Uncomfortable Grace: Experiencing God in Pain

cropped-grace2There’s something about walking through the valley of the shadow of death that allows us to experience God in new ways. It’s not that we like the valley. It’s dark, scary, often painful, and yet without walking through it we would not experience what it means to be comforted by the Lord’s rod and staff (Psalm 23:4). To know in more fullness what it means for God to be my good shepherd He must lead me here. Uncomfortable though it is, God’s grace leads us into hardship to experience more of Him.

It is not what I would have chosen for our family. Handing my two-year old over to a nurse we didn’t know as she screamed, cried, and reached out for us, knowing that as they walked behind those doors of “no admittance” that she was going to have her spine operated on. I put on the strong face and quietly slipped into the bathroom where I broke. It felt like I was melting onto the ceramic floor. In that moment I thought of several important truths that kept me from drowning in the flood of emotions: (1) God loves my daughter more than I ever could; (2) the testing of our faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3); and (3) suffering leads to a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5). Those had been truths that I knew, but until that exact moment I don’t know that they had ever been as tangible. They meant something to me in that moment that they didn’t before. They applied to me in ways that prior to that trial they had not. I experienced God’s grace and love in that difficulty in ways that I would not have known without it. Such is the nature of the uncomfortable grace of God.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that experiencing difficulty, trial, weakness, allows us to experience God. We see this uniquely in Paul’s discussion of his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul begs and pleads with God to take it away, but God only assures him of grace. “My grace is sufficient,” He responds to Paul’s pleading. It is through this thorn that Paul experiences God’s grace in unique ways. He can even “boast” in weakness because in such weakness God’s glory is revealed. He is content, he says, with “weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties” (1 Cor. 12:9-10). Paul was not a masochist, but he was learning to appreciate the uncomfortable grace of God.

Uncomfortable grace is important because it gives us these tangible experiences of God that we would not otherwise have. Abraham has faith in God, but he experiences that faith in a powerful and dramatic way when God calls on him to sacrifice Isaac. It’s the same for us. We experience the blessings of the Lord regularly, but by walking through the valley of the shadow of death we experience His comfort in a unique contextualized way. We learn about God not merely through information but also through experience. Theology is truly contextualized theology – it is my knowledge of God experienced in real life. Suffering allows me to know God in ways that are unique to that experience. What I experienced of God in the aftermath of my father’s death I could not have learned about Him via simply singing hymns in the church. That trial was an important part of my understanding more of who my heavenly father is (see my article “The Fatherhood of God”). The valley of the shadow of death is a theological necessity, friends. As uncomfortable as it is, it is a grace of God.

Uncomfortable grace is vital to our growth. God knows what is best for us and sometimes that means giving us hardships. As we experience uncomfortable grace we experience God in unique ways. This grace, we know, is not always pleasant or fun. Yet, we should not run from pain. Our pain and struggle is an opportunity to know God more deeply and fully. It is uncomfortable grace, but it is grace nonetheless.

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