The Intensifiers of Pain

Highlighted Text: Job 31:33-34
Full Text: Job 31; 2 Cor. 1

Intensifiers | Suffering rarely exists alone. It usually comes with feelings that intensify the pain – like fear, anger, guilt, loneliness and helplessness [1]. For example, Job’s suffering wasn’t painful merely because he lost a lot; it was also painful because he felt afraid, angry, guilty, lonely and helpless. In his final speech, he expressed these feelings:

(fear) I have concealed my transgressions …  because I stood in great fear of the multitude [2]. (anger) You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me” [3]. (guilt) Did I not weep for him whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy? [4] (loneliness) I cry to you for help and you do not answer me [5] (helplessness) Now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest” [6].

Reassurance | Similarly, Norman Cousins, an American author who was told that he had little chance of surviving his arthritis, wrote about his experience of being a patient:

There was first of all the feeling of helplessness – a serious disease in itself. There was the subconscious fear of never being able to function normally again … There was the reluctance to be thought a complainer … There was the conflict between the terror of loneliness and the desire to be left alone. There was the lack of self-esteem, the subconscious feeling perhaps that our illness was a manifestation of our inadequacy … And there was the utter void created by the longing – ineradicable, unremitting, pervasive – for warmth of human contact [7].

Then, near the end of his life, he reflected, “Illness is a terrifying experience. Something is happening that people don’t know how to deal with. They are reaching out not just for medical help but for ways of thinking about catastrophic illness. They are reaching out for hope” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Our suffering is often compounded by our feelings of fear, anger, guilt, loneliness and helplessness. Thus, we pray that you would make us comprehensive caretakers of those who suffer. Show us that ministering to the hurting requires no professional expertise. In Christ, who suffered for us so that we could know ultimate healing, teach us how to stand side-by-side with those who suffer. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] In his excellent book, The Gift of Pain, Dr. Paul Brand is on a “crusade to improve the image of pain.” In my opinion, there is no better book on suffering than this one. Dr. Brand is the doctor who discovered that the problem with leprosy is not that the skin is eaten away; rather, it is that the leper have no sensation of pain. Therefore, for example, a leper would not blink when the eyes need water because they feel no pain (which eventually results in blindness) or a leper would not limp on a broken ankle (which eventually results in amputation). Thus, pain is a gift, a warning sign that something is wrong. Over the years, I have gone back to this book over and over again for all sorts of thoughts. When I have loaned it to someone and not gotten it back, I have bought a new copy because my library cannot do without it. I cannot more highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a wonderful reflection on pain and suffering – physical pain or otherwise. Even if we aren’t struggling now with pain, we will one day and this book is also a wonderful resource for preparing for that time.  |  [2] Job 31:33-34 ESV  |  [3] Job 30:21 ESV  |  [4] Job 30:25 ESV  |  [5] Job 30:20 ESV  |  [6] Job 30:16-17 ESV  |  [7] Cited in The Gift of Pain (see FN 1).  |  [8] 287

The Lovelessness of Indecision

Full Text: Job 30; 1 Cor. 16
Highlighted Text: 1 Cor. 16:13-14

Indecision | In 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer looked across Europe and lamented the Christian indecisiveness that he saw. Nazism’s influence on the German church was almost complete and Christians seemed unwilling to do anything about it. On April 7, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to the head of the ecumenical World Alliance, pleading for action:

“A decision must be made at some point, and it’s no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficulty without further trouble. Even the ecumenical movement has to make up its mind and is therefore subject to error, like everything human …

But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring, when others – I mean our brethren in Germany – must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love. To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love” [1].

Love | Like Bonhoeffer, Paul suggests that a strong and decisive love – not perfect decision-making – is the mark of a Christian. To the Corinthians, he writes, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” [2]. We can’t know everything. Ever. In every decision we make, there are unknown realities – things about the present that are hidden and things about the future that are unknowable. Yet our lack of information need not lead us into fear – for the Lord repeatedly tells us not to fear, but to stand firm [3].

Fight | How do we fight fear when it rises in our hearts? We cling to hope in God’s promises. In spite of uncertainties, we consider Him faithful [4]. We affirm God’s sovereign rule in our lives as more valuable than our information. We cast out fear and place our hope in God.

Prayer | Lord, We confess that we have oftentimes let fear lead us to indecision. Yet we long to have a strong love for you and others – a love that hopes in your power and sovereignty so that fear is driven out. Therefore, let us admit that making mistakes is a part of this life, but we don’t need to fear our mistakes. Instead, let us put away indecision and fear and, in its place, be guided by love and hope in the one certain thing of the universe – you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010], 218)  |  [2] 1 Cor. 16:13-14 ESV  |  [3] See, e.g., Is. 41:10, 13; Ps. 23:4; Ex. 14:13; Deut. 31:6; 2 Tim. 1:7; Ps. 27:1; Lk. 1:30; 2:10; Heb. 13:6; Jn. 14:27  |  [4] Heb. 11:11  |  [FN] See also John Piper, “When Is Indecision Loveless and Sinful?” Desiring God. 27 Feb. 2012.

Why We Might Pity Entrepreneurs and Christians

Highlighted Text: 1 Cor. 15:19
Full Text: Job 29; 1 Cor. 15

Entrepreneurs | Entrepreneurs sacrifice a lot to accomplish a greater goal. Many leave successful careers in well-established companies, steady incomes and bonuses, and large staffs that care for all the incidentals of running a business. As a result, entrepreneurs usually live modestly – spending their money and time far more strategically and deliberately than they did before. Of course, in their minds, all the sacrifices are worth it because they have a goal in mind – to make their startup successful. They think, “It won’t always be this way. I will sow the sacrifices now so that I can reap the benefits later.”

