The worst pain is pain that seems outside the reach of Scripture. It is one thing to go through hardships; it is something much worse to go through hardships when Scripture seems silent—when God seems silent. We end up imposing the worst interpretation possible on the hardship, instead of seeing how our suffering is gathered into Scripture’s story of human experience.
For example, throughout history Christian saints have despaired because they thought God was silent when they needed him most. Their suffering was hard; the silence was unbearable. How could the loving and talkative God who always hears be mum when we feel so alone? Scripture, it seems, does not cover this situation. This is where some have stumbled and turned from Jesus.
But the silence must be gathered into God’s story, and since this experience is so common, we should expect it to be gathered in with a number of stories. An obvious one is that the invisible God has determined that we live by faith rather than sight (2 Cor 4:16–18).
I was meeting with some good friends recently who were going through a broken relationship with another Christian family. The breach was painful; the lack of a parallel biblical story was grievous. The only story they could discover was that they must have sinned or failed in some significant way, but they didn’t know what they had done, and they had exhausted the means of reconciliation. Their future looked bleak. They feared they were blind to their sin, and they anticipated rebuke and guilt during any sermon that spoke of Christian unity.
But they had not sinned in the relationship. They had gone to extremes to listen and serve. So why the breach? Scripture’s story is that sin remains in the body of Christ, and this is one of the more difficult expressions of it. That is true, but these friends were hoping for more.
It was a deeper and less obvious part of Scripture’s story that caught their attention. Unity is a dominant theme in the New Testament, and we should expect the bulk of our Christian relationships to head in that direction. There is, however, another more difficult theme in Scripture. God has determined that the sufferings of Jesus Christ would be irregularly distributed throughout the church (2 Cor 1:5). Some would be martyrs, some, like the Father, would lose children, some would experience fractures in their most cherished relationships, and so on.
This couple was experiencing one of the very difficult fragments of Jesus’ incarnation. People close to them had rejected them.
The Spirit works comfort and hope in different ways. For these friends, even before we finished retelling their experience in this light, they were smiling. The relationship was still severed, but the Lord had taken their story and brought it into his own story. That was enough. They smiled, we prayed, and they left with hope.