What is the best path to growing in faith despite the pain and despite the haunting question of “Why?!” when life or events don’t go our way? If we don’t find a way to grow in faith, then we will grow cold in our love toward Christ, which Christ warned us about in Matthew 24:12.
Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries points out how pain forces us to consider a fundamental question of life, “Is God good, and can He be trusted to do what is right?” Pritchard also wrote, “Feeling-based faith won’t cut it when life crashes in on every side.” So, how can better understanding pain in our lives grow us beyond feeling-based faith?
Does God cause pain?
“It depends on what you mean,” said Turek, “by ‘cause.’ Does God bring forth – for example, like in Isaiah 45, where it says ‘I bring calamity.’ He brings the Babylonian army or allows the Babylonian army to take over Jerusalem and slaughter people. So, yes, in that sense, when it is judgment, He does.”
Turek opens our eyes to another meaning of ‘cause’ when he adds, “And God can allow pain or even bring pain for a greater good. In fact, we do that as parents. We bring the kid to the doctor for a shot, and the kid is like, ‘What are you doing?!’ The kid doesn’t understand it’s for the greater good.”
Here’s what Turek didn’t say directly, but which we should notice: There is a difference between the pain of judgment and the pain of growth. Sometimes the purpose of pain will overlap because the judgment causes repentance and rededication which may (after some period of time) cause us to grow closer to God who may then relieve the pain. Manasseh comes to mind. See “Some People Need a Disaster” or “The Christian Plan for COVID-19: Manasseh’s Lessons."
Sometimes the pain is the pain of growth which also requires dedication through self-discipline. Does anything in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 sound like easy living? Underscoring the analogy of running to win or disciplining the body is a dedication to God to avoid being disqualified. This pain, towards growth, may be even harder than feeling pain from what seems beyond our control because we can choose to stop growing, stop trying to win.
Control and trust seem to be the issues that take us right back to Pritchard’s question, “Is God good, and can He be trusted to do what is right?”
The Keyhole Principle
Pritchard also uses an example with children from his article “If God is Good, Why Do I Hurt?” which he calls ‘The Keyhole Principle:'
Said another way, we can’t even imagine all the different ways God is working all things for our own good and his glory. Or we can put it this way: We don’t know what we don’t know.
We are like little children peering through a keyhole. We see a tiny bit, but the rest is hidden from our view. The danger comes in assuming that our “keyhole view” equals the totality of God’s purposes.
What can we learn from this?
1. We won’t understand most things that happen to us or to our loved ones.
2. The understanding we do have will be partial and limited.
3. Some things will baffle us completely.
4. If we get stuck on “understanding” everything, we are bound to be extremely frustrated.
5. Every now and then things will make perfect sense to us. When that happens, we ought to be grateful and even then remember that when we think we know the big picture, we’re still looking through the keyhole of life.
This truth ought to build our faith (“God is at work in my life in 10,000 different ways right now”) and it ought to humble us (“I’m not smart enough to figure out all that God is doing in any particular situation”) and it ought to give us hope (“God knows what he is doing, even when my current situation makes no sense to me”).
Pritchard expands on several truths for those living in the furnace. From the same article above, he shares in three larger sections: God knows what you are going through, spiritual growth is a journey (not a destination), and your trials have a Divine benefit.
Let me remind you Christ is King, and we are answerable to Him. Sometimes He reminds us to give our best through command and example (Colossians 3:17,23; Ecclesiastes 9:10) which means we suffer the pain of growth. Other times we experience the pain of judgment when we foolishly or defiantly turn from Him and His ways.
If pain has made you a skeptic, I agree with Dr. Joe McKeever who wrote “You’re a Skeptic? Good.” He writes, “A ‘healthy’ skepticism is simply an inquiring mind that demands sufficient evidence before it believes anything.”
While we may never know the answers to all our “Why God?!” questions (or any of them for that matter), we can ask for wisdom (James 1:5) to know how to carry forward with His help. The evidence supports God being holy, just, and loving.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
The pain we experience will vary in meaning. Sometimes it is just the consequence of a fallen world. Sometimes it is a judgment from God. Other times? It is a natural consequence of growth through self-discipline. Maybe, with time, we’ll each better see that even though this life is not always easy, God is always good. Have you read Romans 8:28 lately? Make sure you're called to His purpose so you can experience the fullness of this promise. If so, then God will use that pain towards good.