the medicine of immortality. The Word and Sacrament. The gospel.

The gospel lets us see pain in a new light.  The gospel trumps our pain.  The gospel is a Jesus who loves, who cares for, and who even saves us.  The gospel means pain is not measured in terms of good and evil.  Pain is that which points me towards a God desperate to give me gifts better than I could ever imagine, let alone deserve.  That let’s us see pain in a new light.  We might even say with Paul….

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  (Romans 5:3-9)

God isn’t punishing us by hurting. Christ bore that punishment on the cross.  He’s pointing towards hope. Hope does not put us to shame, because we hope in something bigger than not hurting. We hope in a Jesus who suffered and died for us.

Our hope is to be close to that cross where Jesus died, even tied to it in baptism, that we would be united with Him in a death like His.  Crosses hurt. Sorry.  Being close to the cross hurts.  Yet, from Christ’s pain, good is worked for you. You who are united with Him in a death like His will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  You are united in the good that comes from the cross.

So, even from our pain, God can work good. He can bring beauty from the tortured artist.  He can bring forth new life from the pains of childbirth.  He can display the truest witness of Christianity there is in the invalid suffering in a hospital bed and being utterly dependent, showing the world that Christianity is to receive everything while contributing nothing.  Christ helps the helpless. Christ helps the suffering.

If that’s true, then we can even come to call suffering a blessing, like Jesus does. Our suffering doesn’t save us, but it points us towards His suffering, which does.
we rejoice in our sufferings.

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