Christians | Like entrepreneurs, Christians don’t live for today; we live for tomorrow. Our goal is great – to make much of Christ in the only life that we have. We live modestly because we know that our treasures are in heaven and we spend our time strategically because we know that our lives are short and precious. We think, “It won’t always be this way. We’ll sow the sacrifices now so that we can reap the rewards later.”

Success | In both cases, however, there is a harsh reality – that the worth of our sacrifice depends on the reality of our success.  As Paul wrote, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” [1]. Entrepreneurs and Christians alike pour out blood, sweat and tears into realizing their goal. Yet our ventures cannot be based solely on passion; they must be based on truth. If the startup venture fails, then we pity the entrepreneur. If the biblical portrait of Jesus isn’t true, then we pity the Christian. Why? Because both of them sacrificed so much for nothing.

Prayer | Lord, Many generations have gone before us and have been commended for their faith – yet none of them received what had been promised [2]. Together with them, we live by a faith that looks to the life that is to come. Although we cannot yet see it with our eyes, we thank you for the person of Jesus – who came to live on earth in human form, who bled and died in a mortal body, and who rose again for hundreds to bear witness to his resurrection. Therefore, let us give ourselves to the study of Jesus and to the passionate pursuit of his love. For our best life is later, not today. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] 1 Cor. 15:19  |  [2] Heb. 11:39

How Forgiveness Depends on the Resurrection

Highlighted Text: 1 Cor. 15:17
Full Text: Job 29; 1 Cor. 15

Command | God commands us to forgive others – regardless of the severity of the harm or the number of times it has been done [1]. But He doesn’t merely tell us to forgive; He gives us the power and ability to forgive. As John Bunyon wrote:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,

Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings [2].

Wings | What are the wings of the gospel that give us the ability to fly in forgiveness? Our experience of God’s inexhaustible mercy and love. He loved and died for us before we were born and, throughout our lives, He pursues and adopts and forgives us – even when we have no thought of Him [3] or lack faith in Him [4]. Therefore, we can endure and forgive anything because God’s love for us and Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and our inheritance in Christ are infinitely inexhaustible resources [5]. Yet Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” [6]. What does the resurrection have to do with anything? Isn’t our forgiveness accomplished by the crucifixion? [7]

Evidence | If the Father did not raise the Son from the dead, then there is no evidence that He accepted Christ’s sacrifice as sufficient. The reward had to be given. If his sacrifice was not accepted, then we are still in our sins, bearing guilt under condemnation and living apart from fellowship with God. In other words, if Christ was not raised, then we are not forgiven – which means we have no power or ability to fly in the forgiveness that God commands.

Ability | But Christ has been raised – which means that God eternally established all of his promises. He validated Christ’s blood and death when He raised him from the dead. Therefore, we are no longer in our sins and we have the power and ability to forgive others out of our experience of God’s inexhaustible forgiveness.

Prayer | Lord, You have given us forgiveness in Christ’s death and definitive proof of your approval in his resurrection. Therefore, we glorify his name because it answers our greatest need – that is, the need to be forgiven – so that we can commune with you. Thus, in light of these infinitely powerful wings, let us fly in forgiving others. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Matt. 6:14-15; Col. 3:13; Mark 11:25; Rom. 12:19; Luke 17:3-4Matt. 18:21-22.  |  [2] Although this is traditionally attributed to John Bunyon, it’s debatable. See here.  |  [3] See Rom. 5:8  |  [4] See 2 Tim. 2:13. See also Hosea; Psalm 145:8; 103:8; 86:15; Rom. 8:14-17.  |  [5] See Psalm 145:8; 103:8; 86:15  |  [6] 1 Cor. 15:17  |  [7] See Rom. 5:9; Eph. 1:7

He Is Our Dread and Our Sanctuary

Highlighted Text: Job 28:28
Full Text: Job 28; 1 Cor. 14

Advances | Today, we have thousands of ways to access information and tons of timesaving devices. But do we have more wisdom or time? In 1934, T.S. Eliot reflected,

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion but not of stillness …
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? [1].

Wisdom | Job, too, praised modern technology in his time: “Man puts his hand to the flinty rock … He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle“ [2]. Yet he wondered whether those advances brought more wisdom: “But where shall wisdom be found? … Man does not know its worth … God understands the way to it … And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding“ [3].

Picture | What is the fear of the Lord? John Piper offers a picture. Imagine a small child meeting a large German shepherd. The dog greets the unfamiliar child with barks and growls, but – in time – becomes calm and friendly. Nonetheless, the owner warns the child, “Don’t run from him.” But the child forgets and, when the dog trots behind him, the child starts to run because he can only remember the dog’s scary barks, not its friendly licks. Then, as expected, the dog barks and growls again. As Piper says, this is the fear of the Lord: “Do not fear to draw near, but keep the fear of the dog (the fear of the Lord) before your eyes, lest you try to run away (lest you start to fall into sin)” [4]. In other words, “God is a joy to be near and a terror to those who flee” [5].

Prayer | Lord, Let us not run from you, but to you. As we grow wiser and shun evil, let us fear fleeing from your fellowship because we want it so much. Warm our hearts in your refuge and strength so that we know that our peace and hope is found in wisdom, not information. Then we will say with Isaiah, “The Lord of hosts … let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” [6]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] T.S. Eliot. “The Rock.” (1934): entire text here.  |  [2] Job 28:3, 9, 11 ESV  |  [3] Job 28:12, 13, 23, 28 ESV  |  [4] See John Piper, “A Woman Who Fears the Lord Is to Be Praised.” 10 May 1981.  |  [5] Id.  |  [6] See Isaiah. 8:13

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