The Purpose of Pain

In Sermon Ideas by Rachel Schultz

The Purpose of Pain


Key Passage: Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3

Key Thought: We often can’t understand why God allows us to hurt. But pain and unanswered questions serve several divine purposes which further God’s aims.

Scripture: James 1:5, 6

Story: Two little boys were convinced there was buried treasure on their property. They dug for a full day; by sunset there was a hole you could bury a Hummer in. But—no treasure. Dad comforted them: “I’m sorry; I know you’re disappointed. But think of all the good exercise you got today!” Are we content to spend a lifetime praying to an empty, John Lennon sky because it “organizes our thoughts” and centers our soul?

Story: In Lee Strobel’s The Case For Faith, he asks Charles Templeton if one key moment turned him into an atheist. Yes. A photograph in Life magazine of a woman in Africa whose baby died because of a drought. “I looked at that picture, and I thought, ‘Is it possible to believe that there is a loving or caring Creator when all this woman needed was rain?” The philosopher Epicurus concludes: “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or He can, but does not want to; or He cannot and does not want to. If He wants to, but cannot, He is impotent. If He can, and does not want to, He is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how comes evil in the world?” John Stott similarly observes: “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.” In every survey, if people could face God and ask one question, this is it: Why do You allow such pain in our world?

The Genesis story of a Garden and a tree and a choice tell us God wants a universe where we offer Him freely given love and worship. God is a heavenly Father, not a robotic programmer. He is willing for our world to go through 6,000 years of some pain if together we can get to the other side. We grapple with the reality that in the new earth, we will not get married and have children. Why? We will all be adults, grown-up, rational, loyal men and women. Every person in heaven will be part of God’s eternal cabinet.

We parents ache as we let our children suffer sometimes. We cannot do their homework or bail them out from foolish debts. It seems unfair to the child. Why don’t we help? Peter Kreeft, philosopher, suggests that a wise being will endure short-term evil to achieve long-term good. The current war in Iraq is—some believe—such a case.

Story: There’s a bear caught in a trap. A kind hunter wants to help set it free. But the bear, racked with pain, cannot understand this. The only hope is to shoot it with a tranquilizer gun. The bear, seeing the raised shotgun, panics. The approaching hunter must temporarily push down harder on the injured paw in order to spring the trap. Again there is more pain, more misunderstanding. The bear cannot comprehend the hunter’s vision: a beautiful future where man and bear enjoy the gentle hills together.

Story: Jesus allows Peter to make a fool of himself trying to walk on water. He warns him in the upper room that Peter will deny Christ three times that evening. The ensuing grief breaks Peter’s heart. Why does Jesus permit such shame? Peter emerges post-Calvary as a courageous leader of the fledgling Christian church. Earlier in Matthew 16, Jesus tells him: You are Peter. Your name means “rock.” One of these days you’re actually going to become a rock, act like a rock, and when that happens, I’ll be able to build the church on the foundations of that kind of faith.

Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that even Jesus learned trusting obedience by suffering just as we do. Calvary is the pinnacle of glorifying God through pain. That Friday at the cross was the watching universe’s 9/11. Everyone was crushed. But the hope of a new world was born out of the hurt and suffering.

Four Blessings From Pain: First, it often brings us to repentance. Trials drive us to our knees instead of to despair. C. S. Lewis writes: “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Christians testify that suffering is a small price to pay to get to know Jesus better.

Second, pain and hurt strengthen our faith. It can break us or build us.

Third, hard times increase the effectiveness of our witness. A person going through drug rehab becomes an empathetic counselor. Paul spoke effectively to Pharisees because he used to be one. He wrote powerfully from prison.

Fourth, we must step back and grasp the big picture. Mother Teresa spent a hard lifetime in Calcutta among the HIV-infected, impoverished and untouchable castes. “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

We should always be growing, studying, weighing, maturing. However, it is also well to make one lasting, permanent decision about the core issues of our faith.

Story: In the 1940s, Billy Graham and Charles Templeton were friends and ministry partners. Then Templeton’s doubts caused him to slip away into atheism. He chided Graham for his simplistic faith and his continuing belief in the literal truth of the Bible. Graham was preparing for a huge crusade in Los Angeles and did have severe doubts about many unanswered questions regarding Scripture. How could he preach with power if he didn’t believe the miracles and stories in the Bible?

In a Forest Hills retreat center above San Bernardino, the crisis came to a head. Graham went for a long walk in the moonlight. Could he stay in ministry? How could he resolve his doubts? Down by the lake he made an irrevocable decision. “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Wordby faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”

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