Recently, my cousin in law passed away unexpectedly. Previous to this I had only experienced death at a distant level - being elderly people in my life who had lived a long life.
I finally understand more of why tragedies are so tragic. It is not so much that two of the largest buildings in New York City were disseminated on 9/11 or that floods destroyed homes in Hurricane Katrina or that an expensive bridge was destroyed in Minneapolis. Rather, it was that in one moment, thousands and thousands of people lost a loved one. Of all the lives lost, each one was somebody's brother, child, cousin or friend. Events like these cause pain in the lives of massive amounts of the general population. They are tragic. They should never happen. But they do.
I came across a passage of Scripture a few months ago that touches on these things, that I think would make an amazing sermon series for churches everywhere. They can be formatted under the theme recycle. A three part process that Christ presents to us in order to recycle our pain into healing and hope for others.
Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort."
We should know that God is a Father and the author of compassion and comfort. God didn't invent pain, rather pain comes through satan and our own human hearts. God, instead, teaches us faithfully how to avoid a life that causes pain and teaches us to live according to our design. God also is our comforter and healer. He is the daddy who covers his child and whispers comforting words in a time of need.
The cycle of pain is three-fold:
1. None of Us are Exempt from Pain and Suffering
All of us have it. All of our lives, with or without Christ, will be filled with various experiences of pain and sorrow. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon teaches a strange thing, saying "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure." Why would he say this? Because death is imminent for all of us. Eternity is at hand. We must make a choice to accept Christ as our Savior and to run to Christ with our pain. One point of grace in our pain is that it reminds us of the brevity of our lives and becomes a rock on which to build our lives with godly purpose and meaning and urgency.
2. God's Comfort invading our hearts
My friend Ryan shared how his dad passed away five years ago. He was in his first week of college when he heard the news. No child should have to lose their parent that young. He and his dad were very close. However, he also shared how the grace and peace of God would overcome him in his sorrow. This is the comfort of Christ, that Scripture tells us will "overflow" into our lives. Not a trickle, not a stream, but an overflowing comfort and grace in the middle of our pain. We can be confident in this, in the moment of overbearing sorrow, we will experience a new level of God's grace and mercy that we ever thought was available.
3. Comforting others in their pain, with the comfort we've received from God
This is when the healing process begins to come full circle. With the grace of Christ and comfort in our pain, we become "healers" for others in similar situations. Through us the comfort of Christ overflows into others. God is amazing. He can take all our junk and turn it around to become a symbol of hope and healing in a broken generation. Listen to Romans 8, starting in verse 28:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Let the recycling begin.