Oh, what a dilemma.
Does God allow pain in our lives or does he cause it?
Wesleyan Methodists are traditionally much more comfortable with the former while Calvinists often embrace the latter.
But what does the author of Hebrews say?
Among other things, that’s a topic that week two of The Path Of Most Resistance addresses.
Drawing from Hebrews 12:4-11 with its surprising, concluding emphasis on “holiness” (we’d much prefer “happiness”), it’s a message with this bottom line:
Sin is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.
Which, when you think about it, is a very Calvinist path to a Wesleyan conclusion.
So we are walking The Path Of Most Resistance in this season, and let’s admit & let’s acknowledge: it’s hard. This is one season in church life where we aren’t pretending that life is something it’s not; I’m not going to be a shiny, happy TV preacher with great teeth & light hearted jokes. Instead, we’re gonna walk this path together and try to make sense of life as it really is, not as we wish it were. And in dealing with life as it really is – in dealing with what life deals us – I know the quickest question most of us go to in the middle of our trials & troubles is WHY? Why are you letting this happen, God? Worse: Why are you MAKING this happen God? Even if you don’t really believe in God: Why is this awful thing happening in my life?
Maybe like the guy who was waiting at a bus stop near a young boy. And the man watched the boy he three straight candy bars, one right after the other. Finally, he could stand it no longer and said, “Eating all that candy is bad for your health & can rot your teeth?” The boy answered, “Mister, my grandfather lived to be 97 years old!” The man said, “I bet he didn’t eat three candy bars in a row, then.” “No,” the boy answered, “But he knew how to mind his own business.” Why?
But you know there’s more. You go to work and find out the company’s closing. Or your facility is. Or it’s staying open but you’re not welcome back. WHY? Or you come home and get served divorce papers. You knew things weren’t great but you had NO IDEA they were this bad. WHY? You loved Jesus in high school – or at least you liked him – but you got to college and in that environment there you became embarrassed by him. Or by people who represent him. WHY? You see people who didn’t work as hard as you advance faster and farther and again it’s WHY? And at the doctor’s, either by yourself or with the one you love, you get that diagnosis no one wants. WHY? Sometimes you’re the villain in these scenarios – you know the WHY has at least a little to do with you – and more often you’re the victim – it’s TO you but not BECAUSE of you but that question remains. In fact, you could say we are WHYers – not WHINERS (ok, some of you are) but WHYers. It’s as old as the human race & it’s a question that fuels much of Scripture and then in particular ways propels Hebrews 12.
Now to know what is going on with these words you have to HAVE TO HAVE TO know what is going on. Because the book of Hebrews may well have been written FOR you but it most definitely was not written TO you. It was written (and before that, preached) to a collection of beaten down, beleaguered, persecuted Jesus People of Jewish descent. They were going through stuff that is very difficult for moderns to comprehend unless you live in places like India or Turkey. Why? Because you could be killed for your faith. Martyrdom was never too far away from the people’s minds here. So it’s almost like whatever WHY we have in 2016, the ppl to whom Hebrews was written have a larger, WHY-ier, question looming in their minds. A more legit gripe.
Which makes this pastor’s answer almost … insensitive. Tone deaf. Look at 12:4:
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
That “struggle against sin” is most likely their sinful oppressors. And that “haven’t shed blood” means: “if you’re reading/hearing this, you haven’t been martyred. Nor have you been crucified like the one ye represent. So stop all your bellyaching.” Then after that opening salvo, he goes to 12:5-6:
5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[
See! He quotes the OT with the preface have you completely forgotten and WHY DOES HE DO THAT? Because these are Hebrew Xn who should know the OT (that line WOULDN’T be in Philippians, for eg). And look at the two incredible things that are intertwined in this quote from Proverbs: FAMILY & LOVE. That this pain – threats, insults, danger of death – is somehow reserved for the ones God loves most intimately. It’s a family thing. Which means, unbelievably, this pain is some kind of provision, not some kind of punishment. Something God uses for the ones who know him best.
Then our pastor piles on in 12:7-8:
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.
It’s a preposterous claim … if you’re not going through something, maybe it’s because you’re not one of his children. As if a life of ease, one free of troubles – you know, the kind most of us want! – is available only to those people who DON’T KNOW GOD. Yikes! But not again in those verses he keeps weaving ties & intimate relationships into his language, as if there is a correlation between the level of trial of depth of love you & God have. If you’re life stinks, then, God must REALLY LOVE YOU! Some of you read that, hear this, ponder it and then decide, “Just LIKE me God. I just want to be LIKED by you. You can so love the world, but if Heb. 12 is true, then I’m sticking with LIKE.”
Then our pastor brings it home & throws us for a loop in 12:9-10:
9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.
