Figuring out God’s Plan in a Time of Pain

Figuring out God’s plans is a most frustrating and often fruitless effort.  Particularly in the light of Isaiah 55:7-8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  God told Jeremiah to write to the Israelites taken into exile, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Yet, those people of God had suffered the destruction of their way of life and were forced to walk several hundred miles across barren ground to the Tigris – Euphrates Rivers.

Pain began in the garden of Eden when giving birth to new life would come through increased pain and work became a toil.  In his book “The Problem of Pain” C.S. Lewis quotes his friend George McDonald, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”  That’s the position that St. Paul also takes.

Pain and suffering come from living in a fallen world, and for a Christian it only makes sense in the light of Christ’s sufferings for our salvation.  And yet, it is troubling when we are in pain or those we love are suffering, especially when it might go on for a long time.  We think of Psalm 23 as comforting, that the Lord is with me as I walk through valley of the shadow of death.  Yet that valley may not be a peaceful dale, but a long narrow rocky gorge prone to flash flooding as is the case in the middle east.  In the end the psalm acknowledges that God prepares a banquet table in the face of my enemy, death.  Christ spoke of our new life in terms of a great wedding banquet.  The Gospel lesson from last Sunday foreshadowed that when Jesus turned 150 gallons of water into fine wine.  Holy Communion is a preview of that great feast.

Yet, Psalm 13 asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” In Ps 88 the writer cries out, “O lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.”

In the end all these Psalms are spoken or cried in the context of the Lord’s continued presence and steadfast love in the time when pain and suffering engulf our life.

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