“Oh, I think I’ll probably get over it in two or three weeks,” a friend once confided to me. This person had experienced a betrayal that was nothing short of devastating.
“Ummm, I’m not so sure,” I replied. “You’re in a lot of pain. It may take you awhile to get over it.”
The person was incredulous. “What?? You’re not supporting me. I wish you would believe in me.”
“I do believe in you, but it takes time to heal.”
Five years later, this person is still feeling its affects. The road to recovery has been long and hard, yet we can see definite progress.
How do we find hope in the midst of overwhelming pain?
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INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Hebrews 1:1-2:18. One of the greatest debates through the centuries involves the identity of the author of Hebrews. Different theories exist; some say Paul, Apollos, or Barnabas. While possible, surely the identity of these men would have been included at the beginning if they had written it. People who specialize in analyzing writing styles say that it differs significantly from Paul’s epistles—yet it shares certain nuances that are reminiscent of him. So the nameless person was probably acquainted with Paul, but why would the epistle go nameless?
Here’s my theory: if a man had written Hebrews, his name would have been attached to it. But if a woman wrote it, her name would have likely been omitted out of concern that it wouldn’t be accepted in a male-dominated culture. But what women could have possibly written this letter? She would need to be quite familiar with the great aspostle. In various places, Paul acknowledges the gifts of Phoebe of Cenchrea (a deacon, Romans 16:1) and Junias (a female apostle, Romans 16:6). But to me, the logical option is Priscilla, whom Paul calls a “fellow worker.” Historians acknowledge that Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, were a dynamic ministry team that traveled throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, Priscilla is given unusual prominence in the New Testament, often being named first when she and her husband are mentioned. So that’s my theory. Feel free to disagree.
Hebrews is written like a long sermon, so it is probably best understood when read in one sitting. The underlying theme is pain. Persecution against the Christians was beginning to increase. Relatives were trying to convince the Christians to avoid the suffering and return to the Jewish faith. So the author presents a convincing case that following Jesus is the better way. People who advocate that Judaism and Christianity are basically the same won’t like this book.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Pain and suffering seem to be the prevailing theme in today’s reading…
The byline of Psalm 102 describes it as “a prayer of an afflicted man.” The pain expressed bears a close resemblance to my friend who I mentioned earlier. The psalmist writes in verse 4, “I forget to eat my food.” My friend lost a significant amount of weight as a result of feeling distraught over this particular devastation.
If you’ve experienced pain of this sort, then perhaps Psalm 102 can serve as a nodding head that expresses and affirms your suffering. If you haven’t experienced this kind of pain, then Psalm 102 can give you a window of understanding into the pain of others.
And what good can come out of our pain? The psalmist continues in verse 18, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” While God doesn’t waste our pain, usually we’re unable to see it from his perspective in the present. But looking back, often grants us a better perspective.
In the same way, Jeremiah laments the pain of the destruction of Jerusalem:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:21–24
Jeremiah found hope for the future by recounting God’s faithfulness in the past.
The deliverance from our pain rarely follows our timeline. But look at it this way: the fact that you are still alive is evidence of God’s faithfulness. The fact that your pain hasn’t consumed you is evidence of God’s faithfulness. Your heart still beats and you still wake up every morning.
If God has carried you in the past, he will continue to carry you in the future.
It’s no mistake that Psalm 103 follows such the heartfelt lament in Psalm 102:
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:1–5
Sometimes our pain results from making poor choices. Lamentations is an example of that. Other times, our pain results from making good choices. Hebrews is another example. Pain is an equal opportunity offender. Yet God redeems any life from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion.
The temptation is to blame God when we suffer. At times I have accused God of enjoying himself watching me squirm. Yet Jeremiah tells us, “[God] does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). He doesn’t willingly cause unredemptive suffering.
So what role does he play in our pain? Here is our additional hope on this side of the cross: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Jesus understands our pain, and he can help us in our pain because he has suffered pain.
At various times, I’ve shared a little about a previous painful church experience. In the middle of my suffering, I felt like God was against me. I cried out to God and assumed he was sitting in heaven with his arms crossed, watching me suffer from afar. Eleven years later, I can look back through my pain and identify crucial moments when he gave me the strength to get through it. When I cried out to God, I now realize that Jesus joined me in weeping over my pain.
And today, I can see the important lessons he worked in my life as a result of it. While I wouldn’t want to relive it, I have no regrets about enduring it.
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” Psalm 102:18
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- What does your reading from Hebrews tell you about Jesus? What word or words does the author use to describe him?
- What encouragement does the Hebrew reading give you regarding suffering?
- Think back to a time when you experienced pain. How did God carry you? How did God change you?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.