Sunday, November 20, 2016

Knowledge in the Pain

I realized recently in the context of suffering in the world and specifically in our church family, that I have difficulty bridging my present life to the reality of eternity. I want eternity and the future promise of my inheritance in Christ to be as real as the food I eat, the ground I walk on, and the color and aroma of the leaves and the season. It is not always that way for me. Paul says to Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Timothy 6:12) How do I grab hold of eternity?

I believe the ultimate resolution to the challenge of taking hold of – even physically grabbing – eternal life is inexpressible joy. When you have the inexpressible joy spoken about in 1 Peter 1, there will be a tangible link to the eternal promises in Christ. This kind of joy can hold the sorrows of life and the joy of salvation in the same hand. It’s a joy that is compelling to others.

As Pastor Chris highlighted for us from Psalm 67 and Revelation 7, God is fighting for this joy for us. A joy that is natural – meaning it can be physically and emotionally experienced now – but also eternal, weighty, and deeply spiritual. Are we fighting alongside him? How does such a joy come about?

Sometime in high school, I became a huge fan of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Recently in his online show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Seinfeld said something that sparked my attention surrounding the fight for joy.

He said, “I always say that pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap. When you stub your toe on the foot of the bed, that was a gap in knowledge. And the pain is a lot of information really quick. That’s what pain is.”

That is funny but also very helpful. In our fight for joy, and our hoping in eternal life, we get tripped up by pain and suffering. But perhaps pain is not a stumbling block in our fight for joy, but a mandatory resource. As Seinfeld keenly observed, pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap.  Now, I would hate to over-spiritualize a casual comment over coffee, meant mostly to be humorous. The point is that it seems consistent with the text of 1 Peter 1:6-9, that trials in this life have a purpose, and even offer something to us.

Suffering offers a more intimate knowledge of how we experience glory-filled, inexpressible joy. It is the knowledge that God is working together all things for good for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28).  It is the knowledge that tested genuine faith is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7) and that these light and momentary afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). These are things you may know from Bible reading and sermons. But you know it when you’ve experienced pain.

This does not mean we seek suffering, or that we rejoice because of suffering. It means that we rejoice in suffering. It means that to avoid or minimize suffering and sorrow is to not experience the intimacy with and growth in Christ that he desires for us. It means that when the trial comes, the eternity-level knowledge of how our God is saving us and how to fight for real joy will rush in to fill us.

Joy is our end game by the remarkable grace of God. And the only complete source of joy now, and the only source of complete joy in the future, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The specific why of our trials is eclipsed by the eternal why of God’s grace for us in Christ. Our joy is key to taking hold of the eternal life to which we have been called. And pain is necessary for this joy.

That is good to know.

Originally posted at the College Park Blog.