The people's voice of reason


I'm convinced the greatest detriment to faith is the problem of pain. "Why do the righteous suffer?" is a question as old as the book of Job. And it still befuddles serious-minded people who consider faith.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians about his "thorn." We think of a thorn as a slight irritation easily removed with fingers or tweezers. But New Testament scholar William Barclay argued that the word can also mean "stake." It was common to impale one's enemies or criminals in the Roman world, and the cross was similar to a stake. If Barclay is correct, what Paul wrestled with was much more than a simple irritation.

My favorite "thorn" theory is the stoning in Lystra (Acts 14). Paul survived, but perhaps with unmended bones or bruised internal organs. Others suggest he had eye problems, or epilepsy or some other physical abnormality.

Whatever the case, Paul insisted God gave him comfort and encouragement in his pain (2 Corinthians 1: 4-5). The word for "comfort" is the same word Jesus used in John 16 speaking of the promised Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit would be with his followers, so God's comforting presence is with his people in suffering.

But the writer further insisted that believers use their pain to help others. He wrote, "We can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us."

Henri Nouwen published "The Wounded Healer" in 1972. He proposed that Jesus is our wounded healer. He suffered so that we might receive God's forgiveness. And Nouwen wrote that all Christians are wounded healers. We take our pain and help others.

I think of several notable people who suffered, but used their pain for the benefit of others. Candy Lightner founded "Mothers Against Drunk Driving" after her 13-year old daughter was killed by an intoxicated motorist, who was also a repeat offender. She urged President Reagan to sign the bill raising the drinking age to 21, and he did. John Walsh's son Adam was abducted and killed in 1981. Walsh has given his life to law enforcement and "Code Adam" in retail stores is designed to save lives. And Beth Holloway took her pain and founded the "International Safe Travels Foundation." She also is promoting "Mayday 360" which will be the international equivalent of "Code Adam."

Charles Chandler of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation often tells ministers who've been through crises, including involuntary termination, "Don't waste your pain." He believes wounded ministers can be stronger, and can use their pain to help others who walk the same path.

So the question for every Christian to consider is, "How will you use your pain for the glory of God?"

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala., and adjunct instructor of speech at Jefferson State Community College, Hoover. Permission is granted to use this material with attribution.


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