Tozer said that, “it is doubtful that God could ever bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Those are hard words, but how you feel about them probably depends on where you’re standing. They’re a sharp stone to the comfortable, but a cooling balm to the afflicted.
The American opioid epidemic started because pharmaceutical companies wanted to eliminate pain. Whatever their motives, though we can be sure they were not altruistic, they manufactured situations where if someone told a hospital they were in pain they would be given an opioid painkiller. Pain was a problem to be eliminated.
We can all roll our eyes in exasperation because we know the outcome, but I still think we think getting rid of pain is a good aim. Dear friends, it isn’t possible this side of Jesus’ return, any claim to remove our pain is utopian thinking and inevitably preaching a false gospel.
How do I know it is? Because the real gospel doesn’t promise to remove our pain.
Hopefully we can all scoff, slack-jawed at the audacity of a pharmaceutical company peddling something not that far away from heroin and claiming to eliminate pain. Much like most pushers do.
Except we shouldn’t scoff. In the church we so often do the same thing and turn our preaching into pious pushing. My recommendation is that we stop that. Otherwise, we’ll either end up hooked and doing anything for a fix, or we’ll go cold turkey on the whole thing.
Here’s another way to look at it: trying to eliminate pain makes us Buddhists, not Christians. Larry Crabb makes this accusation in his book Shattered Dreams, saying, “we kill desire in an effort to escape pain, then wonder why we don’t enjoy God.”
Buddhism offers a path of cessation. The grand goal is the end of all pain and suffering, the path to get there is killing desire. Christianity is a path of joy, of roasted lamb, freshly baked bread, and fine wine. God is a God of things. And, because that’s true, it’s always true that escaping from pain is not the aim of the faith. We’re called to die, and then rise again.
So, how about we stop trying to wipe out all the pain?
Like a physical trainer who won’t let his clients actually lift any weights, we’re robbed of the benefit of the terrible trials that life throws at us if we aren’t allowed to feel the sting of them.
If we aren’t careful, Crabb warns, we’ll find the contentment of Buddha and miss the joy of Christ. Jesus did not teach us to deaden our pain and call it trust. He teaches us to allow our pain to deepen our desire for God (Romans 5, 1 Peter 1). There is treasure at the bottom of the pit, in the belly of the whale, in the cold and weary grave. And we worship a God who resurrects the dead.
As Tish Harrison Warren writes in her beautiful book Prayer in the Night, which by-the-by you should buy and read, we cannot trust God (sharp intake of breath before the sentence finishes) that bad things won’t happen to us.