Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Anatomy of Pain

This section is part 2 of a 5 part series from the complete work, “HOW WELL DO I KNOW GOD? Knowing God: The only Foundation and Fountain of Lasting Fulfillment.” In the complete book the below sections have a slightly different title, but I have renamed them for the purpose of publishing them as separate e-books as follows:


Part 5 - “DEAD TO SIN. WHAT IT IS AND ISN’T; A commentary on Romans 6-8.”

Section II
Why are we in such pain?

Points covered in this section are:

  • Pain, an event or a condition?
  • Why is separation from God painful?
  • Not just any relationship will do
  • The depth of our pain is tied directly to our capacity for pleasure and Gods greatness
  • Pain, good or bad?
  • Pain; a bad thing or a state of being?
  • We deserve better and NOW! A root cause of anger
  • The causes and benefits of desperation
  • Self imposed desperation
  • Our problem in a nutshell
  • Taking the pain out of pain
  • Why are we so drawn to created things instead of the Creator?
  • What makes hell, hell?
  • How to break the pull
  • How to break the pull, part II
  • Finding and experiencing God is a battle but one worth fighting.
  • A gradual unfolding. The reversal of the fall
  • Self denial, what it isn’t
  • Self-discipline, what it isn’t
  • A battle of accepting or pursuing: Both require faith.
  • Choosing the battle: A closer look.
  • Do we seek God because we have to or because we want to?
  • What are we really seeking, God or relief?
  • Are the good gifts of God bad?
  • When does God grant us material blessings?
  • So, are God’s blessings earned, or given?
  • When does God give us the desires of our heart?
  • It wasn’t my choice!
  • So what do we do about our pain?
  • Pain, a summary

It should be noted that by and large I am referring to non physical pain for the most part in this section though much of our emotional pain is tied to physical pain and reference to physical pain is made as well.

What is pain? Is it simply the absence of pleasure? We often think of pain as the presence or experience of “something painful” and refer to that experience as causing pain or being painful. But in this section I wish to show that in fact pain is the constant and ongoing state of our being and it is the absence or loss of the good gifts of God that simply exposes our underlying, ever present state of pain.

This problem of pain also raises the question of what gives us the most pleasure. Knowing the answer to these questions is the key to understanding pain as well as understanding the very reason we exist.

Before we start let us briefly review what has already been covered in the first part of this book: we were created by God, for God. In other words our purpose for existence is to *know God to the greatest extent possible and in so doing make Him known. We are not just to know Him intellectually we must know Him at every level and particularly on a personal or relational level. We get a hint of this in the greatest commandment to love God will all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We were designed to know Him as a person and therefore personally. This in turn requires that we know what God is like. What “makes Him tick” if you will. Until we understand and know God we cannot understand ourselves, in whose image we are made, and the very reason we exist. But more specifically how both of these realities relate to why we experience pain. For a more in depth discussion of knowing God as a person you may find a review of the first part of this book helpful.

*The Westminster Confession says, “…the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I agree. The ultimate end of all things is to bring honor and glory to God. But, I also believe the writers of the confession understood and believed in order to glorify and enjoy God we must intimately know Him first. Glorifying God is the ultimate end but knowing God first is the necessary means to that end. The greater we know Him the more we see His magnificence and in turn desire Him, which in turn brings Him glory and demonstrates His inexhaustible value. In stating this as I have, I am suggesting that in order to glorify God we must first know Him intimately.

Pain, an event or a condition?

We cannot really understand pain unless we first understand that pain is not caused by something that happens to us but rather it is something we feel due to something lost or missing. We usually feel pain when something or someone is either taken from us or because we failed to obtain something we greatly desired. We normally feel pain when we experience the absence or loss of an important person, relationship, ability or “toy” we use to bring us comfort, meaning and pleasure. But what is really missing? What is it that is really the cause of pain?

Think through with me what happens when we “feel” emotional pain in its various forms. It may not always feel like pain but rather emotions ranging from boredom to rage with everything in between such as frustration, fear, anxiety, and anger to outright anguish or despair, even to the point of considering suicide. These are all clues that we are experiencing pain at some level.

For example, if we are competitive and lose some sort of contest or game we desperately desired to win or even worse, we lose our ability to compete itself; or if we are rich in some way, whether materially or talent wise and that richness is suddenly lost or taken away through some accident or by the ill intent of another; or if we lose a very important loved one through death or divorce, and so on the list can go, what do we feel? (These are examples of emotional pain. But in the physical realm, if we loose good health, a gift from God, we also experience physical as well as emotional pain.) While going through the pain of a newly experienced absence of something or someone, aren’t we really experiencing the exposure of the true state of our beings? Yes, we certainly feel loss and often excruciating ache when these events occur. Why? What are we feeling the loss of? Is the loss of things and persons, or whatever it is that has evoked and exposed our pain, the real reason we are in pain? Or, is something else going on far more basic and far deeper?

I would suggest that when we peel away the surface layers and get down to the bedrock of our being, what we are feeling is really the exposure of our true underlying condition or state. And that is the state of separation from God whom we are designed for and in fact are totally dependent even though we rarely acknowledge this dependence. This state has left us broken and empty. Both conditions being painful in different ways.

We are only more or less aware of this lost and painful condition depending on our circumstances at any given time i.e. when things are “good” or pleasant we do not notice our state of pain but are happy and when things are “bad” or hard we are not happy. In order not to feel this underlying state of pain we are in, we complicate things by not turning to the only person in which we were designed to find completeness. Instead we stubbornly, skillfully and subtly have learned through a kind of trial and error to use whatever is most readily available to give us the most pleasure or comfort most consistently, in order to ease or anesthetize our underlying painful condition. This will be different for everyone since we all have unique gifts, skill sets and environments from which we have learned to cope with and ease our pain. 17b The greater the gifts we have at our disposal to numb that pain, the more successful we are at not feeling it or in easing it. The less those gifts are available to us, the more unable we are to find relief from pain. But, it isn’t in fact the absence of these gifts that cause our pain. The absence of those created things we have grown to depend on and take for granted only brings this painful state to the surface of our awareness. The pain was there all along.

To better understand this we must again remind ourselves that we are designed by God and for God. Therefore, we are totally dependent on God in every way, be it our physical, spiritual or emotional sustenance. We have rebelled against the true state of our dependence on God (we are creatures and He is the Creator) and as a result we are in a desperate state (spiritual alienation from God due to our rejection of Him) of seeking anything other than God to fill it. The more successful we are at finding things to replace God, the less we feel that separation with its consequent pain.

