“Pick Your Pain”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
I don’t enjoy working out. I’m not the same man I was when I was 22, or even when I was 35. I’m about as flexible as a 2x4. My knees hurt. I get embarrassingly sweaty. My conditioning improves slowly and painfully and declines with ridiculous speed.
Nonetheless, several times a week, I steel myself and trudge into the schoolroom to exercise. This is not because I am a masochist and enjoy suffering. Rather, it is because I know that the consequences of not exercising are worse than the pain of exercising.
My weight would skyrocket. My physical fitness would plummet. I wouldn’t be able to play soccer with my son, help brethren move, or go on hikes with my family. As my core strength declined, sooner or later I would do something to blow my back out.
In short, I would rather suffer now and lead the life I want to rather than suffering later and losing things I value. Planting myself on the couch wouldn’t avoid pain. It merely would defer it.
Not surprisingly, our pleasure-loving society prefers not to believe this. Most Americans are self-indulgent and short-sighted, and they are not good at recognizing the holes that they are digging for themselves. The holes are numerous: health holes, financial holes, relationship holes, and spiritual holes. They think that by postponing pain, they are dodging it. Sooner or later, however, the bill comes due, often in crushing fashion.
As Christians, we must be wiser than that, especially when it comes to the things of the Spirit. Nobody ever said that following Jesus would be easy. Indeed, in Matthew 7:13-18, the Lord says the opposite! If we want to inherit eternal life, we are going to have to suffer and give up things we enjoy. If we choose pleasure instead, we will not inherit eternal life.
This is true most obviously of our favorite sins—the ones that enthrall us rather than disgusting us. Maybe it’s a porn habit. Maybe it’s a self-righteousness habit or a gossip habit. Regardless, we can rest assured that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Less obviously, it can be true of people. As Jesus says in 10:37, those who love family more than Him are not worthy of Him. I once baptized a woman on Monday who fell away by Wednesday. She called me and apologetically informed me that she wouldn’t be coming back to church. Her husband had learned that she had been baptized, he flew into a rage, and it was more important to her to keep him happy than to serve God. Anyone who seeks to turn us aside from righteousness is a deadly spiritual danger, no matter how much we love them.
The world’s prescription in these cases is to avoid the pain. Indulge the favorite sin. Placate the godless spouse or friend. Life is too short to be unhappy, after all!
Rather, we should remember that eternity is too long to be unhappy in it. The pleasures of sin are passing, but the pain of separation from God is eternal. We cannot avoid suffering. All we can do is choose when we want to suffer: Here, for the Lord’s sake, or there, for our sins’ sake.
Either way, we will have a long, long time to savor the consequences of our decision.