Does Scripture, and this passage specifically, teach that God actively brings pain into the lives of those He loves?
I’ve been pondering this question all week. It’s easy to point to numerous passages in the Bible and flippantly state that God does bring suffering into the lives of His people. This is to gloss over the issue, however, for many of those passages detail cause-and-effect situations. God told the Israelites not to do ____________. If they did ___________, then ___________ would happen. The Israelites did __________, so ___________ happened.
We’re not talking about the consequences of sin. God is more than clear about the things that will happen in our lives if we depart from His way. This is suffering that we bring entirely upon ourselves. Most thankfully, He is always ready to hear our repentant cries and to help us navigate through the mess!
What about things like cancer? Job loss? Stock market crashes? Houses burning down?
What about those things?
Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. – 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NKJV)
Paul’s got this stake hammered into his body, jammed in there by one sent to torment him. We have no idea what this stake was. He could have been sick, he could have been struck with depression, he could have lost a friend. The nature of the pain doesn’t matter when it comes to our understanding of this passage. What does matter is that he was hurting, that he didn’t like it and that he asked God to take the pain away.
Concering: huper (hooper) – in behalf of; over, beyond, more than; more, beyond, over.
Pleaded: parakaleo (parakaleho) – to call to one’s side; call for; summon; address; speak to; exhortation; entreaty; beg; beseech.
Lord: kurios (kooreeos) – He to whom a person or thing belongs; master; owner; title of honor; reverence; God.
Times: kairos (kaheeros) – due measure; opportune or seasonable time.
Depart: aphistemi (afistaymee) – cause to withdraw; remove; go away; desert; fall away; flee from; cease to vex one; to withdraw.
Paul’s mind and emotions are consumed by this pain. I don’t know whether “three times” means “three times” or if the number is representative as in so much of Scripture, but it’s safe to say that this pain was a topic of discussion between Paul and God more than once. The Apostle took what opportunities he could to say, “Oh, Lord, You are my King. Please, please take this thing away from me!”
There is so much comfort in knowing that God listens, isn’t there?
Paul’s perspective in the preceding verse, where he talks about this pain being necessary to keep him from undue pride, must have come after the experience. I don’t know anyone, no matter how long they’ve walked with God, who says, “Oh, yes, I am experiencing _________ so I don’t ______________.” Perspective in cases like this almost always involves hindsight. I find that comforting, too, because it means that Paul was absolutely human.
Paul’s getting beat up. He being knocked about. He’s pleading with God to make it stop. I think that this gives us a starting point in terms of the great Problem of Pain: God alone is the one who can bring the healing, the restoring, the relief, the peace that we so desperately need.
Until next time.
For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.