To complicate things further, whatever we use, whether it is a thing or a person, we rarely recognize it for what it truly is, a gift from God, missing the real reason and message God intends behind the gifts given out of His great love for us. Instead we often use these created things as substitutes for God without any acknowledgment to God for providing them. I would suggest everything we seek in this life (unless sought specifically to further God’s Kingdom and glory) is used as substitutes to fill the void of our separation from our Creator, even by those who have trusted in Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf. It isn’t until and unless we are reconnected to God in such a significant way that we are whole enough again to enjoy these gifts as God intends and not cling to them in hope they will give us something only He alone can. The more connected, the more we are able to enjoy them properly and the more willing God is to freely give them to us.

On the other hand, the more we look to and depend on these to fill the emptiness caused by our separation from our Creator, the less they satisfy us. Yet, at the same time the more we turn from God the more we must have them and the tighter we hold onto them. In addition, the tighter we hold on to things the more it hurts when they are lost or taken from us. In the physical world, if something is held loosely it doesn’t hurt as much when it is removed from our hands. But the tighter something is held the more force is required to remove it and the greater the pain we feel when it is removed.

If what we hold on to keeps us from finding what is best for us, eventually resulting in our harm, to remove it is a loving act. This is true on both the emotional and spiritual level. When going through great pain, the first reaction of many is to blame God. However the greatness of our pain has more to do with our underlying separation from God, which we are seeking to numb through misuse of God’s creation, rather than an indifferent and uncaring God. 

In fact God allows us to go through pain for the very opposite reason we usually suspect. He allows us to experience pain so that we might recognize it is Him we are missing and then turn to Him and find in Him what He alone can give us and not to these other things we desperately depend on and cling to. I believe all pain ultimately comes with this loving intent and design behind it. The greater the pain the greater the opportunity for God to comfort us and the greater the evidence of God’s love for us. But to benefit from God’s love we must choose to receive painful events as they are intended i.e. as evidence of God's love and desire to draw us and restore us back to Him. If we do not combine our painful experience with faith, these experiences will only embitter us. We will look at faith more in depth later.

When our hearts are so tightly wrapped around things or persons other than God, there is no place for God to dwell within and commune with us. Created things have become what we cherish and value above God. In short they have become what we grow to depend on for life other than God. We seek them, cherish them, depend on them and as a result desperately fear losing them and live the balance of our lives expending our energy (also a gift from God) in maintaining and preserving them. In turn we cling to them. They become our focus, our very life. They become little gods to us if you will, our idols. These little idols are that which we cherish most. Even though the things we value today appear more sophisticated than the idols of the Old Testament, the Bible still calls this idol worship, the placing of something before us that we value and depend on for life more than God and apart from Him. We worship these because they are worth more to us and we value them more than we value God.

A large part of our problem is this internal battle of either being connected to God or to things is a never ending struggle we are rarely fully aware of until we lose those things we depend on for “life” other than God. God however knows our true heart and why we do what we do. We only think we know. He is always working in our lives according to His wise and true understanding of how we operate and what we need. God is always working to expose our attachments to created things and our disconnectedness to Him in order that our connection with Him might be restored and increased. 

Our fallen condition is so complete, that cherishing the creation above the Creator feels normal and o.k. The earth is rich in things (not to mention our very persons with the ability to see, smell, hear, taste and enjoy the good things or creation) that are useful and enjoyable so we assume they are ours to use as we see fit. Everyone else does, so why shouldn’t I.

All these combine to our not seeing the danger or harm in living our lives in this ultimately destructive manner. Not seeing these things only confirms how desperate our true condition really is. How strong the hold is that created things have on us. Yet, how subtle at the same time. We are so blind we don’t realize how blind we are. Yet intuitively we sense something is wrong; something is missing; and most particularly when we are “in pain.” I suggest this occurs only by God’s Spirit and the reality of creation in and around us. To understand these things more clearly, we need to take a closer look at why we are in the state we are in.

Why is separation from God painful?

We have asserted that experiencing pain is simply being made aware of something missing or lost? But what is it specifically that we have lost? On the emotional level it is a loss of our own sense of value, meaning or importance; a sense that we are not loved or lovable. But at the deepest level, our spiritual core if you will, this is in fact due to our separation from full communion with our Creator. In truth, as we have already suggested, it is God Himself we are missing? But why does separation from our Creator create this sense of worthlessness and therefore pain?

If God is the one we were made to commune with and in whom we truly experience the complete and never-ending fulfillment of our value, meaning and purpose, then it stands to reason to lose the one relationship from which we derive these things and which alone can truly satisfy this need, would result in a constant state of pain. To feel worthless, to have no meaning and purpose to our existence is not what we were designed for and therefore not a pleasant condition. In fact it is a state we seek to avoid at all costs. We are driven to fill the void created by our missing Creator, the true lover and only satisfier of our heart and soul. As a result we look for "God substitutes" otherwise know as idols.

But why is He is missing? Simply stated it is because we, as the human family, had a deep, vital and personal relationship with Him at one time but lost it or, more accurately we abandon it. Knowing and being in relationship with Him was why we were created, and why we exist and originally what made our world turn, figuratively and literally. The loss of that relationship was of ultimate and eternal significance and greater than any loss we can now experience, a loss not unlike someone prematurely loosing a spouse they deeply cherished and are now left with the deep ache and emptiness of the memory of that lost love. However the loss of God is on a much greater scale and to a much greater extend and far deeper than any earthly love, though not unlike it either. These lesser losses are only a shadow and reflection of the loss of God and a part of what it means to be in His image. That original loss was so great that we now desperately avoid the ache of it in ways we aren’t even aware of. 

In addition, we don’t recognize it is God we have lost. This brings to mind the old saying that “time heals all wounds.” Does it really? I would suggest time doesn’t actually heal anything but only allows us to find new and different ways to anesthetize and reduce the memory of the pain of the original loss. Only if the loss leads us to God can true healing begin and ultimately will be completed when we are fully reunited with our Creator in eternity when there will be no more tears or pain. 

The fact is whether we acknowledge it or not, we are dependent creatures created by our all wise, all loving, all powerful and life sustaining Creator for a relationship with Him that alone satisfies us at the core of our being. The real problem is our rebellion from this relationship and our desire to be independent of God (…if you eat of the tree you will be like God…) in ways God never intended and contrary to even God’s nature I would add.

Our true and most significant problem isn’t our pain but our ongoing denial of dependence on our Creator God i.e. the denial of our creature-hood. In our denial we live as if we are independent, self-sufficient beings (our own little gods); able to obtain only what God can give us. This is the very belief our first parents bought into and the direction they chose to take, which we now eagerly choose as well.

