Feeling the Pain

Pain takes on many faces — physical, emotional, spiritual. Each of these faces has implications within our lives. All pain is not alike. One thing about pain is that it seems we are destined to always experience it, so an examination of it seems worthy.

One observation about pain is that it comes in varying degrees of intensity. Sometimes pain is that dull ache that maybe reminds us of our straining through a physical work out a few days ago. Some is intense that announces itself with a thunderous clap such as when we inadvertently slam our knee into our desk corner. Pain is also that first Father’s Day after my father passed from this earth. Pain was, is, and will be. So, how do we deal with pain? How do we confront this intruder into our comfort?

The first time we see the mention of pain in the bible is in the consequences of sin. In Genesis 3:16, God spoke to Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The word translated in this passage as ‘sorrow’ also refers to pain. This is the first instance where we are presented with the reality of pain — and we see its appearance as a consequence of sin.

It is also interesting to note that the last occurrence of pain in the bible is recorded in Revelation 21:4 where we are assured, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” So, we can rest in the knowledge that pain is only a temporal condition and not eternal for at least the children of God.

Interestingly, there is actually an international organization that concerns itself with the study of pain–the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). They define pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage“. There are two types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain occurs for specific reasons. With acute pain, an actual or potentially damaging event triggers special sensory nerve endings located in the skin, muscles and joints. These neural impulses then travel through the dorsal horns of the spinal cord and up to the higher centers of the brain stem and brain. An automatic and rapid course of action to eliminate the event and prevent further injury is decided upon.

Thomas Dormandy in his book, “The Worst of Evils” records that in ancient times, the relief from pain was attributed to a gift from gods. There is little doubt that we spend enormous amounts of money today to relieve pain of all manners, physical and psychologically. One has to wonder to what avail? I recently read a quote that really captured my thoughts on this subject.

“Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness” ~ Robertson Davies

I found this quote enigmatic. What would it mean if happiness is only a by-product? What is it a by-product of may be the more important question. Can I take actions with the intent of causing another to experience happiness? That seems to be a valid assumption based on my experience. Maybe more importantly, can one view pain the same? Is pain a by-product like Davies suggested happiness is? Is it proper to look at pain and happiness in this way? Happiness seems to be a state of mind. Pain seems to be so much more invasive. Why is that? Sometimes, I think I can even have happiness in spite of pain — tired and sore muscles that are responding to physical training are a happy kind of pain, while sore, I can be expectant of increased strength that satisfies me.

Pain speaks to us on so many levels. It might be the most pervasive of all human conditions. If my big toe hurts, I suffer throughout my body for that pain. My entire being is effected because the smallest extremity has announced it’s condition to me. Do I pause to give my toe thought when it is well? Yet, when it hurts, my very being is suffering with it. Does the smile on my face transmit it’s joy to my toe? How do my ankles rejoice?

Is pain within itself a language of the body? Noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis put it this way, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When I feel good, I rejoice and celebrate, I am ecstatic and so very satisfied with myself. When I hurt I draw back within myself initially, sometimes I lash out at the source of my pain. When I cannot find a suitable source to lash out at (or the source is bigger than myself), I lash out at God. Why if he is so mighty and powerful and loving — why would he allow me to suffer? Why is there pain? Isn’t there injustice in His allowing it? C.S. Lewis devoted a book to this issue. There is little I could add that this great apologist has not already offered.

In spite of Lewis’ efforts. I am still troubled by pain. Then something struck me. A comment by another apologist Ravi Zacharias. Ravi recounted the story of a young girl, perhaps it was the story of Hannah. Hannah has a very rare condition Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis, or CIPA. She has literally bitten her fingertips off without feeling anything. She has bitten her tongue and once even bit off her thumb, all while never shedding a tear. Hannah does not feel physical pain. Another young boy named Haaris was afflicted with the same condition. While I cry out to God to end my pain, Haaris’s mother has a different prayer — “I think the day Haaris falls and cries from pain would be the best day of my life.”

