God never wastes pain.
This is not the first thing that comforts us when hardship or heartache strikes. First, we need the love and practical compassion of others.
Sooner or later, though, we crave a broader perspective. What is God’s purpose in our pain? Can anything be gained from it?
The disasters that killed thousands in Japan this month certainly begs these questions; so does the bloody struggle for freedom in Libya.
So, too, does the pain closer to home – just ask the homeless, the sickly, those who grieve.
One caution before we consider God’s purpose in pain: There is not one purpose, but many, and not all of them can be known. God himself tells us this in the Bible: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever …” (Deuteronomy 29:29 – NKJV).
So what is being revealed to us through pain?
• God is in control; depend on him.
It is foolish to go through life thinking we’re masters of our own destiny. We are, at best, influential participants, and only because God allows us this privilege and responsibility. He is all-powerful – the Lord of his creation.
Much of life can be lived under the delusion that we’re in charge. But it takes surprisingly little to show us otherwise. Any reminder of God’s control ought to provoke us to be humbly dependent upon him, not proudly dependent upon ourselves.
• Life is short; set the right priorities.
The Bible tells us that life is a vapor, but we seldom think of it that way. We presume we’ll always have that person in our lives, that paycheck to enjoy, that there’s always time tomorrow to contemplate eternity. Pain reveals the error.
This is already happening in Japan. Author Ryu Murakami, who was in Yokohama when the earthquake struck, told the New York Times this week that some people “who once were so intoxicated with their own prosperity” are now intensely focused on helping one another.
• Pain is a proving ground.
God wants us to know him, not just know about him. He promises to never leave nor forsake his children, to be an unfailing source of comfort, peace and hope. But reading those truths is not the same as experiencing them.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that their pain gave God the opportunity to console them, and the experience would better enable them to love others:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
• God sometimes uses pain to show us our sin.
I have a friend in the Marines. He says, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” There’s some truth to that.
We all know the pain of falling into a ditch we’ve dug for ourselves. At such times it’s wise to remember that God loves us enough to discipline us, to bring us back into a right relationship with him, to form his character in us:
“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
God’s desire is to replace the weakness of our sinful nature with the strength of his holiness – if we’ll let him.
And there’s the rub.
God never wastes pain. But people sometimes do.
Friends, we can trust God to save us eternally through faith in Jesus Christ. Surely we can trust him to accomplish his purposes in our pain.