The Human Dilemma
For many of us, we make it a priority to safeguard our lives from any and all forms of suffering, pain, and heartache. This may manifest in a plurality of ways based on what kind of pain we’re speaking of whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental pain. For instance, the college soccer player coming off her second torn ACL in as many years will inevitably have fears when she returns to the pitch. She plays timid, reluctant to really push off her left leg in an effort to save herself from another nine months of mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting physical therapy if her knee were to give out a third time. The young man who holds close friendships and romantic endeavors at arms distance in fear of making himself vulnerable and susceptible to heartbreak. The examples are endless.
These are real struggles and when we look at our own lives we begin see how this fear of pain has permeated our own tendencies. These tendencies may have even grown out of circumstances that were out of our control: a family member betrayed our trust, a broken past relationship has created a lens we’re now trapped behind, a health or medical issue unceasingly nags our life and our joy. These are not superficial struggles; these struggles are real, and they hurt. We attempt to numb and cover, or even ignore, these points of sorrow, yet the scars still remain.
In our culture, pain, suffering, and heartache are treated as plagues to be avoided, but what if these are inevitable truths of life that are meant to sweetly break us?
The Only Means
Before proceeding, it must be noted the foundation upon which pain becomes broken beauty stands upon. No doubt, there are those reading who adhere to varying worldviews and beliefs, but there is only one faith that redeems the human experience of pain and brokenness and that is because of the object of that faith: the person of Jesus Christ.
The reason that the Christian faith can make this exclusive claim is because of what Jesus has done. Jesus alone, being God, took on flesh and clothed himself in the totality of the human condition: its pain, its sorrow, its brokenness (Phil. 2:5-11 ). And, being God, he redeemed the human condition from the root of its brokenness (bondage to sin) by his perfect life, effectual atonement, and absolute fulfillment of God’s law (Rom. 3:10-12, 8:1-4). Pain becomes broken beauty for those who are in Christ because Christ alone has redeemed us from sin in his life, death, and resurrection. Those who are dead in sin are made alive in Christ through faith (Eph. 2:1-10).
Paul and Affliction
Now that we have our firm foundation, let’s build our house. Previously, I made the claim that pain and suffering are not plagues to be avoided, but rather inevitable truths of life that bring us to be sweetly broken and molded by the Potter himself.
How can this be?
There are a multitude of texts that show how God, in his sovereign wisdom, uses suffering and pain for our good and his glory (e.g. Gen. 50:20, Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7) but I want to key in on Paul’s perspective of suffering from 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 when he writes:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
It is one thing to believe in a god who has the capability to give you hope in the midst of fiery trials. It is quite another to have your face sunk into the coals of fiery afflictions and be met with the cool balm that the Lord himself supplies as he does not remove the hurt, but rather supplies you with the strength and hope to press through it. The beauty to have been put through the furnace of life several times over and see the faithfulness of God each time as he fashions and molds you in light of these burdensome afflictions, consuming your dross and purifying you like gold. To know the hope and deliverance he bestows in the midst of great afflictions when you are burdened beyond your faculties. To experience such pain that you begin to despair of life itself, having no hope but to throw yourself upon Christ. To throw oneself upon the God who has delivered us, is delivering us, and will never cease in delivering us.
This is where we begin to perceive the beauty of Christ in his redemptive power over our pain. This is what drove Spurgeon to say “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.”
Sin, and the pain and suffering that it brings, no longer reign over us. No, we really are freed in Christ by faith, having come to a joy that is beyond words, so beyond comprehension! A love so deep and so vast! Oh, what height, and what depth! What length, and what breadth this love and joy that we now have in being united with Christ by faith!
Yet, we see from Paul that the crucible by which we exponentially grow in our love, joy, hope, and faith in Christ is through pain, through suffering, through trials, through afflictions.
The greater the affliction, the more beautiful the grace that the Savior supplies to strengthen you. The greater the removal of our desire to be self-sustaining and the greater we grow in treasuring Christ as the only hope for our souls.
The Sweetness of Our Brokenness
Pain, suffering, hurt, and heartache are inevitable in this life. To attempt to safeguard one’s life from these is a vain pursuit, for we live in a sinful and broken world. One cannot separate the fumes in the air they breathe as they walk in downtown London, Chicago, Beijing, or Rio de Janeiro. Breathing in the fumes is unavoidable, and so is pain in this life. But in the midst of great pain and turmoil we take heart, knowing that God uses these trials of affliction as a means of grace to break us and knit us closer to himself.
And we also have a promise to take hold of and to tether our hearts to: Christ is coming back and he is coming back for his Bride, the church. We will pass from the shell of the bodies we currently reside in and be given our new, resurrected bodies. No more sin. No more pain. Only joy as we behold the majesty of Christ for all of eternity with others gathered from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Let us take heart of Paul’s encouragement as he continues writing to the Corinthian church that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). And to the church at Rome, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
The pain of this life is real, but let it be experienced as our Savior desires so: as that which draws us to treasure the beauty and majesty of our God and the perfect union we will soon have with him for all eternity in unsurmountable glory.