There are times when you can peer into another person’s soul by asking a single question. It’s a rather personal question, but if answered honestly it can be very revealing. The question? “What is the most painful thing you have ever experienced?” Some people will answer with something along the lines of, “Oh man. When I broke my leg there was nothing like it.” An answer like this reveals the individual has not yet had to deal with much pain in their life. On the other hand, we can get an answer from someone which indicates more pain than we could even imagine. I’m not just talking physical pain, I’m talking also about emotional pain, spiritual pain, life pain. The kind of pain I’m talking about changes us, often times for the worse at the beginning, but hopefully for the better as we work our way through it.
Whenever someone writes or speaks about pain and suffering it seems the “steps” they come up with to help handle the issues are often far too simplistic or they trivialize the reality of one’s pain. I am offering no magic solution here. I am not the one to address this issue as if I have it all together because I don’t. I personally suffer from some conditions myself. I have not “mastered” suffering and pain. There is no real way to approach the subject in a forum such as this that allows for every possible situation that people are facing to be touched upon. This is not meant as a “cure” but merely as helpful advice. If needed do not hesitate to seek out professional medical or mental help. We have a step ahead if we have God, believe the Bible, and the Spirit is working within us, but in many cases additional help is not only highly advised but necessary. So, please just take what you can from this and apply it as you will.
I want to look at one of Paul’s most painful experiences and see how it changed him. Hopefully it will provide some help as you go through your own pain and suffering. We find the incident(s) in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. It would be a good idea to pause and read that passage now and then we will take a moment to break it down.
WHAT WAS FACED
In verse 8 we see Paul using some pretty distinct language. “We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble.” The word here translated as trouble is also translated as tribulation in Scripture. The main idea behind the word is that of pressure or continual stress. He goes on to explain what kind of pressure, “We were burdened beyond measure.” In effect he was saying, “I’ve had difficulties in the past, but I’ve been able to measure them. When I was chained, that was a five on the pain-scale. When I was beaten with rods, that was a seven. When I was shipwrecked in the deep, that was eight. When I was stoned, that was nine. When I was flogged [whipped], that was ten. But this pressure and pain was off the chart. It was: ‘above strength’” (Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2003 ed., p.302, author not identified). Paul seems to have been unable to find the inner strength to describe it accurately let alone deal with it. It was so crushing to him that he “despaired even of life.” In this passage, Paul, probably the most stable and resilient New Testament example we have of hope, describes that he was in utter despair.
WHAT WAS LEARNED
All of us, when in pain long enough, cry out to God and ask “Why?” Paul didn’t do this. At least it’s not recorded. What we do see, in verse 9, is that he answered the question of why himself. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” It appears that God brought him to the very brink of death and by doing so taught him to trust the One who can work out all things for the good even when it seems too late by our standards. I hate to say it as I don’t want to continue suffering, but it’s true that our most intense spiritual growth often takes place during the most painful and difficult times in life. I know it sounds cliché, I know it can even be frustrating to hear when your smack dab in the middle of an intensely painful situation, but maybe God wants to develop and strengthen your faith so He can accomplish some sort of incredible result.
WHAT WAS EXPERIENCED
After teaching Paul the above lesson, we see in verse 10 that God gave Paul a trifecta deliverance. We see that God delivered them, delivers them, and will still deliver them. The same is true for us. We see the verb “to deliver” used here in all three tenses: past, present, and future. God did, does, and will deliver us. It’s interesting though how God’s view of deliverance differs from our own. We tend to think it means completely heal or completely remove our struggles. However, in 2 Timothy 4:17-18, we see Paul faithfully proclaim, “Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.” And a very short time after writing this Paul was taken and beheaded. See what I mean? God’s view of deliverance contrasts our own. This tells us that he delivers us in varying steps and degrees all along the way, but one day all pain, suffering, and pressure will be removed from those He has chosen for eternal life.
There is something that helps along this entire process of making it through pain and suffering, and that is prayer from the people or God. As we read in verse 11, “You also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” This brings about the often debated topic of if God is in control, if He has delivered, is delivering, and will deliver, then why do we need to pray? Well, to put it bluntly, He uses the prayers of His people to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps it’s so we can be a part of what He is doing. When we pray about something we enter into a sort of relationship with the process, and when the deliverance comes, in whatever form, our thankfulness will be praise to God.
Do you have pain, suffering, pressure or struggles in your life? If so, bring them before Jesus, again and again and again if you have to, and lay them at the feet of the One who has the power to raise the dead. If you know someone who is in pain, who suffers, then pray for empathy so you can come along side that person and show compassion. Pray for them and help them in tangible ways, and then rejoice when their deliverance comes.
Featured Image: Kanchipuram koil by Vinod Velayudhan; CC 2.0