So, being without pain in this world would not be good. It seems to have very dire ramifications to be devoid of physical pain. I think the same would be true of emotional or psychological pain. We often read stories of some of the most evil people that seem to have shown signs that they possess a certain immunity to sensing pain in others. Killers who have stories in their childhoold of abusive behavior toward others or sometimes animals. Sometimes these people have been desensitized to this pain due to their being victims of abuse. So it appears that at least some form of immunity to this type of pain has negative consequences as well.

A beautiful quote was offered by Mother Teresa. She said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.” I wonder if that is what God was trying to tell us? As He hung on that cross, so despised and rejected, He demonstrated to us His willingness to suffer pain to to reclaim His relationship with us. Surely, he loved until He could feel hurt no more. There is another anonymous quote that I think God would say to us: “There is one pain I often feel, which you will never know. It is caused by the absence of you.”

Want a donut?

I discovered this recently going through some other notes that I had. I thought I would share it:

There was a certain Professor of Religion named Dr Christianson, a studious man who taught at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required survey course in Christianity at this particular institution. Every student was required to take this course his or her freshman year, regardless of his or her major.

Although Dr Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

This year, Dr. Christianson had a special student named Steve. Steve was only a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going onto seminary for the ministry. Steve was popular, he was well liked, and he was an imposing physical specimen. He was now the starting center on the school football team, and was the best student in the professor’s class. One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him.

“How many push-ups can you do?”

Steve said, “I do about 200 every night.”

“200? That’s pretty good, Steve,” Dr. Christianson said. “Do you think you could do 300?”

Steve replied, “I don’t know… I’ve never done 300 at a time.”

“Do you think you could?” again asked Dr. Christianson.

“Well, I can try,” said Steve.

“Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push-ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it,” said the professor.

Steve said, “Well… I think I can…yeah, I can do it”

Dr. Christianson said, “Good! I need you to do this on Friday. Let me explain what I have in mind.”

Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts. No, these weren’t the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr. Christianson’s class.

Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked,”Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?” Cynthia said, “Yes.” Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”

“Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?”
Joe said, “Yes.” Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten push-ups for every person before they got their donut.

Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship. When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own push-ups?” Dr. Christianson said, “No, Steve has to do them.” Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.” Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten push-ups. Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!” Dr. Christianson said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow. Dr. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry. Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?” Sternly, Jenny said, “No.” Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.

By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks.

Steve also had to really put forth a lot of extra effort to get these push-ups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved. Dr. Christianson asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten push-ups in a set because he couldn’t bear to watch all of Steve’s work for all of those uneaten donuts. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could count the set and watch Steve closely.

Dr. Christianson started down the fourth row. During his class, however, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps along the radiators that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it. Dr. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set. Steve asked Dr Christianson, “Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?”

Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, “Well, they’re your push-ups You are in charge now. You can do them any way that you want.” And Dr. Christianson went on. A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on.

Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come.”

Professor Christianson said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten push-ups for him?”

Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut” Dr. Christianson said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?” Jason, new to the room, hardly knew what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.” “Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.

Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, and then started on those visitors seated by the heaters. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. By this time sweat was profusely dropping off of his face, there was no sound except his heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. Dr. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a doughnut?” Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.” Professor Christianson quietly asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow push-ups for Linda. Then Dr Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Dr. Christianson, why can’t I help him?”

Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone, I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked my grade book.  Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.” “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”

Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding “Not all sermons are preached in words.”

Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He spared not His only Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price has been paid.”

“Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?”

Share this with someone. It’s bound to touch their heart and demonstrate Salvation in a very special way.

Minimal Fact Approach to the Resurrection of Christ

One of the hardest groups to share the gospel with is those people I would term “skeptics” or atheists. At a high level, there are two categories we share the gospel with;

1) those who have been exposed to it before, and

2) those who have not been exposed to it.

We can further sub-divide category 1 into at least three groups:

     a) nominal Christians (heard the gospel, assent to it’s truth and would say they hold to the principles of Christ’s teaching,
     b) agnostics (heard it but never really studied it in depth or if they have, have not reached a conclusion, and
     c) heard it, but reject it for any number of reasons.

