God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised (Genesis 17:9-10 NASB).
Suffering, God’s Megaphone
One of my former pastors used to say, “the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.” God gave Abraham a sign that established the mark of a true believer, which was circumcision. As descendants of Abraham we believers today should display the sign of the covenant. Unlike the Old Testament outward act of cutting away the flesh of the foreskin, the New Testament counterpart is an inward circumcision of the heart. But whether it is an outward manifestation or an inward transformation, they both involve pain and discomfort. Suffering has always been God’s way of bringing change.
C.S. Lewis, who has written extensively on the Christian and pain and suffering, said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is God’s way of getting our attention. He further wrote, “If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.” For a believer in Christ it is part of the territory. Without it we walk through life unable or unwilling to see ourselves as we really are.
Now that I have given you the bad news, let me give you the good. All suffering is intended for redemptive purposes. It is God’s way of blessing us. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NASB). Do you know what the literal translation of the word “all” in this scripture is? It’s all. God does not cause all pain but He uses it to set us free from our sinful nature. It is like an antiseptic that burns when applied but heals the infection.
Cast Down But Not In Despair
William Carey, who has been called the father of modern missions, learned about the goodness of God in life’s hard situations. Carey dedicated his life to spreading the gospel in India and had supervised the creation of India’s first printing press. While away teaching in Calcutta a fire started in the printing room and it burned to the ground. Most of his life’s work for close to twenty years went up in smoke. Among the lost was a Sanskrit dictionary, part of a Bengali dictionary, ten translations of the Bible, and the type set for fourteen different languages. When Carey returned home he observed the scene and wept and said, “In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him.” As Lewis said, pain is God’s megaphone.
He was heartbroken but resolved not to mourn too long and to start rebuilding, Carey said, “The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair.” Hardship can make us bitter or better. Little did Carey know that the fire would bring notoriety to his ministry as all over Europe and America the money started to flow in to rebuild. So much money was coming in that Andrew Fuller, Carey’s friend and leader of his mission in England declared, “We must stop the contributions.” They built the printing operation bigger and better than it had been. William Carey allowed his suffering and hardships to make him better instead of bitter, both in his character and his ministry.
An Eternal Perspective
To be able to embrace the pain and suffering that comes down life’s highway, we must be able to see it through the backdrop of eternity. No tribulation in the short-term is pleasant. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11 NASB). Some of us have suffered for extended periods of time on this earth, but in the light of eternity it is short-term pain and long-term gain. Our perspective must be colored not just by where we are but also by where we are going. Many have said that some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, and in some cases this is certainly true. But it is just as true that some are so earthly minded they have no heavenly vision. It is not my purpose to make light of suffering or to ignore our present state. There has been unimaginable pain and anguish on this earth. But Theresa of Avila put it in perspective for us when she said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NASB).
Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing