Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Choose Your Pain

Now there's an appealing post title, eh?!

I wonder how many of us would read that and think to ourselves, "Uh... none of the above, thank you very much!" Most of us learn from an early age that suffering is bad and to be avoided and escaped as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Maybe that's why we often cock our heads and grunt a hearty "Uuugh?" whenever we read things in the Bible like James 1, "Consider it all joy when you experience various trials... Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial."

What's interesting about that particular text is that the same Greek word used for "trial" is also used later in the chapter for "temptation." "Let no one say when they are tempted, 'I'm being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when they are carried away and enticed by their own lust."

All of us have times where we battle within ourselves between community and selfishness, between right and wrong, between good and evil. The struggle is a universal reality and it's one of suffering. Trial and temptation. Sometimes the tension is so strong we run to sin and selfish indulgence just to gain some temporary relief... only to find even more suffering!

For example, the wanting for loving intimacy or sexual fulfillment causes many to long and suffer. But the action of alleviating that suffering through immoral indulgence has worse consequences! Broken relationships, bad habits, scarred hearts... stuff the Bible describes as "war against the soul" and "sin against the body". Suffering in temptation is uncomfortable. But suffering from sinfulness can be devastating.

As strange as this might sound, I find a certain kind of liberty in the knowledge that, until Jesus heals this sin-sick world, suffering is a guaranteed part of my daily reality. It frees me from vain attempts at alleviating the suffering of temptation by giving into sinful indulgence. I know there are only two paths to take, suffering from resisting sin (leading to victory and joy) or worse suffering from giving into it (leading to defeat and despair).

For those who are in relationship with Jesus, resisting sin comes not only with suffering but also with encouragement, comfort, and victorious celebration from the God who suffers with us. After all, Jesus himself was "tempted in all things as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). He knows our struggle and enters into it with us.

The world is full of suffering and struggle. You don't even need to believe in God to know that. It's just part of the human experience (for now). The only question left for us is which kind of suffering we choose and will we allow God to be in it with us?

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