Depending on how much God has blessed us, we can “get away” with this denial for a time. That is why Paul says of those He calls to Himself, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth…” 18 The more natural skills and resources we are blessed with, the more we have available to maintain a false sense of independence from God. Many of us get away with this our whole lives until God intervenes through some circumstance, often a painful one, or event or person that shakes us back to reality and causes us to turn back to Him and reestablish the original relationship for which He designed us. It is this denial of dependence that pain is intended to expose. This exposure is for our good and in fact a loving act of God. But in our stubborn rebellion, we refuse to see it. We usually curse God for our pain, not thank Him.

The reality is if we don’t eventually turn to God we cannot continue in our present state of denial forever. Ultimately the denial of our dependence will no longer be possible. The reality of our true condition will become undeniable. Unfortunately for many only when it’s too late to do anything about it i.e. after we have left this present existence where we now have the opportunity to humbly acknowledge our dependence on God.

Not just any relationship will do

When it comes to relationship we have all heard the saying, “it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”. 19 There is some truth in this and there is something about us that longs so deeply for love we are willing to risk loosing it and go through the consequential pain, in order to experience it. And those of us who “fall in love” for the first time marvel at feeling something we have never felt before. Something deep inside us is touched that stirs us in a new and powerful way. So much so that we don’t ever want to loose that feeling but in fact want it even more and we want it to never end. Once aroused our desire for love is endless and insatiable. Often for the first time we feel a longing that is so strong it even aches. And when we do lose it, (and we always do to some extend, since what was stirred was the absence of God and can only ultimately be satisfied by the infinite God and not someone finite) we may painfully recall and replay that lost love we once had. Some even divorce because of this, always looking for that rush of an ideal and new relationship again; a kind of relationship junky, if you will. “The love just isn’t there like it used to be,” we might say, using that as justification for leaving a boring or unrewarding marriage. Though having a good marriage is important and something we should diligently pursue, the real and underlying issue of a boring marriage is it should reveal to us a disconnection with God first which results in a disconnection with our spouse.

We have also all heard of that person or, in fact may be or, have been that person at one time, who is afraid to love again for fear of reawakening something deep inside so powerful that we don’t ever want to feel the pain of not filling that powerful longing or of having love lost or taken from us again.

Both of the above scenarios are in fact the flip side of the same coin. The first focuses on the hope of never ending love and the second on the fear of loss of that love and losing it again. In either case we long for the same thing: never ending love. Though we may not give it much thought until we fall in love, we know in our hearts we desperately need to love and be loved. And not just any love, but a love that is perfect and will never end. Unfortunately we rarely stop to ask why we are we this way and where does this comes from? We simply focus on finding someone we can latch on to fill the void.

As already touched on, we were and are designed for a lasting, unbroken, uninterrupted relationship of giving and receiving love, importance and value. Not just any relationship will do however. We were created for a relationship with our inexhaustibly deep, multi faceted, infinitely powerful, eternal and incomprehensibly beautiful Creator, a relationship of never-ending and unbroken love and communion. But why are we designed this way? As discussed in the first part of this book, we are made in the image of God so we might best enter in to communion with Him, which means we were designed for a relationship that is a reflection and extension of the overflow, love and value within the community of the Triune God. The same dynamic and energy that energizes and binds the very being of God is in us, placed there by God Himself at our creation and later reawakened when His Spirit came to live within us at our new birth. We are created by God and for God, an infinite person of never ending strength, love and beauty, a God who gives and receives love through relationship. And then we are re-created at our new birth for a restored relationship with Him that was lost due to our rebellion.

All other relationships outside of this original one with our Creator are only a faint reflection, or image of that eternal relationship that exists within the Triune God. Out of the Triune community of love and glory expands the secondary relationship between God and humanity which is also an extension and reflection of that original relationship between the persons of the Trinity. As the greatest commandment tells we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and second commandment is like it, which is to love our neighbor with the same attention and care we give ourselves. And why does God say this is the greatest commandment? 23 Because it reflects why we were created and the highest purpose of our existence, to love and be loved by God and to bring that love to others so they too can experience God.

In our constant longing for pleasure and beauty, usually sought from and experienced through another finite individual (though sometimes through inanimate things), we are actually longing for God Himself, the ultimate being who is the never ending pleasure and beauty we are seeking to find in everything else. We simply rarely recognize this, if at all. As Romans 1 says, we suppress the truth in our unrighteousness i.e. in our mad pursuit of fulfillment via the creation instead of the Creator; we fail to see Him in all His glory power and majesty. In short we don’t even begin to see Him for all He is. What we do not understand is this is not for the reason we may think. It’s not because He’s hiding from us but because we are hiding from Him. Remember after Adam ate the forbidden fruit he hid from God, not the other way around. God is always loving, always calling and always displaying His glory to us. We simply refuse to see it i.e. we suppress these realities about God through our unrighteous independent refusal to believe these things.

Now in our present state of separation from our Creator we are left alone and longing for what we used to have as sons and daughters of Adam. It is a longing for paradise lost and the restoration of our original union with our Creator. The greater our awareness of that longing, often through the loss of those things we depend on other than God, the more it hurts. And the more it hurts the more we can come in contact with our true condition and what it is we need and why we exist. Again, this is a good thing. The end and intent behind the pain is our good and not our harm or destruction as we usually think.

The depth of our pain tied directly to our capacity for pleasure and God’s greatness

Doesn’t our ability to experience pain at such great depths say something very significant about our capacity for pleasure? And doesn’t this great capacity also say something significant about what it takes to fill it? Capacity must match the object that capacity is designed to experience/hold in order for that capacity to be filled. The greater the object, the greater the capacity must be and the greater the void when the object is missing.

The greatness of the capacity tells us something important about the greatness of the object. To say it another way, how great a God He must be as indicated by the great longing we have for love. I suggest that our great pain and, as well as our capacity and desire for great pleasure, are directly tied to our being designed for the greatest joy and pleasure in the entire universe. And that is nothing less than a relationship with the highest, most loving, wise, powerful and giving of all beings, God. Our experiencing of great pain is only an indication of our being designed for great pleasure. Not just any pleasure but the ultimate never ending pleasure of knowing the God who is behind all the beauty and gifts which we enjoy daily. If we find created things so beautiful and become so enthralled with them, how much more beautiful the Creator of those gifts must be.