One of the difficulties many face in their approach to evangelism of group C is not having adequate “touch points” within which to build a basis for sharing the gospel. We want to grab a person, quote from scripture to tell them they are hell-bound without even appreciating that they place no truth value on the scriptures. This is like a member of the LDS church quoting to us from the Book of Mormon. We reject the book, so any statement from it fails to motivate us. What we lack is a way to get behind the person’s own view to help them work toward placing a truth value in scripture.

One approach to sharing with a skeptic (I am going to group skeptics and atheists together just for brevity, one could argue there are distinct differences between the two, but for the purpose of this I am going to set those aside for discussion) is the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts approach takes a view of only holding to those minimal facts that the overwhelming majority of scholars would assent to accepting as true. A simple list of those facts is:

  • Jesus died on the cross and was buried
  • Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body
  • Jesus’ disciples believed they saw the resurrected  Jesus after his death
  • Jesus’ disciples were transformed following these sightings of him

Given these minimal facts, we can reach a number of possible conclusions:

  1. The disciples were simply wrong about His death
  2. The disciples lied about the resurrection
  3. The disciples were delusional
  4. The disciples did not see Jesus, but either an imposter or someone like Him.
  5. The disciples were influenced by limited spiritual sightings
  6. The disciples’ observations were distorted later
  7. The disciples saw the resurrected Christ

Is it possible to eliminate any of these potential conclusion to arrive a the most likely conclusion given the minimal facts and what we know of the disciples reports?  While scripture can surely be used as a building block in our approach through minimal facts, we can’t just simply point at the text and say, “there, see”.  To the skeptic, that approach would suffer from the same reasoning by which we would deny a claim from the Book of Mormon or the Koran.  We need to be able to demonstrate that our answers and elimination of possible conclusions is rational and follows the accepted criteria of the minimal facts framework — noticeably missing in that framework is that the biblical texts are independently truth.

In saying that, i want to provide a caution.  The minimal facts approach does not in any way deny the veracity of scripture.  As Christians, we simply have the ability to employ the minimal facts approach to meet the non-believer/skeptic where they are.  We don’t require them first to assent to the truthfulness of scripture, although we are confident that if examined sincerely, the scriptures withstand reasonable challenges and can be trusted as God’s revelation to us.

(This work draws heavily from the Minimal Facts Approach as demonstrated by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and most recently in J. Warner Wallace’s book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’ published by David C. Cook.  This work is available at http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Case-Christianity-Homicide-Detective-Investigates/dp/1434704696.)

Do you remember me? (A Dog’s Story)

Do you remember me?
I remember you.
I still remember that first time I saw you, your eyes were so bright.
Your face was so warm. Yours was not the first face I had seen, but
it was different that day. You spoke to me in such a sweet way. When
you left that day, I got to go with you! I learned two words that
day, mine and home.

You took me to that place called home and showed me my bed, although I
seldom slept there. Instead, I got to sleep in a much bigger bed, with
you. We would lay there all night. Your breath reminded me of mom’s,
so even and so warm. The days I had spent behind the wire in that other
place would so quickly fade because this place was now home,
you said, “You are mine!”
and I loved you so.

The days were a little hard on me, you always seemed so sad to be
going to that place you called ‘work’.
I worried for you while you were away,
I can’t imagine but from the sadness on your voice when you
spoke of it, it could not have been a warm place.
I worried until you came back home.

Some days, you didn’t have to go to work.
Those were my favorite days.
We would sleep late and when we got out of bed we would play.
You would always tell me how much you loved me and I would get to curl up
on the couch with you while you watched tv.
Sometimes we would go for walks. You, by my side!
I was so proud to show you off to my friends!
Some o them didn’t have people that walked them like you did me, they
had to look on from their yards or windows.
Some days we even went for a ride. I got to hang my head out the window while you seemed happy
to always sit in the same place holding on. I always hoped you would
one day get to let go of that wheel you held and we could play,
I didn’t like the way you seemed so afraid of it.

