Oct 3, 2010

The Problem of Pain

Greg LaurieBy Greg Laurie
Harvest Ministries

Without question, the Christian life is the greatest life you could ever live.

And why is that? I can't even count all the ways!

God takes a life that was empty, aimless, and headed toward certain judgment, and turns it around and transforms it. He forgives us of all of our sin. Moreover, He credits the very righteousness of Jesus Christ into our "spiritual bank account."

He removes all of our guilt, and fills the void in our lives with Himself, as He literally takes up residence in the very center of who we are.

Most importantly, He changes our eternal address from a place called hell to a place called heaven.

This all comes as a result of the power of the gospel proclaimed and believed. And when we do believe, we are gifted with a new desire to glorify God with our lives.

"But wait; there's more!"

It's absolutely true that when you trust Christ as Savior, God removes a whole set of problems you used to have — including the nagging guilt and that empty sense of aimlessness in life that used to haunt you.

But we need to understand something else: there will be a whole new set of problems that will take the place of your old problems.

That is because the day that you put your trust in Jesus Christ, you enter into a battle — warfare that will last for the rest of your life.

Why? Because not only is there a God who loves you and has a plan for your life, there is also a devil who hates you, and fiercely opposes God's plan.

Some are surprised to find that the Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground. And that is why the apostle Paul said, "Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."

I bring this up because some have believed in a watered-down gospel. This diluted version of the true gospel promises forgiveness, but rarely tells you of the need to repent of your sin.

It's a gospel that promises peace and plenty, but never warns of persecution. It's a gospel that says God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, and never have any problems to speak of. It's a gospel that says you can so wrap yourself in God's favor that there will always be a parking space available for you at the mall.

My friend, that is not the gospel of the New Testament. I can assure you, the last thing on Paul's mind was, "How can I find a great parking space?" He had other objectives that gripped his heart and soul.

What am I saying here? That God wants you to be sick, poor, and miserable? That He doesn't want you to be happy? No, that's not my point.

I believe that happiness will come as you really follow the Lord. But it is a byproduct — a fringe benefit of belonging to God in Christ.

The essence of the Christian life is knowing God and walking with Him.

It's about sticking with Him when the sky is blue and also when it's filled with clouds or choked with smoke. It's about walking with the Lord through thick and thin, and pressing on through every heartache and trial that happens to come our way.

Jesus made it clear that storms will enter every life. But it is through these storms and hardships and tribulations that we will enter God's kingdom.

As Dr. Luke phrased it:

"And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God'" (Acts 14:21–22 NKJV).
We don't always like to read a verse like that. It's probably not a passage we want to write in calligraphy on a plaque and hang by our front door.

We would rather the passage read, "Through many days of perpetual happiness, we enter the kingdom of God." But that isn't Scripture, and that isn't life. Trials and tribulations will come.

Job said it well:
"Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1 NKJV).
Another version translates it like this:
"How frail is man, how few his days, how full of trouble!" (TLB)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told a story about two men who built two homes. One of the builders erected his home on shifting sand, while the other built his home on a stable rock foundation.

Then the storms came, with wind and driving rain hitting both of those houses—hard! The house that had been built on sand collapsed and fell in upon itself, while the one built on the rock stood firm.

The obvious moral of the story is to build your life on a foundation that will last, like the one we find in the pages of God's Word.

But here's an application we sometimes miss. The storm came to both lives. The wind beat on both houses. The rain poured on both building sites.

The man who was wise and carefully chose a stable foundation got hit with the same hurricane-force winds as the man who foolishly took shortcuts and didn't bother to plan ahead.

No one is exempt from experiencing storms in life. Good things will happen to us, as well as tragic and inexplicable things. Every life will have its share of pain.

As much as we would like to believe otherwise, none of us can take an extended vacation beyond the reach of human suffering and tragedy.

Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli summed up life in this pessimistic way:
"Youth is a blunder. Manhood is a struggle. And old age a regret."
I understand Disraeli's pessimism, but allow me to offer another answer: God is in control of the life of the Christian and can actually bring good out of bad. That is what the Bible teaches, and that is what I believe. That's not to say that God will make bad into good, because bad is bad. But it is to say that good can come out of bad.

As Romans 8:28 affirms:
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (NKJV).
A better translation would be, "He is causing all things to work and to continue working together for good."

Life is a process and, as finite beings who live moment to moment, we can't see around the bend. We can't discern God's ultimate purposes.

But we can know this: He is watching and caring — in control and loving us with an everlasting love.

Related Links
The Problem of Pain - Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul)
The Doctrine of Suffering - Bible.org (J. Hampton Keathley, III)
What does the Bible say about suffering? - GotQuestions.org
Groaning Under the Curse - BPT (John MacArthur)
Signs of the Times: What the Bible says about The Rapture, Antichrist, Armagedon, Heaven and Hell - Greg Laurie (Book)