Who would best be able to love and experience God in all the fullness of His love, power, splendor, majesty and glory to the greatest extent possible? Wouldn’t it be God? And this is exactly what occurs within the Trinity. Now consider why God created us? Wasn’t it so we too could experience Him to the greatest extent possible in all his fullness, love, splendor and glory, not unlike God experiences Himself? We get a hint of this in the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

In order for us to love and experience God in the same way and to the same extent He experiences Himself, what must we be like? Like Him or to use the biblical description, in His image. And that as much as possible while at the same time not actually being God, (after all, there is and can only be one God, one Creator, and one Sustainer). I suggest that our being designed to know and experience God to the fullest extent possible, just like He knows and experiences Himself, is at the heart of everything that has and will transpire regarding man’s creation and existence. Not just throughout this life but throughout eternity as well. And in this life, due to our being in His image, and our rebellion and subsequent separation from the Creator, that includes and involves pain.

Our knowing, experiencing and enjoying God in all His splendor, majesty and beauty and in turn displaying i.e. glorifying Him as such, is the ultimate cause behind every action of God toward us as well as toward all the rest of creation. This is the central truth and motive behind the creation of man, the fall of man, the struggle and suffering of man, the bondage of creation, the redemption of man as well as the ultimate glorification of man. It is to know God in all the fullness of every facet of His being, His love, wisdom, power, justice, beauty and majesty to the greatest possible extent, for in so doing we bring Him the greatest honor and glory and in turn experience joy to greatest extend possible as created beings. If that is His goal, and we believe it is, then anything and everything that moves us toward that end of knowing and experiencing and glorifying God to the fullest extent possible is a loving action by God toward us. Even the painful loss of those temporary things we hold near and dear.

Knowing this to be true we can say along with Paul,

II Corinthians 4:10,11, 16-18. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body... 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

And what is that unseen eternal glory that His children are promised one day that is worthy of our most passionate pursuit and great enough to enable us to endure and overcome any present loss, no matter how hard or painful, if not God? Only God could be worth such a pursuit and such “sacrifice” by us. Remember the parable of the man who found a great treasure in a field and went home and sold everything in order to buy that field? What is worth a man giving up everything he owns to gain such a treasure, if that treasure were not God? He is the only One who gives and sustains all other treasures we depend on to keep us going. He alone is worthy of such a pursuit.

Pain, good or bad?

In our natural state we are inclined to see pain only as a bad thing. Certainly death, destruction and loss are not good in and of themselves. And in truth our pain exists not by God’s original design but only because of our rejection of Him at some level.

(However, there is suffering that is not tied to our sin at all as indicated in
Hebrews 5:8-9 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…

Christ being sinless certainly did not experience his suffering due to any sin on his part, yet he learned obedience through it. Why must it be different for us?)

But because of God’s goodness and grace there is always potential for good in our suffering. Dashed hopes and frustrated efforts can often leave us wondering if there is a real and lasting fulfillment in the things we seek so fervently and hold on to so dearly. They can cause us to reflect on whether we were designed for something more, something greater. That wondering is good because it can help us to reevaluate the legitimacy of our current pursuits and causes us to ask whether our pursuits give us what we really are longing for and really satisfy us at the deepest level. And, it often isn’t until we experience pain at a very deep level that we realize that created things, no matter what form they come in, will not sustain us in these times and are therefore not ultimately what we want or need. They simply don’t satisfy us at the deepest level and never can. But often it isn’t until we are in the greatest pain and at the most desperate points of our life that we begin to understand this. Though the things we depend on may comfort us for a season while things go well, ultimately they come up short when things go wrong and the gifts of life flee us or, become inadequate to sustain us. When this occurs we are left desperately empty at best or reeling in desperate and excruciating pain at worst.

But as already suggested we have a dilemma. On the one hand, reality says we desperately need God but in our fallen state, (even as His children) we do not recognize it is Him we need most or at least not to the fullest extent in which we need Him. This is due in great part to our dependence on the gifts of God without a full understanding of them being gifts. Therefore we do not reach out to God for comfort but, instead to whatever we can most easily “get our hands on” that gives us the most immediate comfort or relief at the moment. Be it drugs, sex, entertainment, food, or whatever you wish to fill in the blank with. None of these things in themselves are necessarily bad. What we think they offer and why we seek them is our problem. And, the list can be endless because the greatness of our void is so vast and the availability of God’s **gifts so abundant.

In our most painful times when nothing eases our pain we often get angry and even bitter. In many cases this leads to depression, a common malady among us humans. Feeling pain, anger, and depression of course is not pleasant, so again if we stubbornly refuse to turn to God, we fall into this cycle of experiencing pain, then seeking whatever we can find to help us avoid that pain which usually leads to greater pain. When we are not successful in avoiding it in our usual ways, we seek something new which helps us ease our pain. In this way our life becomes a vicious cycle and mad pursuit of either relief from pain or the pursuit of comfort. And we continue in this pattern unless and until God intervenes or, we call out to Him to intervene. Otherwise we “successfully” find something else to comfort us, but only for the short term with our long-term existence continuing in our state of pain without God or the creature comforts we now enjoy.

(What I describe above is particularly true in American culture. This also explains why many in America are often unresponsive to the good news of Christ’s offer while those in other countries where their next meal is the most important thing are so receptive. This is also why we in America may have to experience a serious economic reversal as a nation before God will visit us again with a major spiritual awakening. I say this because as of this writing (fall of 2010) I believe we may be on the verge of just such an event. That is the occurrence of a major economic downturn followed by a major spiritual awakening).

In our fallen state of rebellious independence we usually do not call out to God but instead reach only for those things that do not require us to consciously trust or depend on God to obtain. We have found that things are easier to control and manipulate than another person, especially God, the ultimate Person, Who is controlled by no one. And, if we can’t control Him, than our choice is to either trust Him or reject Him, and find someone or something else that we have some control over to fill the void. The fact that He controls all things and everything depends on Him for its very existence doesn’t sit well with us in our rebellious condition of wanting to sustain our own lives without Him i.e. to be independent of God or like God as the serpent promised.

**When I speak of the gifts of God I am including all that makes up our person as well such as our eyes that allow us to behold beauty, our ears that allow us to hear the sounds of this world, our ability to smell, taste and touch or be touched; our mind to ponder these things. The time itself we have to use all of these gifts as well as whatever health we may be blessed enough to have just to name some of the main ones. I list these because we do not normally consider these as gifts since most of us have been in possession of them all our existence. The amazing and sad part is we often don’t even think of these as gifts until they are gone.

Pain, a bad thing or a state of being?

On one level we are right about something being wrong with pain. We were not designed for pain and for those of us who have been forgiven and had our relationship restored with our Creator through Christ’s work for us; we will one day no longer experience pain. As scripture says, there will some day be no more tears. The issue however isn’t the legitimacy or illegitimacy of pain or the desire to avoid it, but rather what we are designed for and how is pain legitimately addressed when we experience it.

