NO MORE TEARS
Written by Doug Ponder on May 29, 2016
Generally speaking, expiration dates are not our friends. The coupon expires before you had a chance to use it. The parking meter expires while you’re car is still parked there. The milk goes sour. The cookies get stale (OK, cookies never last long enough to get stale in my house, but this could happen in theory). The point is, expiration dates are a major bummer.
But not always.
When you are waiting for your lease to expire so that you can start looking for a new home, or when you are waiting for those “mistakes” you made to finally fade (expire) from your record, or if your team is up by a point and you need the clock to expire—then expiration is a good thing, for it means that what you’ve been longing for has finally arrived. The wait is over. You’ve reached the finish line.
That’s how it was for my wife during her most recent labor. The pains were intense, and things were taking a lot longer than they did with our first child. Several complications combined to produce a 26 hour labor, and nobody was happier than Jess when those pains finally “expired.” ‘Cause it didn’t just mean the pain was over; it also meant our boy was here. And although he could not reach back in time to erase the pain she felt, my wife said that somehow holding him made it feel as if it had never happened.
The Bible tells us that it will be much the same with Jesus.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom. 8:22)
The whole world is hurting. You can feel it almost every day. Physical suffering. Emotional scars. Mental anguish. A grief in the depth your soul. Overwhelming stress. Unending fatigue. The gnawing feeling emptiness or worthlessness. You hardly need reminders.
Now magnify whatever pain you’ve experienced just this past week and multiply that across your lifetime. Now multiply that across 7 billion lifetimes. Now add to all that the groaning of animals of the field and the fish in the seas and every tree in the forest. The whole creation is groaning, God says. There’s enough pain to go around.
When God Shouts
In his book The Problem of Pain C. S. Lewis famously says, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God shouts to us through our pains in different ways. The pains of growing old are a reminder that you will die one day (so don’t waste your life).
The pain of self-caused suffering, when we (irrationally) keep sinning against the God who loves us, is a pain that pulls us back from our stupidity. God shouts, “Turn to me, and live!”
But there is one message that God shouts through every pain of every kind: “This is not the way it’s supposed to be!”
You can hear God shout when the doctor says you’ve got cancer. You can hear God shout when another family suffers under the weight of poverty. You can hear God shout when a friend betrays you; you can hear God shout when you betray a friend. You can hear God shout when Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, his eyes filling up with angry tears. This is not the way it’s supposed to be.
But you would have heard God shout the loudest when Jesus hung from the cross, dying for the sins of the world that have caused all the pain to begin with. He shouted, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And he shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30), which is, of course, God’s way of stamping an expiration date on all the pain and the evil and the sin in the world.
Suffering has an end. Pain won’t last forever. God will make right everything that we made wrong—starting with us, since we were the ones who messed things up in the first place.
No More Tears, No More Pain
God tells us what the world will look like when he’s finished with it.
Imagine no more AIDS. No more allergies. No more tears. No more poverty. No more hunger. No more suicide. No more greed. No more gossip (and nothing more to gossip about). No more eating disorders. No more rape. No more birth defects. No more miscarriages. No more depression. No more gluttony. No more pride. No more self-righteousness. No more suffering. No more death. And no more sin of any kind, because all those who are part of God’s new world have been cleansed from their formers sins and liberated from their bondage to corruption.
Actually, it’s going to be even better than that. You see, I can almost imagine a world without all those things, but God says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
It’s a world where Jesus is all in all, and everything will be as it should be, and the glory that permeates God’s world now will be known and treasured by everyone everywhere without end. And the pain of the present is overcome. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Which means the hard things are just for now, the good things will be forever, and the best things are yet to come for all who belong to Jesus.
Or as Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
That’s what will happen when Jesus returns! In the meantime, we anticipate his coming by living the kind of lives that are a preview of coming attractions, righting wrongs with mercy and justice and healing hearts with grace and truth.
To hear the sermon from which this blog article was adapted click here.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.