Those days were so much fun. Even on the days when you had to go to
work, when you got home we would often get to go for a walk. You would
talk to the neighbors while we went by their homes.
It was bliss to walk with you.

As the years went by something changed.
While once we would spend time together, you no longer wanted to spend time with me.
Sometimes you wouldn’t take me for walks or i would have to wait longer for my
food. Still, those weren’t the worst of days.

There came that day when we went for a ride.
We stopped at a place I didn’t know.
You put my leash on me and took me inside. You introduced
me to a lady, she was nice.
She patted my head and told you they would take good care of me.
Then you left.

I worried about you, because you seemed so distracted.
You left and they put me in a thing called a kennel.
It had a cold floor but there was a bowl of food and clean water.
Sometimes, you had not changed my water like you did long ago.
It was ok, it just was a little different.
You used to give me the most scrumptious meals and would
even give me bites of your food. Lately, you would just give me food
from my bag. That was ok too. It was good, but I worried because you
seemed to be so distant.

I hoped you would be back soon.
They are nice to me. They give me food and water.
We don’t get to go out on walks. I sit on the floor and
wait for you.
Sometimes, someone comes and walks by my cage.
I hear them talk with the people who take care of me. They ask how I am
sometimes. The people here say something I don’t understand, ‘owner
surrender’. The new people say something must be wrong and it makes me worry
about you.
I hope you are ok. Something must have happened to you or
you would have come to get me. Soon, you will walk up to my kennel and I
will here waiting for you, just like I have always waited.
I remember you so well.

Are We Forgiving?

The theme of forgiveness keeps intruding on my thoughts. It goes back to an essay that appeared in Tom Oord’s Reaching Forgivenessbook, ‘Creation Made Free’. [See Chapter 11: The Final Form of Love: The Science of Forgiveness and the Openness of God by Richard Rice] The essay was excellent and really made me think on the topic of forgiveness and I kept thinking that we really don’t spend enough time really understanding what forgiveness really means. Rice in his work stated that instead of defining what forgiveness is, researches usually default to saying what forgiveness is not. Such as forgiveness is not condoning or excusing or forgetting an act. These all tend to dismiss the actual occurrence of a wrong while forgiveness acknowledges that a wrong has been committed, otherwise there is no necessity for forgiveness.

Often, when we speak about forgiving a person, we move along the lines that when someone asks for forgiveness, we are ready to offer it. I don’t think that is really in line with the example of Christ nor the will of God. Sure, maybe we have already given serious thought to our attitude toward the transgressor, but it seems that saying we will forgive only when asked is not having a correct attitude. What if God had witheld the incarnation until we asked? What if Christ had not gone to the Cross 2,000 years ago? God seems to have preceded my very existence with already having taken all the actions necessary for my forgiveness. Get that? Before I sinned, He had already accomplished fogiveness toward me. My asking for His forgiveness does not changed His attitude toward me, it changes my attitude toward Him! I first read that in a sermon that Dr. Wes Tracy gave many years ago. As time goes on, I see that more and more every day.

Maybe forgiveness is not an action, but maybe more than an attitude. It isn’t walking around and ignoring wrongs. But it is walking around a wrong to an encounter with the person on the other side. It is being set in our hearts to not harbor ill until they ask for its removal. It is extending our hearts to them and living toward them to encourage their seeking reconciliation.

N.T. Wright has talked about forgiveness being a “return from exile”.  [N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, vol. 2, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 268.]  Some see that statement as problematic, but I think it speaks accurately to the restoration of relationship that forgiveness provides.  God took all of the necessary steps He could to ensure our return from exile to Him, it is simply left a path for us to walk to realize it.  We should perhaps do the same for others.  Not an easy task to be sure but a task well worth devoting ourselves to so that the transformational work of the Holy Spirit may be manifested within us and proceeding from us!  Let us forgive and live out to a relationship that encourages community!  Let the Kingdom of God begin in us this day!