As already stated, pain is the result of our separation from God. This separation is simply the present state of our existence and pain is simply the consequence of that separation. Since we were designed by God for God, it is not the original state we were created for. Our problem however, is not the pain itself, but our not grasping the true reason it exists and responding accordingly. If we do not see our true state and why we are in pain; that ultimately God Himself is the reason we exist and separation from Him is why we are in pain, we will not turn to Him for the solution but instead continue to cling to things that sustain our independence from Him. This may work for a “season” but ultimately will result in our going into eternity without God as well as all the gifts we now enjoy.

Again pain is not so much the presence of something painful but the absence of someone beautiful, not just anything or anyone, but God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things and the very reason for our existence. In truth every time we experience pain it can and should be a reminder that something is very much out of kilter; something is terribly wrong; something vital is missing i.e. God Himself. In our rebellious unbelief however we, by choice, refuse to recognize it is God that is missing and attempt to replace God with anything we can find to give us short-term relief. To use a biblical characterization, we have all turned away, everyone to his own way.

Let us use a physical analogy to illustrate this: Our bodies must have food and not just any food, but food that consists of all the essential groups that science and the health industry has long ago confirmed are vital for normal body function and health. These consist of fats, proteins and carbohydrates that are rich in nutrients. If we do not have these, what happens eventually, regardless of how good the nutrient deficient food tastes? We break down, get sick and eventually die. Imagine living only on candy. It may have a certain appeal for a time but we all know the outcome, loss of good health (which likely includes our teeth) and eventually premature loss of life. Now let’s translate that to the spiritual realm. We are not just physical, as much as secular humanists say otherwise. (Even they recognize “emotional pain” even though logically it doesn’t fit in their worldview). So when we stop and think about these things, we must ask ourselves how anyone can function properly in the spiritual realm on something other than what it was designed for. Substitutes may work for a time but because that was not the original design, things eventually break down and stop functioning at some point. In the case of the spiritual realm this is spiritual death.

Pain itself is not so much good or bad but simply the result of our current state of separation from our Creator. A state we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and constantly seek to relieve. Our refusal to acknowledge this is our true problem, not our pain. How we respond to this separation with its consequent pain determines whether it will aid us in finding God or hinder us. When pain is “combined with faith” it drives us to God. Without faith in God it drives us away from Him to other things or people. Of course if pain is an aid or means in causing us to come to God that is good. So pain like everything else can be an aid in our finding God, or a hindrance. Faith is the difference and key. We will discuss faith more fully in the last section.

We deserve better and NOW! A root cause of our anger

Instead of addressing the root of our pain, i.e. the separation from our Creator, and acknowledging the need to be reunited with our Maker, we self medicate. This process is so much a part of how our world operates that often even we, as His children, don’t stop to question whether it’s a legitimate way to handle pain. We simply buy into the worlds lie and assume a pain free existence is our birthright. After all, we live in America, right? And that is part of our problem. When we experience pain we assume it’s our right not to and are a bit shocked when we do. We have developed an entitlement attitude toward life even as His children.

20 When this is our outlook, belief and worldview we will usually become angry when we are in pain because we believe we are being denied what is rightfully ours. On the flip side of this, if we become angry as a result of pain, this is a clue that we in fact hold to this errant belief at the core of our being. In our anger we are doing nothing more than demanding whatever is “causing” the pain to stop or change. At our deepest level when we are experiencing our greatest pain, if we believe God exists at all, we sense that God is the only one that can “fix things.” So in our anger we are in essence saying to God, I deserve a pain free existence and you God, need, no ought to do something about this and fix it, and do it now! We don’t just expect relief. We demand it! And then we ask, or whine, “Why?” when we don’t get it. The greater our pain the more we demand relief. Our anger is only a symptom and indication of this deeply held and embedded belief that God owes us a pain free existence. It is our right and we deserve better, and we deserve it NOW! Or, so we think.

Of course this isn’t usually our experience at the conscious level. Usually our anger is directed at whatever is keeping us from what we seek, such as another person or some event that obstructs us from reaching what we desire. Nevertheless we have “bought” into this notion that we should not experience pain for any reason. After all, we deserve better! Pain is not only bad, it is wrong and we have a right to a comfort filled, pain free existence. So much so that this has become the “war cry” of certain political philosophies as well as some churches. And, God is wrong not to give us such an existence. We expect paradise restored and we want it here and we want, no, we demand it now! We want heaven right now and right here on earth, not later. 21

If we take a moment we realize how arrogant this really is. Job characterizes this problem clearly in

Job 35:9-13 Men cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. 10 But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, 11who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air? 12 He does not answer when men cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked. 13 Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it. (Emphasis mine)

The above is a penetrating passage for it gets to the heart of our problem. We don’t truly want or seek God when we are oppressed in hardship and suffering. We want relief i.e. the things that give us such. And because this is what we are really after when we cry out to God, we are puzzled and dumbfounded when He doesn’t respond to our demands, pleas and whining when God doesn’t “hear us.” Often we simply get angry and use God’s non-response as proof that He doesn’t really love us and can’t be trusted because He doesn’t answer our prayers. If he really loved me, He would give me what I want. He would let up and ease my suffering. (Now picture a 3 year old in the store begging for candy from His parents and you get the idea of what we may sound like to God when this is our attitude). This reveals the true nature of our pleas and where they come from. Not from a heart of grateful dependence, but from a heart of arrogant independence. To paraphrase James, we have not because we ask not and when we do we ask with wrong motives i.e. for our own pleasure. Therefore God ignores such cries. What a tyrant He must be (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

We don’t seek God unless we understand the truth nature of our condition and why it exists. To experience God’s ignoring our pleas seems harsh and even cruel when we are going through overwhelming pain. Added to this is the constant programming of our thinking by the world system that tells us we shouldn’t and don’t need to experience such harsh pain. We are told and readily agree that we deserve better!

In addition to these is the assistance of that great counterfeiter and deceiver, Satan himself. His ultimate goal is to keep us from seeing and honoring God, and he allures us with the good and very gifts of God and promises us a sense of purpose, meaning or comfort through unlimited forms to keep us from seeking God instead (remember the temptation of Christ in the wilderness?). He tells us along with the world, “if you are in pain try this, or try that” Of course, with every solution, whether it be drugs, sex or whatever else we use to get a quick fix for our pain, there are always consequences or “side effects.” Most are long term hiding the impact of our choices for a time but some are not. (The ultimate long-term side effect is being in eternal pain and separation from our Creator and all the bounty and beauty of creation). Regardless we don’t care or even think about these at the time as long as we can get some relief now. We are like Esau who gave up the long-term blessing of his birth right for a cup of soup to relieve his immediate hunger.