That we may share . . . . holiness. See the in order that – that means there is a purpose in the pain. God uses the crap in your life and my life to do something in you and through you that he could never accomplish without it. And we’d NEVER finish that sentence the way Hebrews does. We’d finish it with share in his JOY, HAPPINESS, BLESSINGS . .. but holiness? Which is this ginormous OH NO. Because the purpose God has in the pain in our lives, the reason our pain is a gift to us is acutally our perfecting. To chisel away sin to reveal beauty. And now v. 4 – READ – comes full circle and may even have a DOUBLE meaning: not just the struggle against SINNERS but struggle against SINNING. Hebrews suggests both are incredibly worthy opponents who deserve our resistance. Because here it is, all you WHYers, how’s how to link this language of family intimacy, God’s love, & the great goal of it all: Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves. Yep. His closest embrace, his most intimate expression of love comes disguised as your deepest pain. Wha-what?! Yes. Pain is God’s secret provision that you don’t like at the time – LOOK AT 12:11!! No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – but has long term value. If it was true for the Hebrews church, it’s more true for you and me. REF
It’s always been this way! After our first parents fell, what did God in Genesis 3? He banished them from the Garden – something they obviously could no longer handle – AND he clothed them for the journey. Discipline AND tenderness. Anger AND love. In fact, they were never adored more than when God was allowing / sending pain their way. Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.
It’s like this from Joni E-T: EITHER READ or video clip.
Or a much lower degree, some of you know as a teenager I had one goal in life: be a pro tennis player. And junior year of high school, I was tracking well towards it. Glory days! But guess what? Senior year, I played TERRIBLE. This prolonged slump. Some of you in baseball know what a slump is like. You just don’t got it. And I could really see that dream swirling down the drain. So I opted against that effort, which in turn determined where I went to college & other stuff. In retrospect, that slump was the most loving thing God could have done in my life, because he had something different & something better in mind (THIS!).Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.
It’s really like this dumbbell (20 lb). (Get volunteer?) It can be used in two ways, at least. It can DEVELOP (bicep curl). Or if I were to throw it at you, it would hurt. One grows and one hurts. AT THE SAME TIME. And Hebrews is just as clear that his close embrace and your deep pain are almost indistinguishable. And simultaneously. God grows you as he … GULP! … hurts you and he pains your way to progress. And they occur simultaneously!
If you’re in a season of pain, you’re not rejected. You’re loved. If you’re going through a season of trial, you’re not being ignored. You’re being adored. If you’re either victim or villain in trauma, it doesn’t mean you’re abandoned. It means you’re being embraced. Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.
Deep down, you know this. Especially if you’ve been been or had parents. That’s why Heb 12 keeps piling on the parenting imagery. I love hearing about those child-rearing experts who say things like “nothing good can ever come from causing a child pain.” Nothing? No spanking ever helped a child? Absurd. And you know I’m not talking about abuse. Regular corporal discipline. Pain is this provision that comes from love and directs towards holiness (clean conscience). Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.
And some of you right now, I know, you’re about to burst. Because I’ve talked about what God allows and what God causes. Yikes! I loved hearing how Pastor James McD distinguished between a TRIAL and a CONSEQUENCE. A trial happens. It’s the cancer. It’s the job loss. A consequence . . . well you did it. It’s your jail time. Your rehab time. The affair you had that resulted in the divorce papers you received. How can you tell which is which? Well, your conscience will let you know very quickly! And the way through a consequence is not persistence; it is repentance! Which takes us back to the trial part of it … the cancer, the prodigal, the job loss. We are quasi comfortable saying God ALLOWS us and most uncomfortable with saying God BRINGS it. Can I just point out the inconsistency there? In trying to protect God’s reputation, sometimes we don’t do him any favors. If we say God ALLOWS something does that not imply that he could have PREVENTED it? We’ll never know for sure on THIS SIDE OF GLORY.
But here’s what we DO know: how God wants you to respond to this thing that happened and what he wants to do for you in its happening. Because he has a goal for your life on earth and it’s different than yours. Your goal is likely your happiness and his is most certainly your holiness. He wants to rid you of the sin that entangles you – even so-called little ones – so you can run the race towards him with more endurance. And if he has to bring on the pain to chisel away the sin, so be it. I know that I know that I know that my darkest nights of the ministry soul came to my life so that I’d stop being so sneaky & start being more forthright; so that I stop the passive aggression and begin the loving, sometimes brutal honesty. Wouldn’t have learned it if I hadn’t gone thru misery. Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.
So . . . your night in jail.
Your divorce. (Yes, God hates divorce but maybe in some of your situations, he hates the abuse in your marriage more and will cause ending pain to end the abuse.)
Your chronic depression.
It makes you a WHYer. And that’s OK. Just don’t expect the world to answer your question. And don’t expect God’s answer to be easy. Just expect it to be true.
Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.