FIRE ALARM Ringing (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16) 17… he had to be made like them,[a] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted… Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This lately has been one of my favorite verses. When people wrestle with evil, they feel like God has abandoned them, unable to help them, powerless to defend them, but we see that God experienced the fullness of what man had created in rebellion. IN fact, on the cross, Jesus rejected the gall drink which was meant to dull the pain, and he embraced our pain fully conscience, fully aware, and fully incarnate. He embraced it all in hopes that he would be our rescuer—allowing pain to prod us into action–rousing us from our slumber. Then he took the next step and became our deliverer, his body as a sacrifice which would atone for our sins, not temporarily, but eternally as he took on the role of the Great High Priest. The result is something undeserved, instead of being judged by our goodness, we are given his grace. It is in response to that gift that he calls us to turn back to Him. John Donne, a 17th century poet, experienced great pain. Because he married the daughter of a disapproving lord, he was fired from his job as assistant to the Lord Chancellor, yanked from his wife, and locked in a dungeon. (This is when he wrote that succinct line of despair, “John Donne/ Anne Donne/ Undone.”) Later, he endured a long illness which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering which rank among the most poignant meditations on the subject. In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness which keeps him in bed forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering gets our attention; it forces us to look to God, when otherwise we would just as well ignored Him. (Adapted from Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts?, p. 58.)
Experiencing temporary suffering God hopes will be enough to bring us back to His offer of salvation. Yet, in the midst of pain, as we struggle and strain, God goes one step further in Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. Keep in mind this isn’t a universal response, but a covenantal one—in relationship with Christ—he promises to work good from evil—but the pain works as the fire alarm, blaring, trying to upset our routine so we can run from the flames.
Like in the case of a young man named John who received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. John, in desperation, threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, “May I ask what the turkey did?”
I cannot help but think about the idea of evil/suffering from the perspective of a parent. No parent wants anything bad to happen to their child/children. Now it would be totally safe if I carried my son around all the time, I would be able to protect him from most things, avoid others, but I would rob him of his freedom to learn, grow, and be strengthened. So, I allow him the risk pain—now only bloody lips and skinned knees, later on to take an unknown number of risks. As his father, it hurts to see him in pain, but I love him enough to let him start making some choices for himself. God is the same way—he doesn’t cause your pain or author your pain, but he does love you enough that he wants you to grow, be strengthened, and ultimately make a decision for yourself—do you want the Father’s love?
This takes us back to where we started, back to that horrifying day at the Nazi death camp in Buna, Elie Wiesel walked pass the gallows and heard the question asked, “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is–He is hanging here on this gallows…” God hasn’t abandoned us in our pain, but he is present in the pain, calling us to surrender to him, rather than to sin—and find a lasting peace. Elie Wiesel, Night, Bantam, 1982, p. 75-6