The Pain Train. All aboard. Like Mumbai’s commuter railway during rush hour, no one wants to ride it. No dining car and no sleep car. One thing is for certain—this locomotive is no luxury liner. My junk and I hauling at 1999 modem speed, I anticipate the very next stop. I want off this thing. But the train keeps moving. I run to the caboose and notice the train tracks behind me that disappear into oblivion. How long have I been on this thing? And who bought my ticket? What a cruel joke. I pray the train derails. I’ll rush to the front of the train and bang on the conductor’s door. I will demand that he stop the train and let me off.
John Piper says the Bible calls pain normal and necessary. Thus, we should not be surprised to read of the bloody battles, infertility, adultery, and murder that splatter the pages of the Old Testament. In fact, the oldest biblical record starts with unjust inexplicable suffering. Allow me to switch over to theology-nerd mode.
Unwitting Job was a blameless man who rode the Pain Train for doing nothing wrong (Job 2:10). In modern vernacular, “God threw Job under the bus.” In reality, Satan bullied Job in an attempt to show God that Job loved God only for his blessings. God told Satan, “ . . . you persuaded me to destroy him without cause” (Job 2:3). Clearly, Job’s suffering did not stem from sin or a lack of faith. Some insist that those who live righteous upright lives should not have to ride the Pain Train. But Job suffered immense pain. And God allowed the temporary suffering of this faithful righteous man in order to prove a point to the devil.
The Book of Lamentations shows that God welcomes intimacy with humans. In this poem about despair, the prophet Jeremiah cries out to God over the destruction of his home. In his agony, Jeremiah did not enter God’s presence in a tuxedo with Brylcreemed hair. He arrived unshaven, with unbrushed teeth, sharing his true feelings with God. God wants authentic relationship with his children, not formal artificial relationships. God does not censure human emotional outbursts. God encourages honesty with him.
I make my way up to the front car. The door to the conductor’s quarters lies ajar. I peek in. Jesus? What are you doing here? And why are you wearing that getup? I liked your dust-covered tunic and sandals. Digression and cheese aside, my point is this: Jesus did not invent the Pain Train. But he conducts it. I can choose to cry alone in a freight car. And that’s OK. He allows for that. But I can also ride next to him and see where he’s taking me. The train may not stop until we arrive at the station in the sky. But riding the Pain Train is a normal and necessary part of living.