Life-Altar-4x3-1In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote, God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[1]  Pain has a way of getting our attention like nothing else. Indeed, it is a megaphone that awakens us to difficult realities of life: the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, the shattering of marriage vows, the collapse of a nation, the trauma of violent crime, the devastation of natural disasters, and thousands of other heartbreaks that fill this groaning planet.  We don’t have to look far to find suffering and we can be sure that one day pain will come knocking at our door.

Gratefully, the hope found in God’s word has not left us in the lurch regarding the suffering of this life. We find in Scripture that suffering is promised, and we also find precious assurances that God is with us through it all. The psalmist declared with confidence, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”[2]

The whole prospect of following Jesus Christ is a call to die. Life on the altar as we have seen in this series is a picture of dying to self for the sake of God’s Kingdom agenda. In yet another paradox, our dying to self, our presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices, becomes the pathway by which we truly live as God intended. This life in Christ brings not only promised joy and peace, but continues on forever and ever.  This eternal perspective becomes the ballast that keeps us steadied in times of pain. 

Paul describes the believer’s hope when pain comes, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”[3]  When pain comes knocking at our door, our union with Christ offers hope when all seems pointless. Through every trial we are being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.[4] The One who endured the cross, and so much more, pledges to be with us until we are in his very presence.

With pastoral precision Charles Swindoll writes of the sanctifying work of pain in the believer’s life:

“Pain humbles the proud. It softens the stubborn. It melts the hard. Silently and relentlessly, it wins battles deep within the lonely soul….Pain operates alone; it needs no assistance. It communicates its own message whether to stateman or servant, preacher or prodigal, mother or child.  By staying, it refuses to be ignored. By hurting, it reduces its victim to profound depths of anguish. And it is at that anguishing point that the sufferer either submits and learns, developing maturity and character; or resists and becomes embittered, swamped by self-pity; smothered by self-will…I have tried and I cannot find, either in Scripture or history; a strong-willed individual whom God used greatly until He allowed him to be hurt deeply.”[5]

Paul’s application of the gospel in Romans 12 brings the subject of pain as a part of presenting our bodies to God as living sacrifices. From this call to live life on the altar, Paul emphasizes the hope of Christ throughout the remaining chapters of Romans. The altar life is the only access to God’s hope as we are reminded “that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”[6]

Martha Snell Nicholson in her poem “Guests” holds out promise to grieving hearts,

Pain knocked upon my door and said that she had come to stay,

And though I would not welcome her but bade her go away, she entered in.

Like my own shade she followed after me,

And from her stabbing, stinging sword no moment was I free.

And then one day another knocked most gently at my door.

I cried, “No, Pain is living here, there is not room for more.”

And then I heard His tender voice, “Tis I, be not afraid.”

And from the day He entered in, the difference it made!”

Yes, that is true! Christ makes all the difference and all who come to him, he will in no way cast out.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.[7]  He is the one to whom we must go, for he has what we need most….the words of eternal life.[8]

[1] Lewis, C. S.. The Problem of Pain (p. 59). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[2] Psalm 34:18,19 

[3] Romans 8:18 

[4] Romans 8:29

[5] Swindoll, Charles R. Come Before Winter….and Share My Hope. Multnomah Press: Portland, OR., 1985, p. 152.

[6] Romans 15:4

[7] Psalm 147:3

[8] John 6:68