The Problem of Pain

(Alert: May be triggering for those with eating disorders or other conditions involving severe malnutrition. Reader’s discretion is advised.)

Imagine the scene. A baby girl, probably not much older than three, lies in a wilting aid worker’s arms. The child’s arms, both a grave 3 inches in circumference, lie still as the aid worker looks into her clouded, distant eyes. Her eyes turn up to look at the aid worker, with only muffled cries to be heard coming from her small, dehydrated lips. The aid worker erupts in tears.

This scene is real. (The video of this real scene will not be posted here, because the severity of the child’s undernourishment may be triggering to those struggling with traumatic, severe eating disorders, and the like.). The above paragraph only describes the one scene, caught on camera, of aid workers desperately trying to nourish and feed young children. Many of these children and people are Christian, pushed out of their homes by the radical islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram.

In Bama, Nigeria– and truly, in any place where Boko Haram has wreaked havoc– hunger is an insidious epidemic. Internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps found in Bama, and in Northern Nigeria in general, are reported to be harboring thousands of displaced people, in camps which have no adequate water, food, or sanitation; and in all of Northern Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, there are approximately 7 million people suffering from starvation (source). In a report created by Unicef in June 2016, Unicef claimed that approximately 134 men, women, and children were at risk of dying from severe malnutrition per day in Borno State, alone (source); the number of starving children in these regions has doubled from 250,000 to just over 515,000 starving children in recent months (source). Gruesome pictures of some of the most malnourished children are difficult and heart-wrenching to see.

The effects of having literally no food in this region is showing itself in horrific, unspeakable ways. Another report, written by Amnesty International, said that 1,200 bodies had been buried in one guarded camp in Bama, in the past year, alone (source).

In such a place, where hunger, sexual abuse, general maltreatment, and death are a regular occurrence, one can ask the question: “Why?” Why would such a hell on earth exist, and why would such suffering be permitted– a suffering that makes those who witness it, cry out in desperation for those going through it?

This suffering seems unbelievable. Yet, unfortunately, the amount of human pain and suffering all over the world is nothing new. In the time of King David, and the Worship Leader, Asaph (read more about him here), human suffering– especially the suffering of the Godly– was prevalent, and just as disturbing as the horrific scenes seen in today’s times.

It was the suffering of the Godly that caused Asaph to write Psalm 73.

The Problem of Pain

In Psalm 73, Asaph’s complete, raw honesty about the way reality can look, sometimes, is both understandable, and refreshing. He starts with the main problems disturbing him, in verses 1-3.

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.” 
(Verses 1-3, New Living Translation)

In the next 9 verses, Asaph describes the type of people he is talking about. They seem to have no bodily, mental, or emotional problems at all (v. 4-6); they have all they could ever need or want in this world (v. 7, 12), and they’re full of pride, arrogance, and cruelty (v. 6-9). Looking at this description, it can be easy to imagine the type of people Asaph is envious of. Today, there are celebrities, CEOs, and regimes that can make the average person feel the same way.

Although those who are well off can easily become proud, arrogant, and heartless like those described in Psalm 73, it is important to recognize that money, and being rich by the world’s standards, is not inherently evil. The love of money is what has made these people’s hearts proud.

An Honest Question

After describing these seemingly “perfect” people with no problems, Asaph asks some very blunt, profound questions. “Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? 14 I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain” (Psalm 73:13-14, NLT). This question has been asked by the heavy, hurting hearts of suffering and persecuted Christians, since Christ ascended, and the early Church was extremely persecuted. Asaph is effectively asking, “Has knowing YHWH, and walking in His Way, been worth all of the pain?”

The Realization

In this moment of honesty, Asaph quickly realizes the seriousness of asking this question. Without getting enveloped in the pain that he feels, he “…tried to understand why the wicked prosper” (Psalm 73:16, NLT). But, it is not until Asaph comes to God’s Sanctuary that he understands the truth of the situation (v. 17).

Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors. When you arise, O Lord,  you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.”
(Psalm 73:18-20, NLT)

While those Asaph was envious of seemed to have it “all together,” their eternal stance was fatal. Some live a life of luxury, never realizing how frail and short their lives are; but others who are aware of their need end up realizing the Truth: That without knowing Jesus personally, even the “happiest” of lives is meaningless.

Humans come and go on this earth. Yet, the human heart– despite all of humanity’s brilliant innovations, worthwhile causes, and their best ingenuity– has not changed at all from Asaph’s time (or from the beginning of time, for that matter). Humanity is still searching for their own meaning without God, though they need Him; and many people alive, today, cynically look at the world around them, and would say exactly what those in verse 11 do: “‘What does God know?’ …’Does the Most High even know what’s happening?’”

But while humans have come and gone, God has not. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Creator and Sustainer of all Things (Revelation 22:13; Colossians 1:16-17). He was there, to comfort and counsel Asaph, and He is here, available to do the exact same thing.

In a world that is, at times, extremely hellish, there will always be a “problem of pain,” as CS Lewis described it. While the question of “Why?” can never be perfectly answered in this life, the heart of the Psalmist gives great insight: That those who suffer for loving Jesus will never suffer in vain, and that, perhaps the very thing a person thinks is meant to kill them, will actually be something that will bring them closer to Jesus.

True happiness is not being the person without any problems, devoid of earthly suffering. As one quote puts it, “True happiness is doing what God has called you to do.” The Hope, Joy, Love, and Strength Asaph acquires because of this realization is obvious, in the last few verses of the Psalm:

“Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do” (Psalm 73:23-28, NLT).

The suffering of those in Northern Nigeria, Niger, Benin, and Chad is grevious, and the pain Christians are suffering as a result of Boko Haram– and other terrorist groups– is nothing short of a nightmare. But, as the suffering person comes to Christ and rests in His Strength, the problem of pain becomes a reason for joy, not based on circumstances, but on a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what David meant when He wrote Psalm 18:28: “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” 

Do you know Jesus Christ?

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
(John 8:12, NIV)

Jesus Christ came to the world, so that those who believe in Him might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

A lot of the time, people take this to mean almost the opposite of Psalm 73: That by knowing Jesus, one can ask of Him anything they wish; they will have all they ever wanted; and that their lives will be devoid of suffering. But, as made obvious by Psalm 73, and verses like John 16:33, this is simply not true.

While Jesus came to give people full and abundant lives here, His death on the cross accomplished much more than anything a person could have on this earth. He came to die for the sins of mankind, so that man might have a way to have a personal relationship with God, through Christ Jesus alone, leading to eternal life– something much more precious than any sort of thing that could be had or experienced on this earth.

When the Lord Jesus Christ is one’s Shepherd, they lack nothing (Psalm 23:1).
Meet the God who came, that you might gain eternal, abundant life by knowing Him, here.

Please pray for…

– Those who are currently starving to death in Bama, Northern Nigeria, and the surrounding countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Please pray that they would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and that in His Name, they would receive the physical sustenance needed to live, heal, and grow from this traumatic evil.

– People to rise up, who are Bold, Loving Followers and Believers of Jesus Christ, who can share the Gospel with all those in need, to eradicate the evil cancer of islam that has spread. Pray that they would not fear terrorists, but would instead love them radically.

– That aid organizations would continue to receive the funding needed– especially Christian aid agencies– to help treat those suffering from malnutrition, disease, and wounds from Boko Haram. A list of different Christian and Secular agencies to donate to is here.

– That the people of the Nigerian military, and Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and would serve and protect those most vulnerable right now. Pray that those who have perverted their authority by sexually abusing vulnerable people would receive Christ, and that their victims would be brought Justice for the crimes committed to them.

– All of the people still under the spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional oppression of Boko Haram, and similar islamic groups. Please pray that Jesus would free these people, and that the spiritual darkness surrounding them would leave, as Christ makes His Presence known to ALL people within the camp.

Thank You for your prayers!!!

4 responses to “The Problem of Pain”

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