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The Problem of Pain: a piece of theological devotion

by Chris Bouter (through own experience).

Job is the scriptural picture of the human suffering of pain and evil

It is no slight consolation that as far as authorship is concerned the book of Job is probably the oldest book in the bible. His case ought to comfort us whenever the ugly monster of nihilism attacks us and the serpentine philosophy of meaninglessness bites its merciless fangs into our spiritual jugular. But one might say, 'My case is even worse then Job's.' Certainly, my friend! Countless men and women have been tested beyond the point of Job's lot. And some of those were perhaps not less righteous than he was. But we must learn to count it all joy when our very soul with its vulnerable emotions is refined in God's crucible. The divine Artificer is going to turn you into the finest gold of Ophir. But you must let Him. Do not let your excruciating pain come in between you and God. Call out for mercy and let Christ stand between you and the devil. Fight and resist the old dragon to the end!

Just as we are partakers in Christ's suffering, so we will once share in His glory (1 Pet.4.13). And is it not applicable to us all, what was true in the case of the apostle Paul, that we all must fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1.24)!? I hasten to say that Paul talks here not of Christ's suffering on the cross, but of course about the suffering in His daily walk here on earth.

Christ Himself suffered the ultimate for us. We must feel honored when we can follow His example in a lesser way. 'No, He did not!' some hapless fool might say. 'There are worse tortures than the cross.' No, my poor sceptic! When Christ uttered that sentence that will resound unto all eternity as both the ultimate pain and the ultimate grace--Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani!; then He underwent the judgment that suffices for all the world to be saved.

'But,' a worse sceptic will reply, one laboring under religious Pyrrhoism, 'Christ's utterance betrayed nihilism!' No, my wretched doubter! Why could it not be an explanatory mark, rather than a question mark, that ends that sentence! Or, if it is truly meant as a question, why could it not be a rhetorical question for the sake of the listeners? 'That is unlikely,' you will say, 'seeing the circumstances.' I agree. It was therefore the childlike cry of His human nature. For as the divine Son He was never forsaken by the Father. ". . . for the Father is with Me (John 16.32)."

That cry sums up for us ALL the earthly suffering of humankind. In the garden of Gethsemane the terror of that moment was anticipated. But he set His face like a flint (Is.50.7), looking at the eternal joy beyond it (Hebr. 12.2). That cry will take us an eternity to understand, as well as to amaze with rapt attention, as well as to adore with total concentration of heart and mind. That cry is the center of two eternities that look forward and backward with great wonder. That cry is the mysterious 'implosion' of all eternal energy. That cry adequately answers the big WHY of all the pain, doubting, and cursing of human nature. That cry soothes all the sweat, blood and tears we vessels of clay pour out. That cry was not a shout for sheer nihilism. It was 'just' a question that went beyond the work of redemption (as wrought by Him as a human), because of which God forsook Him, as He very well knew.

In there is also hidden the big why of the responsibility versus election problem. And just as that problem is a mystery, so is human suffering. It will not do to say that suffering is simply a result of the Fall of humankind. For then one can wonder why the Fall had to happen. For believers it is obvious that Satan wanted our suffering and death, for he is the murderer from the beginning. And God knew that before He even made the highest angel that would rebel and fall. Here we enter an area of theology that raises questions that will only be answered in eternity. It is no use to pry here any further. Augustine said 'Felix lapsa,' (happy Fall), for it was all that Christ's glory might shine the greater, not only as Creator, but moreover as Redeemer. But God did not set this scene up on purpose so we had to fall. For then He would be the author of sin, which is Satan (John 8.44).

We must not try to think up a theology that answers this question. For we will inevitably be forcing the issue. Either we will, like the (hyper)Calvinists, reduce man to a hell bound robot and imply that God is throwing with dice, or we will, like the Pelagians, humanists and Remonstrants, inflate man to the quasi status of god and imply that God can be powerless as a human to elicit our love. Both are wrong. There is no fruitfulness in a theology that tries to come to terms with questions like, 'Can a human resist God's grace?,' or 'Can a human save himself, or can't he?' The bible simply calls us up to repent. In Acts 3.19 the aorist is used, which could be translated as 'Repent NOW!'

Nor will it do to think the whole problem away, as if by a conjurer's trick, by stating that election has nothing to do with salvation, but simply with the singling out of the individual members of the Church. As if God did not reckon with the Fall when He elected a Bride for Christ!

Here we will never receive an answer to this question. God asks us to have faith, simple an pure. Also we must retain both aspects (responsibility and election) like the two parallel rails of a train track. In mathematics two parallel lines meet in infinity. So God holds the two sides together. We tend to be drawn to one side or the other. A reasonable faith keeps stayed on Him, despite the suffering. He tells us that all things work out together for the good of those that love God (Rom. 8). Faith goes higher than reason. All that matters is that Christ Himself came down to save us and to identify with us--in that order. Hebrews 2.17 states, 'Whence it behooved (that is 'was fitting', or simply 'He had to') Him in all things to be made like the brethren . . .' I know that this text, as well as Hebrews 5.8,9 has the order reversed. But that is the chronological order, not the theological one that plays here. We must not, because of the sheer intensity of human suffering, raise the problem of human pain beyond the work of redemption (as wrought by Him as the human Jesus). For that would be some form of gnostic mysticism. Faith must be balanced by reason, not go off on an emotional tangent.

All that really matters for us now, is that Christ Himself suffered the most, 'that anybody that believes in Him, may be saved (John 3.16).' Let that suffice to comfort us in this sublunar vale of tears. We must be like children that are still corrigible and that respond positively to the chastisement that is inflicted upon us in a loving way.

O Christ, we adore thee!

Our hearts are drawn.

Our souls are warm.

O Christ, we thank thee!

O Lord, we do worship.

Our minds are filled.

Our doubts are killed.

O Lord, we do homage!

O God, we now seek thee.

Our might is broken.

Our flesh sin soaken.

O God, we await thee!


animated diamond

Just like an experienced jeweler keeps cutting and grinding away on a raw stone, turning it into a precious diamond, so the Lord God turns His faithful and persevering follower into a possession of great and eternal worth! His Name be praised for evermore!

Does God Feel Emotional Pain?


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