Monday, May 14, 2012

Gospel Pain

“I’ll just be praying that you believe the gospel.” – some Christian jerk

The irony of the good news is that it involves intense pain.  There’s no way around it.  Christians aren’t supposed to be happy and joyous all the time.  I believe that sometimes they should be in despair.

This thought has been forming in my mind as I’ve been chatting and getting to know a pastor/church-planter/friend of mine.  He informed me that one of the worst things you can tell a believer, when they’re in pain, is that you’ll be praying that they believe the gospel.

Why?  I think it’s because there’s a huge disconnect for many of us Christians.  We think that the gospel is primarily about us feeling good.  In fact, when we became Christians we were probably sold on the idea of being happy and fulfilled through the gospel.  While this is true, we’re about to know happiness and fulfillment down a path we really don’t want to tread.  A path full of thorns and various and sundry pointy objects.

I’m tempted to add a fifth law to the Four Spiritual Laws.  Here it is:  “Now that you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord, expect to experience pain in your life like you’ve never known, for God is going to have to break your self-reliance before he remakes you.  Bear with the pain though, for it’s worth it.”

Suffering is biblical.  Doubt is biblical.  Depression is biblical.  Anxiety and woe is biblical.  Even fear is biblical.  Pain is biblical.  If you don’t believe me, just pick up the Bible and flip to ANYWHERE!

Kind of depressing no?  I’m reminded of the story of Eustace in the book “The Voyage of the Dawn Treador,” by CS Lewis.  Eustace was a very selfish individual.  He’s described in the book in such ugly terms that you really can’t help but hate him a little.  In the story he finds a great treasure, a dragon horde, and a beautiful arm-band that just begs to be slipped on his greedy little chubby arm (I really didn’t like him when I read the book).

As the story goes, the arm-band is magical and he grows into a dragon.  He becomes on the outside what he’s become on the inside – a beast.

Eustace realizes that the magic is coming from the arm-band and he furiously tries to claw it off, but he can’t do it.  In the height of his frustration and pain Aslan comes to him and offers a solution, he will heal him.  Sounds good right?

Aslan’s solution is a painful one: he wants to skin Eustace.  And he doesn’t just skin him once, he skins him over and over, until Eustace, the real Eustace emerges and the arm band slips off. 

Now I want you to know that I totally butchered the story, as I’m going from memory and sermon illustrations.  It’s kind of like telling a story third-hand.  But I’ve got to tell it because I believe it’s what God does with his children.

God doesn’t desire us to be in pain, he just knows that there is no other way to go.  There’s no other way to grow.  There’s no other way to become the people he made us to be than to experience pain.  Welcome to deep, flesh-tearing, gut-wrenching pain. 

I believe that this may be a reason so many leave the faith.  Many leave because they’ve been sold a bill of goods that doesn’t include pain and angst.  So when they despair, when God feels distant, when their doubts cloud their thoughts, when they see more sin in their life than before they became a Christian, they walk.

And why not?  They’ve been sold on a lie:  A lie that life is all good when you’re a Christian.  A lie that you finally have all you’ve ever wanted when you become a Christian.  A lie that you will struggle with sin less, and love God and others more, all the time.  A lie that while you may suffer, the suffering will be far outweighed by God’s promises (true but not always true in the moment).  A lie that your suffering will make sense.  A lie that God will heal you quickly.  A lie that you will never again be in want.   In sum, a big bunch of lies.

Believing the gospel means embracing not only the potential but the reality of great pain.  I don’t see any way around it.  If we’re going to change, and, as my pastor-friend put it, “We just loooove sin,” we’re in for some serious pain.  So here’s to pain.

Here’s to pain being a path to something better.  Here’s to suffering as the Fifth Spiritual Law.  Here’s to the broken, who are just fed up enough with feel-good Christianity and self-help spirituality, that they’re willing to try something really reckless – placing themselves in the hands of real God, who deals in reality (and who seems to be running low on anesthesia btw). 

Now I want to qualify this.  I believe God is as gentle as possible.  He doesn’t enjoy seeing us in pain.  But he knows how to cut out the cancer that is killing us. 

Like Jesus, may the hope set before us spur us on to say yes to pain.  May we deal in realities.  May this be our joy.  May we actually believe the gospel of pain – har, har. 

(Written while I was feeling relatively brave.  Most of the time I REALLY don’t like this side of the gospel.)