Pain, Comfort, and Hope

My theology of pain is deepening.

When I consider pain in relation to theology, my mind often runs to James 1:2-4. There, James calls Christians to “count it all joy” when tests of faith arise, for such tests produce steadfastness leading to maturity. Closely related to James’s words there are Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-5, where Paul traces the process from suffering to endurance to character to hope. In short, God works all things for good, even difficult things (Romans 8:28).

Until recently, my understanding of this process has been somewhat simplistic. Pain arises, faith is tested, and we respond, either passing the test and growing in maturity or failing the test and remaining where we are. In theory, the process shouldn’t take too long.

But what do we do when the season doesn’t end? What happens when uncertainty or sadness or pain last longer than anticipated? What might God be doing in extended periods of difficulty?

I don’t claim to hold every answer to such questions. The answers may well vary based on the specifics of each situation. But I think I’m starting to see a piece of God’s purpose for ongoing seasons of difficulty and discomfort. I think God, in part, uses such times to redirect our hopes.

I’ve noticed, for example, that distress drives me to seek comfort somewhere, often in a person or a place or a thing that makes me feel safe. At times, however, God removes such sources of comfort from my life and, in their absence, leaves me with only my pain and with himself. Then, and perhaps only then, I begin to understand the sufficiency of his grace, his provision, his comfort. By removing my earthly securities, he reveals my over-reliance on them, disciplining me as he leads me to rest in him alone. He lovingly tests my faith to show my faith’s weakness. Then he begins to strengthen it. But the process takes time. As James highlights steadfastness, so Paul highlights endurance, both emphasizing the ongoing nature of the lessons.

It isn’t just that God knows what is best and has a better plan for us than any we can conceive, though those statements are true; it’s that God himself is best. When the Lord’s work includes the death of a dream, the loss of a hope, or the absence of a security, his goal isn’t merely to shift our gaze from a good earthly thing to a better earthly thing; his goal is to get us to shift our gaze to himself. He is the best thing, the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:16-17), the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Our needs and our desires ultimately find their true fulfillment in him. And our hearts may not learn this lesson quickly. So he makes us wait, working through the suffering and the waiting to produce character and hope. “And hope,” Paul writes, “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

C. S. Lewis wrote of the way the Lord uses pain to show us our weakness as well as to show us the insufficiency of any earthly thing to satisfy us (see his books The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed). Furthermore, because God is good, he will not stop until his work is finished. Though painful, the work will result in healing. Though extended, the suffering will be proven worthwhile. Through the testing of our faith, the Lord makes us more like Christ and draws us closer to himself, doing us a greater good by far than if he simply granted our wishes or met our demands. His is a work of love, deeper and truer than we may presently understand. So hope in him. Trust in him. And find comfort in him.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

Psalm 27:14

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Change, Part Three

As we now learn to welcome and embrace,
We recognize that sin still will infect
Our hearts and homes and homelands, and we face
The difficulty, striving to connect
What oft is torn asunder, faith and works,
With faith our present work is not in vain.
We serve the one who neither shuns nor shirks
His sheep, and he will soon remove the stain
Of sin, for he in justice shall return,
And all that now is wrong he will set right.
We wait and hope, our hearts within us burn-
ing for the dawn’s approach, the end of night.
All our division then will be undone,
The broken brought together by the Son.


Photo by ferreira lucas on Unsplash

Change, Part Two

Let now the hard soil of our souls be tilled,
And let us not resist the needed change.
Let not another be unjustly killed.
Let what is common now become most strange.
Lord, show us our responsibility
And lead us in compassion. Let the cries
For justice not end in futility
But further freedom as our pray’rs arise.
Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak,
And slow to anger with no room for sin.
Let those with power learn to live as meek,
And let this lifelong journey now begin.
Teach us to meet all souls with love and grace
As we now learn to welcome and embrace.


Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Change, Part One

What good are words, and what will they achieve?
For they are small before the might of hate
And faulty too: they bend beneath the weight
Of generations. Can we e’er relieve
The burdens under which our brothers heave,
All hoping against hope that soon the wait
Will end in rest, in justice, in a state
Of peace and love and welcome? Now, we grieve,
For hope remains a hope, a thing unseen,
Desire unsatisfied, dream unfulfilled.
Bring justice, Lord, grant peace, and intervene.
Convict and humble us till we are stilled.
Let tragedy be not the final scene.
Let now the hard soil of our souls be tilled.


Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

God’s Grandeur Considered

As Hopkins saw, your grandeur does not pale,
Does not diminish though we sin and stain
Ourselves and earth. We work in pride and pain.
And through it all, your purposes prevail.
How can it be that we, so foul and frail,
Do not exhaust your grace? For grass and grain
And goodness still persist. You give us rain
And wrap us in provision. Though we fail
To follow, you forgive and give us love,
Your character conveyed in ev’ry sign
And ev’ry word, a freshness undefiled.
Decay, despair, and death touch not the dove
Who brings in darkness brightness so divine
And choicest comforts for the fearful child.


This poem was inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “God’s Grandeur,” drawing on some of his themes and imagery and asking some further questions.

Photo by Tyssul Patel on Unsplash

A Prayer During a Pandemic

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Death’s shadow looms o’er us, but we fear not,
For with us walks the life, the light, of men,
Sov’reign o’er ev’ry plague, problem, and plot,
Perfect in power, faithful yet again.
You have been with us, will be with us still,
Though days be long and lonely in the land.
We feel the curse. So many are so ill.
God, this is not the future we had planned.
But you are e’er at work, and so we wait.
And we believe (but help our unbelief).
Let faith grow more than worry for our fate.
Let worship be our joy and our relief.
O Lord, you give. O Lord, you take away.
O let your name be blessed by us this day.


Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash