The Potency of Pain

"The human cry evokes divine resolve"
Walter Brueggeman

In the Bible, God seeks to reveal his will to humanity, and humanity seeks to respond to God's revelation.  That's a line from the United Holy Church of America's affirmation of faith.  It is the best description of the purpose of scripture that I have seen.  Scripture is a picture of God revealing himself and His will and narratives of how humanity has chosen to respond to that revelation. 

In his revelation, we often see patterns.  Those patterns often give us a consistent description of the character of God and nature of His desires for us.  Sometimes that patterns are bold, like God's consistent desire to have people, his own creation, to reflect him. Sometimes they are subtle, such as His response to pain.

Nearly two millenia before Jesus, God himself spoke to Moses. The Lord said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. (Exodus 3:7)

In the midst of horrific suffering, God sees misery.  In the midst of shattered dreams, hopeless conditions, destroyed futures, battered bodies, and psychic despair, God listens.  Earlier in Exodus, the scripture shares that "God heard their groaning" (Ex 2:24).  It is as if our cry summons a reaction from God, Almighty.

Fast forward to the first century.Jesus, the son of God, has had a busy day in ministry when he comes across a crowd of people who are best described as "harassed and helpless" (Matthew 9:36).  The scripture reveals that Jesus had compassion for the crowd.  The term compassion, literally means to "suffer with".  He is literally hearing the pain, the hunger, the spiritual and physical sufferings of those in the crowd, and this pain and suffering evokes a response.

Interestingly, God responses to the cries of humanity in both of these situations are expressed through human agency.  That is, God choses to respond to the cries of humanity, by empowering other people to respond.  In the Exodus narrative, God states that He has come down to deliver the Israelites from their slavery.  His response is to be with Moses as he sends Moses back to Egypt to liberate his people.  He choses to use a very flawed human (as we all are) to do the divine bidding.  Likewise, in Jesus' miraculous feeding of the five thousand, he chooses to respond by using the little that the disciples were willing to share to meet the needs of others (Mark 6:38-41).  It is the disciples who will distribute the food to the hungry.

The pattern demonstrates that God is quite sensitive to human pain and our cries for help.  Amazingly, his response to pain, is to call, send, and empower men and women, like ourselves to be his ambassadors, relief worker, and distillers of the miraculous. 

While it is easy for us to become desensitized to the pain around us or overwhelmed by the sheer volume of suffering in the world, the human cry still evokes divine resolve, as Old Testament Theologian Walter Brueggemann so eloquently states.  God often allows His people to see and hear and feel the pain so that we will be his agents of love and compassion.  Old Testament leader Nehemiah had a wonderful government job in Babylon, before the misery of those living in a destroyed Jerusalem called him to be a difference maker.

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote a wonderful book entited "Becoming the Answers to the Prayers We Pray" in which they speak about how God uses us to be His agents in the sufferings around us.  We can expect God to respond to suffering, injustice, and pain, but it often involves our willingness to use who we are, what we have, and what we have been given to bless others.

Is God arousing your sensitivity to the pain of others around you, in your neighborhood, in your city, or in the world?  When is the last time that you sensed God's broken heart regarding something in this world?  When was the last time you cried in response to someone's suffering?  When was the last time you felt the call the to respond sacrificially in love, to the dispair of someone. 

Take time to thank God for hearing the cries around us and surrender to his call to respond in love and compassion.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor