In the Midst of Pain
When I was a kid I hated to go to the dentist, probably like every kid. On one visit, Dr. Steel -- as in "nerves of steel" -- announced that he wasn't using Novocain anymore. "We have a new product," he said. "It's a spray, and it works." Well, I must have been his first experiment, because I'll tell you that it didn't work! I was in pain, and everyone around that office heard about it.
Why is there pain? Why do well-meaning, God-loving followers of Christ suffer? C.S. Lewis had a great answer for that. "Why not?" he said. "They're the only ones who can handle it."
Suffering was interwoven into the life of Paul, and he knew the right way to handle it. In Acts 13-14, Paul suffered opposition and slander from the Jews in Antioch and Iconium. When they found him at Lystra, they stoned him, dragged him out of the city, and left him for dead. Paul was doing God's will when this happened. It would have been very easy to question God's love and God's calling on his life. But how did Paul interpret these experiences?
Look at 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead." Paul is saying, "Yes, it was bad, but it caused me to trust God as I never had before."
Paul talks about his sufferings throughout 2 Corinthians, and he even boasts about it because of what it taught him. What do you do with pain? You shouldn't apply some quick-fix, false theology to it: "I bind all pain and all suffering in Jesus' name." That won't work, any more than the spray my dentist used. You should pray for an end to your pain, but you should also pray, "Let me not waste this time." You should ask God, "What are you trying to teach me? What lesson should I be learning?"
For Paul, that lesson was summed up in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. The Lord told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." And Paul concluded that he would take pleasure in his infirmities, and in the persecutions he suffered. He knew that his true strength came from God: "when I am weak, then I am strong" (v. 10).
I pray that you and I would learn what God is trying to teach us, even in the midst of pain.