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LOVING GOD IN PAIN

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, formerly known as Nicholas Herman, joined the Carmelite religious order in France around 1640. He was uneducated and spent most of his monastic life doing humble work, washing dishes in the kitchen. With time, Brother Lawrence developed chronic gout, which ulcerated, making him walk with a limp. As a result, he was assigned to work in the monastery’s shoe repair shop, which he could do while sitting. One biographer noted: “Brother Lawrence died in the monastery on February 12, 1691, after a painful illness. He had been a clumsy man, not good-looking or attractive, and had done only the most humble work. And yet his thoughts have influenced generations of people, and he continues even today to point the way toward the practice of the presence of God.” [1]


In a letter to his superior in the monastery, he wrote: “Let our only business be to know God; the more one knows Him, the more one wants to know Him. And since our knowledge is usually the limit of our love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge is, the greater will be our love; and if our love for God were great, we would love Him just as much in pain as in pleasure [italics mine].” [2]


Through his personal experience, Brother Lawrence formulated for himself a profound theology of suffering, which would put to shame some of the most erudite theologians of our day. Brother Lawrence wrote: “Be satisfied with whatever condition God has given you. Pain and suffering would be a paradise for me if I suffered them with God, and the greatest pleasures would be hell for me if I enjoyed them without Him. My greatest comfort would be to suffer something for His sake.” [3]


In one of his last letters, Brother Lawrence expressed his abiding hope in these inimitable words: “Soon I will be going to God. What comforts me in this life is that I see Him now by faith, and sometimes I see Him so clearly that I can say, ‘I no longer believe, but I see.’ I feel what faith teaches me, and in that confidence and that practice of faith, I will live and die with Him.” [4]


Well, Brother Lawrence’s wish came true after he wrote those words. He became ill shortly after that and died within a week of the onset of his illness. Until his death, he knew God by faith. Beyond the grave, he would know God by sight.


I bring Brother Lawrence’s insights on suffering and pain to your attention because we, in America, have a cultural aversion to pain and suffering. We will go anywhere and spend considerable time and treasure to escape pain and suffering. Furthermore, Americans have developed an escapist theology of suffering to satisfy our propensity to avoid pain at any cost. The Bible says, “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). The psalmist observed: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10 NLT). In this fallen world, pain and suffering are part and parcel of human experience. That is why the Bible reminds us vividly: “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (Rom. 8:22–23 NLT).


Though pain and suffering will remain with us until Christ returns and removes us from the presence of sin, we do not live in hopelessness or despair. For a Christ follower, pain and suffering are not meaningless; they are one of the ways God glorifies Himself, something we may never fully comprehend, but we live trusting Him. Remember, God was most glorified when Jesus went to the cross for our redemption. The writer of Hebrews understood it when he wrote that Jesus endured the pain, suffering, and shame of the cross because He foresaw the joy and glory that awaited Him” (Heb. 12:2). Not only that, God may also use our suffering to mature us in the faith. The apostle James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, you will have many kinds of trouble. But this gives you a reason to be very happy. You know that when your faith is tested, you learn to be patient in suffering. If you let that patience work in you, the end result will be good. You will be mature and complete. You will be all that God wants you to be” (James 1:2–4 ERV).


Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Christian church. He preached to ten million people during his lifetime and served as the pastor of the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, for thirty-eight years. Because of his prowess in preaching and ability to expound from Scripture, he became known as the “prince of preachers.” Unfortunately, for most of his life, he suffered from gout, rheumatism, and chronic depression. Sometimes his illness became so severe that he was absent from the pulpit for weeks. Yet he saw his illness as the means of drawing closer to God and attaining “salutary ends.” He wrote, “Depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry. The cloud is black before it breaks and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer blessing.” [5]


Perhaps you may be going through a severe trial at this moment. If so, please allow me to let Brother Lawrence give you the encouragement you need.


I am not asking God to take away your suffering, but I earnestly ask that He will give you strength and patience to bear it for as long as He wants you to. Comfort yourself with Him who keeps you fastened to this cross. He will release you from it when He sees fit. Happy are those who suffer with Him. Get yourself used to suffering this way, and ask Him for the strength to endure as much and for as long as He judges you need. Worldly people do not understand these truths, and no wonder they don’t, since they consider suffering part of nature rather than a gift from God. Looking at it in this light, they find only pain and distress in suffering. But those who look at sickness as a gift from God’s hand, the effect of His mercy and the means He uses to bring about their salvation, can usually find in sickness a sweet, emotional comfort. [6]


Friend, Jesus forewarned us of the sufferings of life: “In the world you will have tribulations; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This means that we are not left defenseless or helpless in our battles. Our faith in Christ is the victory that overcomes (1 John 5:4–5). Because Jesus has overcome the evil in this world, we can face our trials confidently, knowing that our struggles will not overtake us but that Christ will empower us to bear them, and He will magnify Himself in us whether we live or die (Phil. 1:20). Soli Deo Gloria

______________________________


1 Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Updated in Today’s Language by Ellyn Sanna (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 1998), 7.

2. Ibid., 62–63.

3. Ibid., 57.

4. Ibid.

5. AZ Quotes, “Charles Spurgeon,” https://www.azquotes.com/picturequote/19804 (accessed May 1, 2023).

6. The Practice of the Presence of God, 56.

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