It’s one thing to discuss pain and suffering as theory. It’s another to share real-life struggles from a place of personal suffering. My friend John S. Dickerson has a painful health condition with stroke-like episodes. He is attempting to encourage Christians who are hurting for any reason, in his new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. The following guest post is an excerpt from the book.
I have spent plenty of time in hospital beds. I’ve also spent plenty of time sitting next to hospital beds—as a pastor, as a dad, and as a husband. From hospitals and funeral homes to coffee shops and airplanes, I consistently hear one repeated question from Christians.
“If trusting in Jesus is supposed to make my life better, then why am I in so much pain? Isn’t my life supposed to be less painful after I trust Jesus?”
I hear so many hurting people ask this question, from sincere and broken hearts. And it’s no wonder. A bloating crowd of “spiritual” communicators today promise us that if only we trust Jesus, He will make our lives problem-free, right now. I call this message “The Myth of Problem-Free Christianity.”
The problem with “Problem-Free Christianity” is that it is not Christianity at all. It was not the faith of Paul the Apostle. He wrote most of the Christian Scriptures while living with the daily physical pain and torment of his “thorn in the flesh,” described in 2 Corinthians 12.
Problem-free Christianity was also not the Christianity of Christ. That’s not to say that Christ is insensitive to our hurts. Quite the opposite. In my own experience with a painful health condition, and in my experience as a pastor, guiding others over the slippery rocks of grief, I have discovered that Christ’s compassionate solutions are sturdier and longer lasting than the sugar-empty promise of anesthetized, pain-free living in the immediate.
And Jesus relates to our pain. After all, His life on earth did not culminate on a beach, sipping a mimosa. It ended with shrieks of agony, simultaneously bleeding and suffocating to death while impaled upon a Roman torture device. Jesus knows how it feels to hurt, because He carried our hurts in Himself.
Paul was one of God’s most beloved and chosen people. And yet, Paul agonized under severe pain in this world. Paul’s thorn encourages all who have trusted in Christ that our pain and difficulty do not necessary mean God is angry or unpleased with us. Scripture describes dozens of people with whom God was pleased who all endured unthinkable pain and suffering during their earthly lives. I will write about many of them in tomorrow’s post.
As the model “second Adam,” Jesus suffered unthinkable pain, and God the Father declared of him, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In a new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments, I aim to dismantle and disarm the destructive lie of “Problem-Free Christianity.”
The myth of “problem free Christianity” is so prevalent in America today that some will read this and say: “Oh no, that’s not right at all. Have enough faith, and you will be immediately freed from your prison.”
I recently interviewed a mother whose spine is broken from a car accident. Sadly, two pastors have visited her house, prayed with her, and told her that the only reason she is not up and walking is her own lack of faith. What a false, heartbreaking, and demeaning message.
It’s true that God can and still does perform miraculous healings, when He chooses, and to bring glory to Himself. I have seen more than one supernatural healing. Here’s what is also true. All the New Testament believers who experienced supernatural healings did eventually die physically and depart into eternity. Additionally, strong faith always healing was not the case for Paul the Apostle. As for problem-free living, most of the apostles who had faith to perform miracles lived or died in literal stone prisons, and their physical bodies all breathed final breaths on this earth.
As for pain-free living, Paul the Apostle wrote most of the New Testament while afflicted with his “thorn in the flesh,” an affliction he describes as daily torment including physical, emotional and spiritual agony.
Few people in Paul’s day were chained in so many jails across such a wide swath of the Ancient Near East. Paul’s exceptional faith in Christ did not typically break open the doors for him to walk out of his prison in beams of light, like a spiritual action hero.
From one of these prisons, Paul describes a joy, peace and contentment unlike anything he had tasted back when he was a free, healthy, wealthy man who did not know Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11 & 4:11-13).
Tomorrow we will explore the supernatural strength and peace available within our suffering.
This blog is an excerpt from my friend John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.