C.S. Lewis famously said: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
How true this is.
We’ve swallowed the lie that says we can create Heaven on Earth, that we must cherish the material world because it’s all we’ve got. Christians may intellectually believe in eternal life, but many of us would rather trudge through our mundane lives following lesser goals of making our earthly life more valuable. That is a chasing after the wind (Eccl. 2:1-11), an illusion.
But pain is what inevitably reminds us of the world in which we live: a world that has gone wrong because it’s in grip of the Evil One (1 John 5:19).
In this world, pain is expected, it is rarely invited, and it never gets easier. Death, called the Last Enemy for a reason (1 Cor. 15:26), is the loudest shout God can give. When we lose those dear to us, we have no choice but to dismantle the illusion and face reality. Whether our loved ones are ripped from us in an instant, like a thief in the night, or after losing a prolonged battle with illness or injury, we are left to grapple with the gaping hollow they’ve left behind.
We grieve, mourn, suffer and lament, and as the world itself seems to go dark, suffocating us with its weight of death and decay, we yearn for what ought to be. In the shadow of Death, it’s only natural to echo Christ’s words on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Psa. 22:1).
As Christ anguished under the silence of his Heavenly Father, so are we left to bewail God’s silence in the dark nights of this life, for it truly feels like he is silent. Frederick Buechner comments on this: “In the silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness.”
Yes, what about the Gospel? It’s “good news,” but why? Because in order for it to be good news there has to be bad news. Darkness, sin and death are what make the good news so good because of Christ’s victory over each. J.R.R. Tolkien called this eucatastrophe, coining the term as the reversal of catastrophe. What he meant was that when all seems lost God breaks through with the surprising grace of eucatastrophe.
Pain, then, is the crux of it all. It’s the point at which we must face reality: that we’re fallen, yet loved by God. None of us can avoid the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but God, in his grace, promises to walk with us (Matt. 28:20) and to keep us (John 10:28).
Indeed, Christ has already walked through the Valley for us, as the author of Hebrews explains: “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10).
And Paul takes it further: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Newness of life? Yes! It’s a life in light of eternity: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18; see also 2 Cor. 4:17).
Here I’ll risk a second quote from Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” ~C.S. Lewis
We are made for eternal, resurrected life with God in a world where Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54).
In this life, then, we must harken to God’s megaphone, living in light of eternity (see Col. 3:1-4) because no amount of pain or death in this world will ever detract from the glory that awaits.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jam. 1:2-3).
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2)
Whether in mourning or bliss, strife or peace, let us look to Jesus, knowing that no amount of darkness can change the joy that awaits in the eternal morning, where we will finally share in the promised Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:50-57).