Pain - and another request for sermon help
Maybe you've waded through CS Lewis' "The Problem of Pain", or maybe you've seen the movie "Shadowlands" about his life, in which he reminds us that "pain is God's megaphone, seeking to get our attention." Or perhaps you're familiar with Simone Weil, and her classic statement about beauty and pain being the only two ways in which we encounter God (someone could please help me with the exact quote?).
I get it at the conceptual level, but at the level of reality, there are times when this whole, "pain will bring you closer to God" stuff is hard to embrace. I've been studying Hosea 6:1-3 today in preparation for preaching this coming Sunday. Put in the worst cynical light, a casual paraphrase of the sentiment found there might read something like this:
"Hey there everybody, it's time to return to God! Because we neglected Him, He threw a fit: destroyed our crops, killed our kids, leveled our land. Most of our families were broken up by war, and the great mass of us have been taken captive. But hey... He's a God of love, so let's come back to Him now and worship Him. After all, He was really mad, but that's behind Him now, and we're certain that He'll bring restoration, goodness, and mercy to us. I just can't wait to fall in love all over again with the One who takes credit for these disasters. I'm sure He has great things in mind for our future...." This skewed lens of bitterness needs to be dealt with if we're to get on in this fallen world and have an honest relationship with God.
So I'm preaching on this Hosea passage this coming Sunday. I need to address the reality that our idealistic and romanticized notions of love have somehow created an expectation that love and discipline, love and suffering, love and pain are mutually exclusive. I understand that mindset, because living in a fallen world, much is done in the name of discipline, pain, and suffering that is nothing more than destructive abuse. AND yet.... it's also true that where there is no discipline, it's a sign that there's no love. AND it's also true that down through the ages, countless millions have turned TO God in the midst of pain and suffering rather than away, finding the only sense of comfort and shelter possible, and able to function as people of joy and dignity precisely because they did not endlessly rail in bitterness against God. Geoffry Bull comes to mind as one of many millions. I've seen this many times in pastoral care situations. I don't know that suffering can always be categorized: "this is discipline..." "this on the other hand is simply the result of living in a fallen world." But I do believe that God CAN and DOES use suffering to draw people to Himself. and have some thoughts of my own on the valuable role of suffering, and God's character. Those are some preliminary thoughts of my own. If you have thoughts on the relationship between suffering one's relationship with God, I'd like to hear them. I really appreciated the input a couple of weeks ago, and any offered now would be helpful.