Over the past few weeks, our immediate and extended family has been hit with multiple cases of illness and death, in one of those when-it-rains-it-pours times in our life. Before we stop reeling over one crisis, another drops in our lap. Since we live in Brazil, when bad news comes, our sense of helplessness increases.
Such an experience must be common enough to our race, however, as the rains-it-pours saying testifies.
Let me share with you three of our common pouring experiences.
At the first judgment, man and woman discovered pain. The woman’s pain at childbirth was magnified. The man’s sweat and toil would be necessary to raise a crop. We have those days when everything seems right with the world, but more often we feel the pain — emotional, physical, spiritual — that runs through the fabric of life. “In the world you have trouble and suffering,” Jesus said (John 16:33 NET).
Through pain, specifically, the suffering of Christ, we learn the mercy of God. Probably, pain more than joy drives us to consider our need for God, so Ecclesiastes says the day of mourning is better than the day of partying (Ecclesiastes 7:2; 7:4). But at every moment, we need God, whether we realize it or not.
In that great song, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” Annie S. Hawkes wrote,
I need thee every hour in joy or in pain,
Come with me and abide or life is vain.
George Matheson wrote in the song we know as “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go,”
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
As Matheson’s poem hints, heaven is the place where there is no pain. I’m not a person who feels constant physical pain like some; mine tends to be more mental anguish at the sorrows and tragedies of life. So can’t we all appreciate that Place where pain is absent?
Death comes to all, as a part of the curse upon our race for opening the door to sin. Paul writes that “sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:13).
But there’s good news. God has power over death. “Our God is a God who delivers; the Lord, the sovereign Lord, can rescue from death” (Psalm 68:20). How does he deliver in the ultimate sense? Not by keeping us from dying, but by guiding us through the door of death into the safe haven of eternal life. He saves us from the second death.
Paul has more. “My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). When our life is in God’s hands, when our feet follow the path of the Lord Jesus, when our aim is to serve the kingdom exclusively, then our death has meaning, makes a difference, becomes, when we embrace it, a means of grace for grace.
Jesus, so to speak, fought fire with fire. He conquered death by dying. He released us from the fear of death, because death cannot now do its worst.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).
So, like pain, death is banished from heaven.
Paradoxically, life in Christ increases our struggles on this earth. We enter the fray against sin, to keep it at arm’s length by the power of his Spirit.
“No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
No one suffers more than another saint. As my good brother Ricardo Santos said just yesterday after our meeting in Taubaté, “Each person has his own fight.” Though the particulars may differ, we all, without exception, face our inward battles and trudge through the outer trials.
No Pain, No Death, No Temptation
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more — or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Every day heaven’s glory grows brighter, as the weights of this world break our bodies and worry our souls.