We have finished the first week of another School of Redemptive History. There have been many highlights as we look deeply into history and ponder the mysteries and challenges of what has gone before. But one statement of our first week speaker has struck me very hard: If you love people you will love pain. The chronicles of history, including the records of both Old and Testament of the Bible, detail lots and lots of pain. History, whether it is of our personal life, family, tribe or nation, involves suffering and pain.
And then there is this sentence. That somehow if we really love people, really enter closely into their lives, we will also love pain. At first that may sound not only strange but just plain wrong. To love pain? How masochistic! How morbid! How ridiculous! Yet think again. Loving people, and I would say loving history, is to love pain. It is to be willing to suffer with another, to suffer with a nation you love. This is the heart of what redemptive history is all about.
Redemptive history is to believe that there is something about pain in our stories that is not the final word. As one of my favorite writers named Frederick Buechner once wrote, ‘The worst thing that can happen to you is never the last thing that will happen to you’. Buechner wrote this from a Biblical worldview that believes that redemption and love is still greater than the horror of evil.
During the School of Redemptive History, whether in East Asia last year or South Asia this year, we do not hesitate to talk about the suffering and pain of history. But we realize that there is a redemptive power in that suffering, and a God that has entered into real history in Christ Jesus. The crucifixion and then resurrection of Jesus means that the past and present will not have the last, worst word. But the future can involve redeeming grace. That can be true in our personal lives but also in our nations.
I have tried many times to love people and avoid pain. I became gifted at avoidance strategies, even at times saying ‘I can’t take any more pain’. Particularly the pain of others. As a result, I withdrew for several years from deep relationships, hoping to never again suffer the hideous pain I sometimes had felt. But I became a lesser person, not the person I was called to be. I have chosen in recent years to change. To open myself to pain, which means to open myself to love.
Why do I love history so much? For one reason, it is because I have learned to see in history the hope of the future, the hope of redemption. There is so much evil, and sometimes historians can be some of the most jaded people around. But when we have revelation that history is the exposure of the human condition, yes, but also is the hidden, at times mysterious hand of the living God at work as well.
Will you join me in the death defying journey of loving people, and loving pain? It will cost all you have. And more. And along the way you just might fall more in love with history as well, and a future to come with a Lamb upon a throne.