If we think about it, what is the appeal of virtually every commercial? At some level they all offer us comfort, pleasure, happiness, importance, purpose, love and quickly (and gratification is no longer adequate. We want instant gratification. What a sad commentary on our culture) and on and on it goes, through the products or services being promoted. Sometimes the appeal is to convenience and 22 ease of operation which of itself is not bad. But usually it is a blatant appeal to somehow find life in some form or fashion with no recognition of or need for God as the Giver of all good things. Who needs God anyway when the world is my oyster?

Driven by our desire to avoid trusting God and to remain independent of Him, we have turned the relief of pain into a sophisticated fine art. And Satan is more than willing to accommodate our bent. Not only do we have an incredible *amount of creature comforts but we have them in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and even aromas. We have a myriad of amusements, escapes, distractions, entertainment and pain relievers. There are the medical and physiological ones, where some are legal some are not. In that category some of the main ones are drugs in various forms, legal and illegal, sex, moral and immoral and food just to name a few. Then you have the emotional pain relievers. Food actually fits into this category as well, but there is also entertainment and recreation in all forms that we can participate in ourselves, or enjoy vicariously through others. *Are you ready for some footbaaalllll!?* Or there is the pursuit of some emotional benefit such as respect or appreciation from others that comes through the use of some skill or some item that will enhance some ability or quality we already possess. (And there is always the vicarious comfort in seeing others suffer. This is actually a fundamental characteristic of much of what we call humor and comedy. As the old saying goes, misery loves company even to the point of laughing about it). When our life is built around these things and their use, without any proper recognition and appreciation of how they come to us, the loss of them is a shock to our system and our anger over their loss is only evidence of this deep, subtle and wrongly held belief and value system.

*Especially in the “West.” A friend of mine recently had his mother in law from Russia move in with him. After living here for several weeks now she is still in shock and gets overwhelmed with all the choices she is hit with when going to stores.

The causes and benefits of desperation

Because we usually view pain as coming from hard circumstances we experience we usually view these “painful circumstances” as a bad thing. Good and bad is defined solely by what gives or denies us the most pleasure at the moment. But as we have already discussed these times we are most aware of our pain can actually be a good thing? When we are stripped of those things we derive pleasure from or when we go through such a hard circumstance that the things that normally give us comfort are no longer adequate or available to comfort us, it often drives us to the core of our being and causes us to look at why we are here and what it is we really need and seek. It helps us to reevaluate our real purpose for existence. It refocuses us on what is really important in life. It causes us to ask the very basic question of whether we exist only to obtain and experience the fleeting and temporary pleasures of this world or do we exist to experience something more complete, lasting and permanent. Pain can be a very effective tool in aiding us to see life truly and clearly i.e. from God’s perspective, which is the only true one. It can aid us in seeing that our true purpose is to experience the lasting and eternal joy of knowing our Creator, God Himself. To come to this understanding and the resulting communion with God is truly a good thing. But, often we don’t even begin to come to this realization without great suffering and desperation. When this occurs, pain becomes an important means or tool by which we can find and experience God; therefore we can say along with James 1:2, “I count it all joy when I go through various trials;” and also with Paul in Romans 8:28 that, “…all things work together for good…”

To find God is the most important and ultimate discovery. It has eternal significance as well as present significance of mammoth proportions. As Christ asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world in this life but loses his very soul for all time?” Unlike the pleasures we cling to in this life, we are eternal and not temporary. How can the loss of temporary things compare to the loss of eternal reward and bliss? Simply stated, it can’t!

The more we come to a place where we can’t function without God the more we will seek God and experience Him as our strength and our sustainer and this often does not occur without pain. Finding God often comes out of sense of desperation; that desperation often only comes from experiencing great pain and suffering which creates its own kind of focus and effort.

Self imposed desperation

But that desperation can come not just from externally imposed events outside our control but also from self imposed effort. The bible calls this self-denial or self-discipline and obedience.

In other words God can discipline us so as to cause us to focus and look to Him for strength and deliverance. Or we can fight to discipline ourselves by faith in order to gain clearer focus on God.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

How do we discipline ourselves? By using those aids He provides to help us see Him more fully and clearly. These are sometimes referred to as means of grace. Things such as prayer, fasting, meditation on His word, sharing the gospel with unbelievers, praise, fellowship with others, loving and serving others as God loves us through using the gifts He has given us.

Make no mistake, self-denial, discipline and obedience require the utmost effort. An effort of the heart, soul and mind manifests itself in our actions. Exercising ourselves in these activities involves denying ourselves those things that we often use to distract us from our state of pain and also causes us to loose sight of God at the same time, e.g. it may be fine to work on our favorite hobby but it may be better to spend time with God in prayer instead.* This is not an easy thing to determine or do and requires the utmost faith believing the long term benefit of such actions far outweigh any short term loss.

*If we have walked with God for any length of time we can relate to that loss of hunger for God after indulging for long periods in “good” activities. It is a sense of emptiness and even loneliness that we didn’t have before we engaged in what might otherwise be a socially acceptable activity.

There is always the battle between seeking self-comfort and seeking God. Each has its own unique kind of pull on us. One pull is from the Spirit of God living in us and the other is from our fallen inclination towards self-comfort, or the flesh as the bible calls it. As we grow in the Lord we learn more and more that the distractions in life may offer immediate relief and comfort but leave us feeling empty, flat and wanting something more when done. Whereas seeking God though often hard at the time and not always comforting initially, with perseverance is far more fulfilling and lasting. Which one we choose to pursue is vital to our knowing and experiencing God more fully.

However we are easily distracted and loose sight of the value and joy of pursuing Him and therefore our desire for Him wanes. When we slip into choosing self-comfort, we grieve and quench His Spirit within, lessening His pull in our hearts and enlightening of our minds. Often we must simply choose to act in obedient faith when there is no desire to do so or no indication of immediate reward for that choice. (Which also tells us that a desire for God itself is a gift from God that we shouldn’t take for granted. As Paul says in Philippians, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”) In these instances the only strength we can find to act is our belief that God is faithful and the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. In those times, *faith itself becomes the dynamic that drives our actions. That desire or pull for God is fueled by the faith driven discipline of using the means or tools God has provided and prescribed for us to find and experience Him. As scripture says, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. This is always a battle however, the battle of faith.

* If we become "burned out" from some arduous effort, I suggest the problem does not lie with the effort, but the motive behind it. If God is what we are after and what drives our actions, we will not become burned out no matter how hard we pursue Him. We can never go “to hard” after God.

