Our world is getting smaller. We all watched in near real time as the terror attacks in Paris unfolded a few weeks ago. We see the pain in the eyes of those experiencing the unimaginable. As I process such events, I often put myself in that situation and ask myself some hard questions. How would I handle losing a loved one? Why do people have to hurt, and why does it seem like an inevitable part of life? What is the purpose of pain, and how do we deal with it? In response to these questions, I’ve noticed a thought pass through my mind that I’ve heard many times on the heels of a tragic world event: “I don’t want my kids growing up in a world like this.” The implication is that things are getting worse, and we want to keep our future generations from getting hurt. If you’ve thought this, like I have, I want to ask you a few questions – if you look at human history, hasn’t pain and suffering always been a part of this world? Are things really getting worse, or do we just have access to so much more information?
If we look at Scripture, the answer to the first question is most definitely, yes. I’m confident that most would agree, so I’ll move on to the questions I really want answered. Because of the depth of this topic, I’m actually going to tackle it in two parts: how did we get put in the position to experience hurt, and why is it necessary?
I believe this is actually one of the biggest hurdles for people to get over when talking about whether or not God exists. In many ways, I believe it’s easier to explain if you don’t believe in God. Bad things happen to good people because no one is immune and everything we experience in life is just chance. It’s actually much harder to explain when you believe in a loving God. I would know; I didn’t believe in Him until I was 25. I’m nearly 40 now, but what’s interesting is that even after accepting that God is real, I still believe and know from Scripture that no one is immune from hurt (John 16:33). We are in this position because He knows an exchange needs to take place in our hearts in order to have meaningful relationships. He made the exchange first with us and asks us to do the same. What’s the exchange? I will get to that in just a moment.
In the beginning God spoke some incredible truths. Many people around the world accept these truths not knowing that they actually originated from God. No matter what your take on our origins and how the world was created, one of these universal truths was spoken in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
I know the context is in relation to Adam, and God goes on to create a woman as his companion. However, I want to focus on the simple truth that God recognized it was detrimental to a person to not be in relationship. We were created for it! As a marriage coach for over a decade, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that people need people. If they don’t have a spouse, they want one. If they don’t have friends, they want them. When they lose them, they want them back. This is because it is fundamentally built into us.
Consequently, just as soon as relationship entered the world and people began interacting with one another, sin was not far behind. Once again, aside from your beliefs on how we got here, I’m sure we can both agree that when people are around other people the conditions are right for altercation. The very fact that we are so unique from one another is what enables us to accomplish great things as we work together, but it can also be the root of our pain if we disagree. As we see all too often, people do horrific things when they disagree.
It is import to add that God did not set up a world with pain in the beginning. His creation, including us, was perfect. Suffering entered as a result of people choosing their way over God’s, and we’ve been doing it ever since.
Because of the potency of sin, those that are closest to us actually have the ability to wound us the deepest. There is a direct relation between the depth of hurt you can feel and the amount of personal investment you have with the person. On the other end of the spectrum, like we witnessed in Paris, hurt can also come by the hands of a stranger.
Whatever the cause of the hurt, if we keep in mind that God declared that it is not good for us to be alone, and the very people that surround us are guaranteed to mess up and be selfish, the exchange I mentioned before that we must make is as follows: in order to experience the benefits of meaningful relationship with others we must live with the understanding that we will get hurt. One important step in making this exchange is to not let the fear of being hurt get in the way. Think of those who have closed themselves off, not allowing anyone into their lives. They won’t take the risk of losing someone or being hurt by them, so they forfeit the goodness of close relationship.
As we’ve looked at how we got to this place, caught between meaningful relationship and being hurt, it’s apparent that we actually have a lot to do with it. We continue to be the perpetrators of things that do harm. As this reality settled into my heart several years ago, one of the biggest breakthroughs in my ability to love people came when I accepted it and didn’t take personally everything that bothered me. God clearly spoke to me as I entered the ministry, letting me know that people would hurt me. He prepared me for the risk, but I gladly chose to make the exchange in order to love like him in my relationships. His love is unconditional. Unconditional love is a choice and is the answer to the second question I asked earlier, “Why is all this necessary?” discussed in next week’s message.