Robertson School of Government
What is the purpose of pain and suffering in our lives?
This existential question is a foundational element of a religious worldview. Christianity posits that in God’s economy, none of our life experiences are “wasted.” There are no mindless or meaningless moments, even in the midst of the most profoundly troubling life events.
As I reflect on the meaning of my life and the role of affliction, I am profoundly reassured by one of the great mysteries, the paradoxical balance between my free will decision making and God’s omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient management of the universe. I now discern with crystal clear clarity God’s fingerprints in the sorrowful moments of my life, both before and after salvation.
God’s direct involvement raises many questions including does God intervene in every person’s life? If so, is the nature of the intervention different for Christians and non Christians? Scripture is clear that God loves us all equally, is no respecter of persons, and has written eternity and his law in our hearts. Yet there are other scripture passages that indicate that God selects the saved and that many are called, but only few are chosen. Do we really possess free will? What role does God’s intervention play in our pre-salvation experience? If God knows in advance who will embrace salvation, is there truly freedom to decide? All of these issues are worthy of discussion, but I raise them not as the epicenter of this discussion, but as presuppositions to the main point, that in God’s economy, even our suffering promotes God’s will when we trust and embrace Him as Lord.
I would like to illustrate this point with two life lessons. The first relates to my 30 plus years of suffering with anxiety and panic disorder. Praise the Lord that I am delivered from its pernicious control, but I now realize that this hideous weapon formed against me, a condition that I would not wish on my worst enemy, a condition that imprisons mind, body and spirit, that dominates every waking thought and haunts sleep and dreams, that is one of the “gifts” of the Satanic anointing, a foretaste of hell in the experience of dread, darkness, hopelessness, and despair, was the instrument of my salvation.
What the enemy meant for evil was turned into a good. Without the panic disorder, I would have been in all likelihood a self-righteous, self sufficient smug atheist/agnostic reveling in my rebellious state. I exhausted every worldly remedy, but like the thief on the cross, I finally chose to humble myself at its foot. The ultimate decision is who we trust with the pain and suffering. Do we choose worldly sorrow, or do we cast our suffering on Jesus who turns sorrow into joy?
I do not state these words lightly given the depth of the suffering that humans can experience, but like the Apostle Paul, I understand now for this temporary state of affliction I gained a far more eternal weight of glory! What would it have profited me to have gained all manner of worldly success, but lose my soul! I thank the Lord for my pain and suffering that led me to Christ, who bears all of our infirmities and sins.
A second example relates to the workplace. For those of you who have been fired for cause or performance reasons, the experience can be very traumatic and humiliating, especially if one manifests prideful perfectionistic tendencies. I completed my Masters in Public Administration degree with a 4.0 average, and obtained an excellent entry level career position in human resources with Kimberly Clark Corporation at a paper mill in Alabama.
Things were moving forward, and I was on one of my “lulls” from the panic attacks. There are many career lessons related to my experience, but the most profound related to that final interview as the Plant Manager terminated me. The “straw” that broke the camel’s back related to what I considered to be a “minor” job duty. As personnel representative, I coordinated the recognition events for work teams that exhibited zero accidents for a designated time period. Working in a paper mill is dangerous, and safety is a life and death issue. When work teams avoid injuries, there is great pride and joy for both rank-and-file and management.
At one of these events, the recognition cake did not arrive from the bakery. As personnel representative, I had completed all of my required duties for the event, and I was too busy flirting with two attractive female employees to notice that the men and the supervisor were greatly upset. It was not in my job description, so why be concerned? I was too oblivious to notice the consternation and anger of the supervisor.
Later that week, the plant manager called me into his office on Saturday. He politely but firmly stated that they must reluctantly terminate me for ongoing performance deficiencies including my lack of “common sense” and initiative related to the “cake” incident. He left me with words that forever will be with me. He said “Gary, what you did at the recognition event is like driving down a rainy road at night in the midst of a storm. You see a large log in the road in the middle of your lane and are able to stop and drive around it. You miss it, but what about the next person? What if that person was your wife or daughter? You could have stopped and cleared that log and saved a life.”
Those words resonated in my spirit, and humbled me in a profound manner. I was crushed by the termination, and it led to one of my most debilitating periods of anxiety and panic disorder, but as I reached a low point in the flesh it removed another “prop” of support and that ultimately led to the day of salvation.
Ultimately upon reflection I learned powerful life lessons that benefit me to this day. When I see debris or road hazards, I stop and clear it, or call the emergency road hazard number. Logs in the road are in my job description, just like Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan! I admit that I do not stop at every road hazard, but I take action when I can and pray for other “Good Samaritan” laborers to finish the job. At work, I am cognizant of the “road hazards” and strive to take responsibility for problems that I did not make, but in which I can help others. As servant followers and leaders, solving problems and helping others is a perpetual and eternal duty. Again, the weapon that the enemy formed against me did not prosper as I learned powerful lessons.
May the Lord help you gain pearls of great value from the trials in your life, and embrace the wonderful promise of Romans 8:28 that all things work out for the best for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.