“Pain is a blessing in disguise.” Really?
Today, many Christian women seek psychotherapy. Surprised? Because Christians shouldn’t feel angry or depressed.
I have struggled with doubt and loneliness due to infertility. With the Christianese platitudes that ensued, the sense that people in church disapproved of my struggle was hard to miss. As a Bible study leader, I wasn’t supposed to struggle.
Some of us feel uptight about pain. So we rush others through their pain. We try to fix it instead of letting God fix it, all in the name of Fake Happy. But the plastic church smile only perpetuates pain.
In church, as soon as we mention divorce or alcohol addiction, we get shunned. Mentioning depression spells spiritual suicide. Church works until we confess our struggles. But life doesn’t always spell sunshine and lollipops.
Society teaches us that pain is abnormal. But pain has a purpose. Like a car’s “check engine” light, it alerts us that something needs immediate attention. Medical science has designated a term for a person who does not feel pain: DEAD. Pain comes with humanity.
I blame the prosperity gospel. This false gospel says God will give "true Christians" happiness by way of godly children and six pack abs—and those who struggle with chronic illness or family dysfunction must not possess true spirituality.
Nowadays, people act crazy everywhere: in airports, movie theaters, schools, and Walmart. We witness more bloodbaths and natural disasters now than I can remember. I think back to Genesis 3. Adam’s sin destroyed creation’s purity. Now our hair turns gray and our butts sag. Satan now rules the cosmos and the whole creation groans under the curse. In a corrupt evil world, why does Christian suffering surprise us?
Consider righteous Job. Some would say God threw Job under the bus. But sometimes our suffering has nothing to do with us. Sometimes God ordains wounding because he feels like winning a bet with the devil.
Pastor JS Park explains it this way: Job expressed anger over his situation. In the Bible people did not hold back their true feelings from God. So why does church culture dictate just getting over our pain? Do we fear looking discontented will make others think we have weak faith? The fake church smile does not make real strugglers want to attend church anyway. When Christians trivialize pain, people feel angry towards the church and disillusionment with God. If we fail to offer a safe place to struggle, people will leave the church and find other places to express pain. Like the local bar. Jesus doesn’t dog us for struggling. Jesus took a particular interest in the sick, poor and lonely. And he didn’t rush them through their healing.
Revelation 21 says that things will get worse before they get better. God will make a new heaven and new earth where pain and death will not exist. But this will not happen until God destroys Satan and lifts the curse permanently.
In the meantime, Romans 8 ministers to the suffering:
· We inherit the current sufferings and future glory of Christ.
· Suffering is temporary and light. Glory is forever.
· Suffering will come in all forms for any reason.
· We need to endure "with perseverance" through sufferings.
I trust these Bible references have made you snap out of your pain. Yeah, right. Pain hurts. As a seminary student, I can say that knowing all the right theology does not always help. But I hope this sheds light on why we suffer. Trusting God does not cancel pain. But pain should not lead to shame.
So should we slap the suffering with theology like I just did? What should we say to stop her pain? Sometimes nothing.
When a person hurts, and we overwhelm her with over-generalized over-spiritualized Christian platitudes, it can come across as insulting, insensitive, and sometimes impractical. These fuzzy blanket cliché’s irk me for two reasons: 1) They guilt people into silencing their true feelings. Then they don’t express pain and don’t heal. 2) They’re not foolproof.
Maybe fear and sadness are valid human responses to wounding. And maybe the wounded needs a hug (and some chocolate). Our tired Christian quotes can perpetuate pain. We don’t have to tie a red satin bow on life. So let’s stop apple-polishing the gospel.
A Christian should try to rejoice in suffering—if she can. But if she feels like dying inside because her child has leukemia, or her marriage is falling apart, don’t make her feel worse.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Randy Alcorn points out that Satan will attack believers with bloodthirsty hostility. He uses suffering as a catalyst to destroy families and witnesses. If he can’t make the believer renounce her faith, he will at least try to make her a miserable Christian.
Ask yourself this: when someone confess her struggles, what vibe do I give off with my words, my facial expressions, my body language? Do I give off compassion? Or do I make her feel like a freak?
Because of sin, humans deserve to suffer. The Bible says the wages of sin is death. How’s that for a Christian platitude?