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.
2 thoughts on “‘If you love people you will love pain’”
I am but a simple person and haven’t studied as much as you have but your post causes me concern if I follow the statements to conclusions probably not intended by the parsing of phrases you utilize. I read this early this morning and it has tickled at my thoughts today (as they often do) but I don’ like the conclusions this leads me to. I understand your intent but question the phrasing as it pushes other conclusions. If I ‘love people, I should love pain’…..why?
If I love people I should not be surprised by pain but don’t know if I should accept let alone love pain. I love sinners and yet not the sin and do not necessarily accept or love sin…though I can understand it. Similarly when I get a sliver from working in the yard or a thorn from trimming plants, I don’t love pain but understand it is a natural signal to my body that something has invaded it, something has pushed it’s way into my skin that is not meant to be there and use this natural signal of pain to signal me to stop, resolve the problem, or change what is giving me pain. The same is true of pain of sin or caused by actions of others that may be bad or even those with good intentions. I am not surprised by it as I work in the garden or as I work with people. But I don’t accept it or love it. I think it is a natural experience God gave us to let us know things are right physically or relationally/internally. I get surprise by it sometimes when I encounter the pain others cause or I cause or others experience or I experience, but I realize this is the output of something that is not right (like it is not right for a thorn to be in my finger or a bee stinger in my wrist recently).
Being willing to enjoy my garden, i’m willing to risk the pain of a sliver, being willing to engage with people I have to be willing to experience pain and suffering (their pain and suffering also) but that is to be expected to possibly occur but no accepted. I don’t accept thorns and slivers but work through them. If we really love people and want to enter into experience with them doesn’t mean that we should also love pain but expect the risk of it, not be surprised by it. I don’t think I ever want to love pain, I think I’m learning there is pain physically and emotionally in life. I think there is more we are meant for though than loving pain and will not settle for that.
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Thanks so much for your thoughtful reflection. I think there are different kinds of pain. What I am writing about is different than the pain to our bodies, but a pain we willingly embrace of another. It is also important to know that there are different kinds of love. Loving pain because we love people doesn’t mean we have an affectionate love for it, but rather an agape love which is based in choosing to love the person and hence enter into their pain. It is the pain of the cross, where Jesus willingly entered into suffering on behalf of us. When we take up our cross daily, we choose pain for the sake of Christ and others. As I wrote, it is not being masochistic or morbid, but rather a choice in love empowered by the Holy Spirit.