Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What God Sacrificed and What I Gained: Our View Of Pain

Christ was a man of sorrows. (Isaiah 53:3) But for the most part the current generation is unimpressed with the suffering of Christ. It is not that this generation of Christians has an unorthodox view of who Jesus is, it is that they believe that neither he nor anyone else should suffer at all. There are those exceptions to this rule, 1. those seeking revenge and 2. athletes who say “No pain; no gain”. Those who seek revenge do not do so for the sake of justice but simply to get even. It is pain returned for pain. The athletic types understand sacrifices must be made in order to achieve athletic success. They don't do so because they enjoy pain but because they can't bear to not succeed. Which of course is trading physical pain to relieve the psychological pain of not being the best. People who refuse to exercise often incur debilitating health problems. They get caught in a cycle which must be disrupted in order to keep it from destroying their health. The cycle starts with a person being sedimentary in their lifestyle. (This may be due to busyness and responsibility, not necessarily laziness.) Then person declines in muscle tone and cardiovascular stamina. This makes exercising more taxing when it is done. Additionally, it increases the likelihood of injury. Additionally, an unfit body can generally incur aches and pains. So the person decides to avoid the pain of exercise and they remain or become more sedimentary. And this starts to same cycle all over again. The thing the person seeks to avoid, physical pain is increased by the very act of trying to avoid it.
Glory is seen as not a valid goal in our day and age. The goal of fame is seen as fun but not functional. Fame is allowed but is not considered a worthy goal. Happiness is seen as the ultimate goal of life and the means of reaching it is first freedom from pain. Second to freedom from pain is some sort of pleasure. Conventional wisdom says the opposite of pain is pleasure. Both are sensations, one good and one bad. Pleasure helps to understand the worth of something. When we hear the a beautiful symphony, it brings pleasure and thus we appreciate the symphony. Despite the conventional wisdom, the same thing can be said of pain. When we sense the loss of a loved one, we appreciate their life and involvement in our life all the more. The zeitgeist repeats time and time again, “Why is there suffering?” “If there is a loving God, why would he allow all these bad things to happen.” This voice is repeating itself not only in America and Europe, it is being repeated on other continents also. “Why do the innocent suffer?” “If there is pain, there must be a disease, whether it be psychological pain or be physical pain. Treat it, treat it!” The ultimate problem is seen to be pain. Like the doctor treating symptoms and not the disease, you can only manage the problem because it not a cause but an effect.

The Biblical view of pain is quite different. Pain is not seen as the ultimate problem, sin is the ultimate problem. Sin being defined in terms of not living up to God's holy standards. The scriptures see sin as the cause of suffering, not that suffering is evil in and of itself. (Genesis 3:16-19) Often when the question is asked “Why is there evil in the world?” The assumption is that evil is equated to suffering. The real question being asked is “Why is there suffering in the world?” Suffering, rather than being a result of sin and the fall, it is seen as a cause. Suffering was also wrapped up in the solution to sin. (Genesis 3:15b) The suffering of Christ was proclaimed to the means by which Satan was to be defeated. (While Satan is our enemy, but he also is not our ultimate problem.) We are not atonement is not purchased by the mere pain of the sacrifice, it is the life of the blood sacrifice that cleanses from sin. Suffering is a part of the process and helps us to perceive the cost of the sacrifice. While we want to distinguish the effectual element, the life for a life which is paid in atonement, we must also look at the cost of that life in terms of pain.
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