Pain in itself not hard to bear, but hard to bear so long.Frederick William Faber, The Thought of God, 1814- 1863
There are times that I forget that I have a chronic pain disorder. I feel healthy, strong, and unstoppable. But then out of nowhere a flare of pain comes to remind me that it’s still there. This chronic pain-in-the-neck is living up to its name.
For many of us, the Delta variant has been like that flare of pain that has whiplashed us back into reality. The pandemic is far from over. 18 months ago the sidewalks were covered in chalk saying “we can do this!” Now we are collectively trying to fathom that Covid-19 may be a forever thing. And the thought of the longevity of suffering is deflating.
When I get overwhelmed by the chronic nature of my pain disorder, what helps me the most is to remember something that is even more “forever” than pain: God’s eternal commitment to us.
Recently I have been studying about what it means that Jesus was with God and was God in the beginning (John 1:1-5). Sometimes we think of Jesus as an afterthought in God’s plan: God made humans to flourish. We screwed up. So God made a plan-B and sent Jesus to save us. But God’s commitment to humans through Jesus was never plan-B. God’s commitment to us is a part of his own eternal identity.
Two theologians who go to great lengths to unpack the John 1 scripture, write:
“John does not simply talk about God’s coming as an incidental attribute. It is rather a part of his name, his identity…an inevitable consequence of God’s being who he is.”R. Kendall Soulen, The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) 178.
“From all eternity God posits His whole majesty…in this particular relationship to this particular being over against Himself. God pledges and commits Himself to be the God of man.”Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, The Election of Jesus Christ, II/2 §33, pages 107, 177.
Jesus and the incarnation were never an afterthought. Jesus was there in the beginning. God intentionally wanted to wrap himself up in the affairs of humanity since before we were even created, and his identifying with humans is a part of his very personhood.
God commits himself to us, not out of some last ditch effort to save us from our destructive ways, nor to reward us for our fervent prayers. God’s commitment to us is from forever ago and to forever from now.
Far more than any pain or suffering we experience, God’s undying loyalty to human flourishing is the most reliable and predictable thing we can ever know.
What personal or communal pain are you worried will last forever? How can remembering God’s eternally loyal character fuel your lament and your hope?