Salvation by Pain

This month we commemorated one year of Covid-19 lock downs.
We experienced collective pain and grief over the deaths in Atlanta.
And endured even more hardships daily in this season of Lent.

In a book I started reading this Lenten season, I came across a reference to The End of Suffering by Scott Cairn where he tells about a monk, dying of cancer, who said, "Paradise is filled with men and women whose cancer saved their lives."

This passing allusion stopped me in my tracks. How could cancer save a life?

Cancer is an acute reminder of the fundamental truth that affects all of humanity: that we are mortal. Remembering our mortality snaps us out of our delusions that we are invincible or made for success. The Lenten refrain punctuates this season: "Remember that you are dust" (Ecclesiastes 3:20). And this awareness calls us to back to real life. Life that matters. Life that gives life to others. We are saved from the false life of power and achievement by remembering our common dust-ness.

In a year of prolonged waiting and daily reminders of our pandemic vulnerability, we have been forced to reckon with our individual and collective weakness. C.S. Lewis, in trying to make sense of pain, stated it this way: "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

The pain we're experiencing is calling us to attention. We must attend to it. We wish that the world was not shaped by injustice and racism. We wish we could continue running full steam ahead building our own Babel Towers to greatness. But our good God will not allow us to delude ourselves forever.

Scripture recounts how our Sovereign God utilizes wicked nations, natural disasters, severe famine, deathly disease -- anything and everything to call his people to attention. Pain is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world, reminding us that we are not who we pretend to be. We are not invincible. We are not victorious. We are not God. We must contend with the reality we try to hide and ignore: that sin and its effects are still deep and present in and among each of us. When the daily whispers and hints, the explicit calls from a familiar pulpit, regular requests from friends and family... when all of this fails to get our attention, pain may be the way to save our lives -- being forced by suffering to slow down from our mindless forward "progress" or "success" and take hold of what life actually entails.

As the Lenten season nears its end in Holy Week in anticipation of the Cross and Resurrection, it is my hope that we emerge from this prolonged period of suspended hope with a greater awareness of the life that Jesus gives us and calls us to enjoy.

Oh Lord, teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Amen.