Our problem in a nutshell

We are in fact dependent creatures. Our pain is nothing more the absence of the Creator we were designed for, dependent on and must be connected to in order for us to be complete as God originally designed. Before our separation from our Creator we didn't feel that dependence in the form of pain but in the form of pleasure, since God was always present, always providing. We trusted in and relied on Him fully. But we opted for independence and launched out on our own to provide for our own comfort and sustenance. In short we sought to be like God, self-sustaining and self-sufficient. (This was the appeal of the serpent in the garden, was it not? You shall be LIKE God…!)

And as long as we are able to provide for and comfort ourselves at the most basic level, we don't feel the pain of that absence of God. And most of us are able to maintain some form of independence but only in a limited way and for a limited time. The problem is we are not as independent as we fancy we are, but in fact we are still very much dependent. As long as we are able we will buy into the notion that we can sustain this state of independence indefinitely and ignore all the reminders of our limited and temporary physical state. (This is why we all hate funerals. We only go out of respect for others, certainly not because it is pleasant or we like being reminded of our finiteness.) But the risk is that we wait until it’s too late to do anything about it. In reality all we have done is just swapped what we depend on; things (or people) for God, creation for the Creator, and in so doing have fooled ourselves into thinking we are self-sufficient. In our fallen condition we deny our dependence on God, just like our first parents did in the beginning and we buy into the myth of independence. It is often during our hardest times when we are not able to comfort and provide for ourselves that we are closet to the reality of our true state of dependence and only then do we begin to ask the hard question of whether we are in fact truly independent and able to make life work on our own. During those times we may start to doubt ourselves and consider entrusting our care to another. But we must first believe there is someone who truly cares, and is able to provide for us what we can not provide for ourselves, and knows what it is that we truly need; hence the first and last part of this book. Unfortunately it usually isn’t God that we choose to be dependent on, but our fellow creatures and other created things instead. Things we think we have some control over. Only by His grace do we see and taste, it is for Him we need and long. If we do not experience Him, we should pray with all that is in us that we will while we now have the opportunity.

Taking the pain out of pain

A big part of what makes pain so painful is not seeing it for why it truly exists, evidence of our separation and need for God. In addition we miss the intent of God in allowing or sometimes causing circumstances that result in pain. God’s desire is to draw us back to Him through everything we experience, including pain, to cause us to call out to Him so we may have true and lasting life in Him. Because we, even as His children, have a hard time emotionally accepting the completeness of Christ’s work on our behalf, a condition also brought about by the fall i.e. the difficulty we have accepting unconditional love, we still think we somehow have to appease God’s anger, earn His acceptance and make payment for our sins in addition to the work Christ has already completed on our behalf. We may believe that the painful events of life somehow do this for us. Even when we know better theologically, this is so embedded in our damaged “psyche” at the deepest level, it’s hard to identify and shake off. Only over time as God demonstrates His grace to us over and over does His unconditional love in Christ start to seep in and we experience this at the core of our being.

When we know, as His forgiven, accepted and loved children, that the ultimate outcome of our pain is intended to be a good end that comes only with God’s good intentions instead of it coming because of God’s judgment or “getting even or back at us” for doing something wrong, is the sting of pain removed. For example, if we experience pain at the hand of an angry vindictive person it carries an emotional quality that is totally different than when we go through that exact same experience at the hands of someone we know is seeking to redirect us to a loving end for our good. When we know there is a good and loving intent behind the action it takes the sting out of the event and we can now consider it all joy when we go through hard times and endure these pain filled experiences. We along with Christ who knows the fellowship our sufferings can endure the cross because of the joy set before us.

Paul asked the question, “death, where is your sting?” in 1 Corinthians 15:54-56. In this passage he points out that the sting of death is sin. However now in Christ the condemnation of sin is no longer an issue (addressed more fully in my commentary on Romans 6-8 in the last section) for those who have trusted Him, pain now becomes a tool for good, not evidence of God’s wrath, condemnation or rejection. Christ bore the wrath of God on our behalf. The barrier of sin is gone forever for those who have received Christ’s offer of forgiveness! There is nothing that can hinder, block or thwart God’s loving disposition or intent toward us in what challenges we may go through ever again, no matter how harsh the experience is. As Christ said, it is finished, and there is now no condemnation for those of us in Christ. Romans 8:1 As a result all things now work together for our good, for those of us who have received God’s forgiveness in Christ and love Him as a result. These painful events are not to our harm, as we are inclined to think. Painful events my come because of the ill will of others, and are not in themselves good, but what others intend for our harm, God intends for good, always. Genesis 50:19-21. As Romans 8:37-39 says…”In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if God is for us, who or what can ultimately be against us!?”

This passage says we are conquerors precisely because hardships do not separate us from God’s love but in fact come to us only because of God’s love. As His children, God is for us, not against us!

Why are we so drawn to created things instead of the Creator?

Now if you stop to consider that this whole idea of our life apart from God being nothing more than a pursuit of comfort or pleasure and the flip side of that coin being the avoidance of pain, it will be helpful to stop again and revisit who we are and who God is. As we discussed earlier God is a God of love. His first and primary expression of love is within His own person among the members of His Triune being. Within His person is the giving and receiving of value, the recognition of His own worth within the threefold expression of His person. We in turn are created in His image so that we too can enter into and participate in this giving and receiving of love, value and worth. In short. we were designed for the joy and pleasure that comes from and can only be satisfied in our participation in the community of the Godhead. But when we turned away from God in the belief that we, apart from God, could better gain for ourselves what in fact only God could give, we severed that relationship.

When you think about it, this was not only a lie it was a slap in the face of God. It was saying to God, “you are not sufficient or worthy of our love and trust. You aren’t the giver and sustainer of all creation, with all its gifts and benefits. Creation doesn’t need you and I don’t need you to make life work. I have found something better than you.” When we stop to consider this, how absurd and arrogant we are to believe these things. The result is our present and constant state of separation from our Creator and therefore a constant state of pain. But most importantly this was a choice we made and still make.

We are always in pain even when we seek to numb it through the use of God’s creation. But that is only because we are totally dependent on our Creator to be whole and have rejected that dependence. Pain is a constant part of who we are now only because of our rebellion from our Creator. The bible uses language such as, lost, fallen, blind and dead, to describe our current state. As a result we now seek and must find whatever we can to fill and replace what we lost. We are constantly on “the hunt,” if you will, to fill this enormous vacuum and feed our emptiness created by the separation from our Creator due to our rejection of Him. We are like walking spiritual and emotional black holes.

