Two Kinds of Pain

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” 2Co 7:10

Pain happens. It varies in degree, source, and impact, but it happens. So the question is not how to avoid it but what to do with it.

The Message Bible reads: “Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.” Wow. So the same pain that causes one to turn to God and see His salvation can cause another to die in a bed of regret. Pain doesn’t magically turn a person one way or another. God allows suffering, even gives it (sometimes generously) for the purpose of drawing me in. So what am I doing with my pain today? Am I seeing it as a precious tool to help me experience the presence of God and the deep and spiritual comfort and growth that only He can give, or am I trying to avoid it, shake it, even dull it? Am I believing that the suffering I’m living through has the potential of deepening my self-awareness, and therefore my walk with God, or am I resigned to hopelessness and misery?

Today I can choose to hope.

In this hope I can take action. This may be a simple prayer of surrender. It could be calling a friend and believing God can comfort me through others. This might be a time to schedule a meeting with a counselor. Let me try opening my Bible, memorizing the above Scripture, or journaling my thoughts and emotions. Today is a good day to forgive those who have offended me or repenting from my sins. Perhaps some yoga or meditation can help me become more aware of myself and sit in the presence of God.

Today I will not regret my pain, but believe it will lead me to salvation.

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God is Not Fair

God is not fair!

Is it not eternally penned? Stories of God commanding the killing of people, the annihilation of nations, the harsh and violent punishment for sin and evildoing? God is not fair to require the slaughtering of animals, the constant shedding of blood – bulls, goats, doves – Whatever did they do to deserve it? This God of the Old Testament, this God of the Jews: Not fair.

And how about here and now? All we need to do is look around or read the news. Some are rich and others poor. Some die old and some get killed. Some are free yet some are prey. Where is the fairness? “The poor will always be with us,” said Jesus. We live in this world that is saturated with tears and pain, conflicts and wars. And here we are: Stuck! We are all powerless to change the evil of this world. God, however, is mighty; yet he doesn’t change it either! For reasons that He only, fully understands, he chooses to permit suffering to continue. Unfair.

And then, there is me. Hard as I try to be happy, careless, and free, I am inevitably disappointed. I don’t want to cry from pain, but people I love, die; those I want, don’t want me back; and things I crave, I fail to attain. Unfair! It is all unfair!

God is unfair. But he is just. Justice is part of his name, his nature, his core. His justice never fails to punish the guilty. And so here we see the most unfair work of God. Out of all the unfairness in the entire history of our world, one act stands out as the most outrageous and outlandish. God planned this day with the utmost of care – every detail pre-arranged – From the beginning of time, whenever that was, however that worked, he willingly and purposefully lined up the events in human history to culminate in this heinous act of utter unfairness. He warned us. Isn’t it eternally penned for all to see? Abraham spoke of it, as did Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and many other prophets with countless amounts of words, both spoken and written for the world to know.

God’s anger burned, for sin and evil were great. So his wrath against malice and his unceasing need for justice were finally poured out. God the Father assigned God the Son, in the form of man, to be the recipient of his wrath. He knew mankind could not handle such punishment, such anger, such justice. So he poured it out on one man; his only son; his most loved and cherished being. But Jesus was innocent! He had done no wrong to deserve this! But willingly he came, as a lamb to the slaughter. And willingly he died the death of a criminal. And willingly he became a curse, taking the form of sin, the meaning and guilt of sin, all upon himself. In one selfless act, God himself satisfied his wrath once and for all. It was so great and so vast that alas, his anger was forever spent! The guilt of mankind on one man. Unfair! Unfair!!

And one more thing is unfair: I cannot purchase, bargain, or even work for my salvation or right standing with him. My envy from last week, my lust from yesterday, and my pride from this morning, have all been paid for, fully justified, but not by me. Are there enough “good” things I can do to compensate for the “bad” ones? If that were true, I would end up losing every time! If it’s not arrogance, it’s laziness. If it’s not selfishness, it’s self-pity, but either way, any day of the week, and every hour of the day, my mind thinks an impure thought and my will moves me to a wicked act. And yet, here I stand, forgiven and clean! Unfair! To be washed and pure because the innocent one took the punishment on my behalf, and the anger of God, meant for me, fell on another. Unfair, unfair, unfair!!

God is love, and his love isn’t fair. It is unmerited, from start to finish. It all makes sense now! His commands, his requirements, his need for justice, they all point to Jesus and our immense need of him! Suffering, pain, tears, and death are part of this world, but this is no longer all there is. Happiness is not our greatest need. Fellowship with God is. Through Jesus, he opened a door and made a way for us to experience this. To all who call upon his name, he gives the right to be called children of the Most High! He died and rose again and is now preparing a place for us, for the rest of time. Is it not eternally penned for the world to know? In the most unfair way, he has demonstrated his love forever. Praise him, praise him, praise him!

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(Charles Wesley, 1738)

Roots

The thing about roots is that they are designed, not only to nourish the plant, but also to hold it firmly in place. Without roots, plants would be carried away by the wind. The older the plant, the deeper and wider the roots grow. Try pulling the root of a big old tree!

So this morning as I worked on a part of my yard I had neglected for a while, I set out to prepare the ground to plant new shrubs and flowers.

As I was digging and pulling roots and weeds, I came across some pretty big roots that had been silently tucked away in the soil for a good long while. Mind you there was no living plant connected to these roots. The plants died long ago. But the roots stayed firmly in the dark, without being noticed. These roots nourish no more. They don’t hold any living thing in place. They’re just there. Quietly. Secretly.

Until I came along.

How can a dead thing be so difficult to pull! I pulled so hard, one of those yanks sent me flying backwards only to land on my rear end a couple of feet away (thankfully I have built in cushions).

I had to pull those stubborn roots! If I didn’t, I would not be able to clear the ground for these new beautiful plants I just purchased. So I yanked and yanked, using muscles I haven’t used in a while (I’ll be in pain tomorrow, I know).

As I reflected on what I was doing, I realized that in my own heart, there are roots that have been firmly established. Roots of wrong thinking, lack of trust, deeply seeded fears, and iinsecurities from long ago. Most of the time, I don’t even know they’re there. Until the garden keeper decides to yank them out.
“Ouch!!! Don’t take those out! I was perfectly OK with them there!”
“But I’m getting ready to replace the dead things with new living things”, says the keeper.
“NO! No, no, no! You are removing too many things! Stop!” I cry as I struggle to hold on to the roots I’ve been accustomed to for such a long time.
“But don’t you see this is good for you”?

Good for me. It is good for me to be shaken and moved in order for the hand of the keeper of the garden to pull the dead and make room for the new. I guess my heart can’t hold all of it at once.

So roots are being yanked now. And I didn’t even know they were there! But as much as it hurts, I’m deciding not to fight it. I know I’ll resist tomorrow, but today, I am trusting my keeper. Can’t wait to make room for more fertile soil, and to be adorned with fruit producing plants.

My yard is looking so much better! But I’m not done yanking. As I bring more plants from the store, I’ll have to dig again. But I’ll make sure I water the garden and keep it free of weeds, because it’s hard work doing this gardening! It’s my garden, so I’ll tend to it as faithfully as I’m able.

My garden keeper will do the same with me.

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