A friend of mine shared this blog post from Kris Vallotton, Prophetic Word For a New Season: Leaving Pain Behind, and it brought some important issues to mind, issues that deal with human suffering and the character of God. Admittedly, I have a lot of personal emotion stored up in both of those topics due to my own season of suffering when my young wife unexpectedly passed away in 2011. But that season led me to some long arguments with God that He eventually won, and, in light of what Vallotton has to say on his blog, I wanted to share them here. Before I get there, though, I want to say a couple things.
First, this blog isn’t here to bash Vallotton or his people at Bethel Church. In fact, I love Bethel Church. I love them because they have grasped onto something that much of the rest of the church hasn’t, passionate and biblical worship. I don’t want to get into that topic now, but I have some thoughts elsewhere on my blog that you can read.
Second, I am a Pentecostal believer, which basically means that I believe in a special manifestation of God’s presence called “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit” wherein God endows His believers who ask Him with an extra portion of the Holy Spirit beyond what is received at the moment of salvation. I’d love to talk about that in depth as well, but that’s also for another blog post I should probably write.
Anyway, I believe that this second baptism sharpens our senses to be aware of God and then unleashes both the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in an exponential way in our everyday lives. In short, I believe that God’s Spirit is inside of me right now manifesting Himself in both holiness and acts of power. I have seen both in my life on many occasions, whether through outright miracles or the simple strength to overcome a sin that has beset me.
I want to be open about those things in hopes that you won’t turn away right now because you either think I’m a fruity, spiritualist nut-job or that I’m here to go bonkers on “name-it-and-claim-it” theology. I’m not a fruity nut nor am I here to join the rage parade with the anti-Osteeners and the ORU-haters. I’m just here to talk.
Now, onto the blog.
First, Pain isn’t all bad.
I will be the first to concede that pain itself came from the fall. Before sin entered the world, pain was outside of creation. When sin entered the world, so did pain, but that doesn’t mean that God only intended pain to be punitive. While punishment was the initial cause for pain, God purposed it for more than just a spiritual spanking. We see this especially in grief, possibly the most painful of all emotions.
If you’re a good-old-fashioned millennial like myself, or even older, you’ll remember life before medicine tasted good. The dread that fell over you when the weather turned cold and you started to cough wasn’t because you didn’t want to be sick, but because you knew mom was going to come home with Robitussin, grab you by the chin in just the right way to keep your mouth open, and then force that disgusting stuff down your throat. The process was awful, but the results we’re remarkable. In minutes, your throat would calm and there was no more cough.
Grief is much like that. It’s good medicine, but it doesn’t feel good going down. It is painful. Painful to face our loss, our tragedy, our broken lives. But it must be done, and God gave us grief as the means to deal with it. Maybe you think I’m just a fatalist, but I’m not sure how else to get around all the Psalms written about grief and from a place of grief, or the book of Lamentations that was dedicated to grief. Grief has an important place in the life of the Christian, and if grief does, then so does pain.
Vallotton, while not directly saying it, left us with the impression that pain is bad and just needs to go. To be honest, I don’t think he meant to do so because he said this, and it’s all true:
1. Pain is rarely the problem; it is almost always the symptom. Give yourself permission to dig deep and find the root of what’s going on.
2. Pain will lead you to the source of your problem. It’s actually a gift and a lead to follow.
3. The level of your pain does not always determine the depth of your problem. For example, a sliver in your finger can feel like you need to chop off your hand because the pain is so bad!
4. Ignoring pain or being afraid of pain often leads to bigger problems.
However, I felt pain itself needed some clarifying. Pain is a part of life, which means that experiencing pain doesn’t mean you don’t have enough faith or that God is punishing you. I’m repeating myself, but pain is a part of life and God means to use it, which leads us to my next thought.
Second, God allows us to go through seasons of pain.
There’s just no getting around this. Here’s a list of people in scripture that God allowed to endure pain for a season, whether physical or emotional:
- Mary, mother of Jesus
- Jesus himself
- Every apostle who was persecuted or martyred
That list is wildly incomplete, but it hits the main highlights of pain in scripture, and it spans lives both within the old covenant and the new covenant, which is to say that people who tell you that pain isn’t a part of the new covenant are just super-wrong. As we read in the book of Acts, the church was mere months removed from the ascension of Christ before saints started getting imprisoned, flogged, or killed outright. For all the miracles wrought in the first days of the church, there seems to have been as many instances of excruciating pain. I see no way, using a tried and faithful hermeneutic, that we can read scripture and then say that pain isn’t going to be a part of our lives as Christians and that God isn’t allowing it to happen.
In turn, we must admit that if God allows us to go through pain, He has a purpose for that pain beyond merely escaping it through faith. It’s more than God laying us down on His heavenly weight bench to see how much we can rep with our faith. What God is doing in each situation is different, but pain should always do two things; first, draw us nearer to Himself, and, second, bring Him glory. There’s a third reason, usually, and that’s to grow our character:
Romans 5:3-5 // 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Now, I will also admit that what I’m saying makes Him seem more narcissistic and cruel than any of the worst pagan deities. But the keyword there is seem. Follow me, here.
Third, the cross has the final word.
That’s the title to a powerful new song from Cody Carnes. Take a moment and listen:
Jesus endured pain, more intense than nearly all of us will ever experience, and when His work was finished, He proved that He was who He said He was.
God. The Great I Am. The Alpha and the Omega. The one true King. Full of love, mercy, and compassion. Period.
We can take comfort during our seasons of pain knowing that God, too, endured pain. Pain with a purpose. We can trust Him through pain because we know He will work all things for good somehow because the cross made the point that He can be trusted. When it comes to pain, the cross has the final word.
To be clear, I’m not at all offended by what Vallotton said. I just think it was a little incomplete. I think God does indeed want to take us from pain, but not until we’ve gone through it. He has a purpose for it, and that’s where the peace you’re seeking can be found.