“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain” C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain.
Someone has it in for you at work. They have aligned with a clique that has made it clear you don’t fit and they all wish you were gone. They have the boss’s ear. You are being treated like a sub-human, lied to and about, and mocked (sometimes not so privately). It’s a living hell and you don’t know how you can keep coming back to your job day after day and week after week. You’re being punished for being you. You're alone.
The love of your life has crushed your heart. There has been infidelity and it has been going on for a while right under your nose. Not only has your spouse been intimate with someone else but everything associated with your marriage is crumbling. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that divorce is looming and the kids are going to pay the price for something they had nothing to do with. The home is literally, spiritually, and even financially being destroyed right before your eyes. You can almost hear the demonic chuckles.
Your child, your spouse, your sibling, or your parent has been taken from you with little or no time to prepare. An illness, an accident, a tragedy, or a crime has cruelly taken so much with so little regard. You are left breathless, clueless, and maybe even penniless. There’s a lot of sympathy, a fair amount of callousness, and a little help. But it’s like giving a baby aspirin for anesthesia to someone who is about to have open-heart surgery. It doesn’t touch the pain or despair. Death is now your life. There’s nothing else.
There is not enough time to illumine all of the scenarios that crush the soul and weigh down the spirit. When people say “time will heal” what they really mean is that eventually, you will care less than you do now so you won’t hurt as much then as now. But anyone who has been beaten down in this life knows what a lie that is. Yes, life does go on. Memories get frayed around the edges, and sometimes even a measure of normalcy returns. However, when the heart is crushed, and since love is eternal, time doesn’t really do anything to heal it. Broken hearts and crushed spirits often produce bitterness, despair, and loss of hope. All that is bad news for faith and Hebrews 11:6 makes it very plain that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God]…”
What a catch 22. You must have faith to please God but the beat down you receive in life makes having it challenging and growing it nearly impossible. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)
When Holy Week began on Palm Sunday Jesus knew what kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual horrors were coming His way. He had, after all, predicted it. He also knew the prophecies, particularly those from Isaiah 52-53. He knew the wrath of God must be poured out on Him at the cross. Not only was He to be the new Passover Lamb, but He would also be the new scapegoat (Leviticus 16). How do you walk into a situation that spells nothing but heartache, suffering, and abandonment…willingly?
The answer is simple, albeit profound. The way you walk through hell is to keep your eyes on heaven.
Hebrews 11 is well-known as the “hall of fame of faith.” Unfortunately, when divvying up the chapter and verse allotments someone decided to end chapter 11 and begin chapter 12 in the wrong place. The chapter should not end until the epitome of faith is listed. That’s Jesus and is included in the first two verses of chapter 12. The litany of faith builds to a crescendo and culminates with the statement:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2)
The “weight” is the pain and the sin is despair. Jesus walked through the hell of rejection, betrayal, mock trials, false convictions, the passion, the crucifixion, the forsakenness of the Father, and being made into sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) by fixing His eyes on the “joy” that was beyond that week.
He looked through the pain, the suffering, the forsakenness, the uncleanness, into a cloud that was set aside to receive Him and take Him back from whence He came…heaven.
That is what faith is about. It’s not just believing in something or someone from the past. It’s holding on tenaciously to a belief in the goodness and glory that is coming (“we walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]), and the certainty that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
How do you get through hell? You keep your eye focused on heaven. How do you walk through “the valley of the shadow of death”? You keep your eye riveted on that table which is set before you in the presence of your enemies (Psalm 23:4-5). Keeping your eyes glued to “the joy that was set before” you neither ignores the pain nor trivializes the loss(es). What it does is keeps hope alive which in turn provides the material for faith (“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for… [Hebrews 11:1]).
Had we been Jesus on Palm Sunday, all we would have seen would have been rejection, pain, and death. What Jesus saw on Palm Sunday and every day following in Holy Week was…a cloud waiting to take Him back to His heavenly throne.
“Hosanna in the highest!” There is healing and wholeness ahead. It’s just beyond that valley of shadows and on the other side of that ugly hill aptly named “Golgotha.”
The atmosphere was heavy that Thursday night when Jesus instituted what many morosely call the “Last Supper.” And rightfully so. The next 12 or so hours of Jesus’ life were awful. But it wasn’t long after that the risen Jesus was able to say, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). Satan wants you to feel and live like tonight will be your “Last Supper.” But take heart, believer. The Lord who created the universe is cooking breakfast for you right now. I hear He’s a master chef.