To illustrate how desperate we are and how much we depend on “creature comforts” to ease that desperate state, let us consider solitary confinement. It has been said that this is the harshest form of punishment that can be experienced. Have you ever wondered why? Could it be because the things we use and depend on most to ease our pain or give us pleasure are no longer present? In solitary confinement all one has is the reminder of their emptiness. The only possible comfort, aside from God Himself, would be one’s mind and what they could conjure up to distract themselves mentally. (But even this is using a gift of God to maintain one’s independence from Him). For any who doubt our desperate state, stop and think about being isolated from everyone and everything for an extended period of time or try closing yourself off in a dark room for several days and see what happens. The thought of it makes most of us shudder. If it does not, try it and see what happens.

What makes hell, hell?

Stop and think about hell. Isn’t in part what makes hell so terrible the lack of any comfort due to total isolation from everyone and everything and without end? In hell one not only is missing God, who they have rejected all their lives, but also all the creature comforts created by God, which they now enjoy, only because God allows them to, even though they don’t acknowledge them as His gifts to them. These are the things they have sought and clung to all their lives for self-fulfillment. All of this is gone in eternity, forever!

Often we see cartoons (think “Far Side”) depicting hell as one big party where all the “sinners” are together having a blast, indulging in anything and everything their heart desires along with others of like mind, without any concern of consequence (after all, they are already in hell). But we get a very different picture when we look at scripture. Remember Lazarus who the bible clearly suggests was all alone in his torment separated not only from God but from all earthly comforts and relationships Luke 16:19-25. (It is worth noting that Lazarus begged to have his thirst quenched; an expression of the true state of longing in his soul without earthly comforts/gifts present to satisfy that longing. In this case, water.) Is it possible that the greatest terror of hell is experiencing fully our separation from God and the unrelenting burning of that emptiness for all eternity with no relief or way of quenching it? Could it be emptiness that is so strong that it is a burning within even greater than a literal fire without? A condition that will never end not because God is harsh but because that state of separation they have lived in all their lives is now fixed and without any of the creature comforts present they have indulged in throughout their life (which were never theirs to begin with, but only gifts from God) and there is now no chance of remedy for such a state. A state that continues because one refused to see the true nature of things while given the opportunity and rejected God’s offer of reconciliation with Him through His Son. To add to this torture they must live with this knowledge throughout eternity. A state they choose throughout their life that has simply come to its natural culmination and full fruition. No wonder hell is characterized as a state of torment. And wouldn’t it make sense that we would continue on in this current state of emptiness and pain if we refused to acknowledge that what is really missing is the Creator of all the pleasures we have indulged in all our life? Pleasures we have used throughout life to comfort the pain of our separation from Him, without any recognition or gratitude to Him as the true Creator and Sustainer of these gracious provisions?

If one chooses to reject God, the giver of life and all created things, why should we expect God to allow those who have made such a choice to continue in, sustain and maintain that state of rebellion through the use of His good gifts on into eternity just as they did in this life? He only allows us to continue in a state of rebellion now not because he condones our choices but in order to give us every opportunity to turn back to Him. But that in itself doesn’t guarantee His offer or the enjoyment of His good gifts will go on forever. In fact from all indications in scripture the offer is gone once this life is over. But instead in his arrogance, man interprets God’s patience and goodness to mean he deserves the good gifts of God abundantly given in this life. And that God is somehow obligated to give them to him/her and he has a rightful claim to them. How far from the truth we are.

It has been said, earth is as much of heaven an unbeliever will ever experience and as much of hell as the believer will ever experience. This in fact may be very close to the truth.

In hell man will not only remain in the same current state of rebellious separation from God but will also experience the natural consequence of that separation; a complete separation not just from God himself (who he never wanted or acknowledged), but from all the gifts of God he now clings to (and has his whole life without ever giving thanks to God) in order to maintain his current independence from God. The fact is in this life all who do not recognize God as their Creator and the giver of life and all things is living on borrowed time. What we now have and enjoy are not guaranteed to us or deserved by us as we have imagined but are gifts that we can lose at any time. Life itself is a gift and we have no guarantee of tomorrow. To not recognize this now, while we can, is to eventually loose all of it; everything we now enjoy forever.

NOW we have the opportunity to acknowledge the true nature of things. Now we can acknowledge that God alone is the true giver and sustainer of life, no one or nothing else. That all things, no matter what forms they take are gifts from God and should evoke from us absolute gratitude and praise to the Giver. We have no guarantee we will have this same opportunity tomorrow. Once this life is over, it appears our state is set and we cannot go back.

The truth is the gifts of God in this life should point us back to God (Rom 2:4) and cause us to exalt in God as the giver of life and all things. But this is the exact opposite of what we do! Paul clearly addresses this very issue in Romans 1:18-28 and specifically in verses 21-23:

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles… They worshiped the creature (i.e. created things) rather than the Creator.

Is it any wonder God will let us go on into eternity and experience the full fruition of a lifetime of rebellion? We should not be shocked at such a reality. In fact God would not be just to do otherwise.

Just like a loving parent God will sometimes remind us of who we really are, (creatures totally dependent on our Creator) and what we really need, (God Himself) through the painful loss of something valuable to us. We know as parents it is a hard thing for us to give our own children a “reality check” when we see them “off the mark” but just as we do what seems unfair and hard at times in the minds of our kids, we do so to keep them from a greater harm and pain. God does the same for us and for the same reason, because He loves us. It isn’t about punishment or retaliation as we often think but just the opposite. As scripture says, whom the Lord loves, he corrects. Though this passage is addressing Christians, God loves all of His creation and will until their final rejection of Him. Of course those who continue to reject Him will eventually experience the full consequences and judgment of that rejection. They will go into eternity without God where they can no longer receive and experience that love that for the present moment is extended to them. If you are reading this today, that in its self is a gift. God up to this point in spite of your ingratitude has sustained your continued existence. Are you grateful? There is no guarantee of tomorrow. Will you continue in unbelief of God’s goodness He is now extending to you? Or will you fall down in rightful worship and humility acknowledging your great offense to the Giver of all things? He has made a way to restore you through His Son. Will you receive it?

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  1. I went through a divorce as a Christian. It wasn't one that wanted or intended, so it was to say the least an incredible journey in suffering. In one of my dark moments the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" came to mind, and I wondered if the pain of hell--separation from God--would be an infinitely intensified version of the separation from my wife that was happening.

    1. I too have been through a divorce. In many ways it's worse than having a spouse die. It is an ongoing death of the marriage that, in a sense, repeats itself daily. Whereas physical death is once with a lingering suffering.

  2. You seem to only be focusing on emotional pain. What about senseless physical pain, such as a child suffering from some horrible disease? Are you saying that a kid dying of leukemia needed to be reminded of their potential eternal separation from God? I'm sorry, but that is the most ridiculous justification for pain I've ever heard. It makes more sense to say that pain is a sign of tissue damage, and we seek to relieve pain because that will prolong our lives.


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Grace to you
Jim Deal