You’ve likely heard the C.S. Lewis quote, “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 a deaf world.” It’s impossible to mimic the acute focus that suffering provides. It quiets distractions, and quickly reveals who we functionally believe in, and where our hope resides. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul talks about his relationship with suffering:
” So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul saw the relationship between suffering and humility. After all, pride is the root of all sin (Genesis 3:5, Proverbs 16:18), and what is pride other than a complete lack of self-awareness and a diminishing of who God is? The reality of our need and positioning is more fully felt when we suffer.
Paul’s cries for deliverance could have been answered differently. Instead, God replies “My grace is sufficient for you”….”My GRACE is sufficient for YOU”. In other words, it wasn’t the greatest good for his suffering to be removed, in fact, a greater gift was being given to Paul by leaving him in his suffering. Paul was being used as an instrument of the Lord, and, to do this most powerfully, he had to be humbled.
I’ve often been comforted by “Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” To understand this verse, we have to ask what God’s definition of good is for His people on this side of heaven.
Is our good ease or comfort: money, relationships, health, or are those things subservient to the deepening of our relationship with him? After all, those things are good to everybody, unbelievers included, but this verse is for those who love God. We know from Isaiah 55 that, “his purposes are higher than our purposes and his ways our ways”. What if the best good is seeing a small glimpse of just how much we really need our God; of complete dependence on Him. A dependence and thirst for the very Word of God, for a prayer life with deep connection and true humility; and a joy that is tied to an everlasting hope and love that we will one day fully experience. This greater good gives purpose to pain, and means that it is not a loss, but is in fact one of our greatest gains.
Philippians 3:8-11: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”