No one, especially none of us pampered Americans, likes pain. While pain can warn us to quickly take our hand away from that hot stove to prevent deeper burning, it’s still not something we long for. Those who relish pain we call masochists.
Yet pain is an inescapable part of life. Not just the physical pain of stubbing our toes, jumping into a pool full of cold water or getting bit by an angry dog; but emotional and relational pain that, in some respects, can be more debilitating and even permanent if we let it.
Given the choice, wouldn’t we all choose a pain-free existence?
But should that be the case for us followers of Christ? Sure, we would love to grow into all God intends for us without pain. But students of the Bible know that because of our self-centered natures, we need pain to motivate us to mature in godliness.
So, we are exhorted by Paul to “glory in our suffering” (Rom 5:3) and to delight in our weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. ( 2 Cor 12:10) James says we should “consider it pure joy” when we encounter painful trials. (James 1:2) Not because we are masochists, but because we know that pain is God’s way of helping our selfish characters grow more like Jesus’ selfless one. The author of Hebrews says that God disciplines those He loves and that no discipline is pleasant, but painful. (Heb 12:6,11) But what does it produce? “A harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)
Consider the Biblical examples of Joseph and David who were unfairly treated by those around them, but all that pain produced in them persevering faith in God. A.W. Tozer put it this way, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
In Hebrews 12, we see Esau who demanded his hunger be satisfied now even if it meant foolishly selling his precious birthright to his younger brother Jacob. In contrast, consider Moses described in Hebrews 11 as being willing to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Why did he do this if pain is our ultimate enemy and pleasure our ultimate friend? “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Heb 11:26)
And that is the key! Not living for a short term benefit that is temporary, but for the long term, more permanent gain. We trust that God will reward us in the life to come. Jesus said that we should rejoice when we are mistreated for the cause of Christ because “great is your reward in heaven.” (Matt 5:12) There are promises like this all through Scripture.
So, like an athlete training for the Olympics, or a musician practicing scales day after day, we choose to endure the pain of preparation for the goal of ultimate, certain reward.
But what if your worldview says that this life on this planet is all you get? Then pain becomes our greatest enemy, because I simply must get all I can out of my 70 or 80 years of existence. So if you cause me pain, you owe me big time!
This sort of thinking explains the rise of what people are calling the evil of “microaggressions.” A microaggression is defined as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that often unintentionally or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.” One example of a microaggression comes from the University of North Carolina’s Employee Forum which, among other transgressions, warned against complimenting a woman on her choice of footwear. Why? Because, “To do so would be considered to be a microaggression meaning ‘I notice how you look and dress more than I value your intellectual contributions. How you look is really more important.’” (I think I can hear a number of gasps from you who just read these words.)
In any event, when we consider the pain that Jesus and His followers endured as they sought to obey God and demonstrate His love for us who would follow them, we need to have the attitude of Paul, who said, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
Bottom line, while we do not choose suffering or pain, neither are we shocked when it comes our way in this world. And whether pain comes to us as loving discipline or to prompt our growth in character, we know it originates from the hand of our sovereign, loving Heavenly Father. He will surely give us the grace to be like Jesus, who kept His eyes on the joy set before Him and thereby was able to endure the cross. (Heb 12:2)