Recently I had a crown installed on one of my molars. In the process of doing the work, the dentist created a space between the new crown and a nearby tooth that hadn’t existed before. Now, every time I chewed on that side of my mouth, the food would lodge itself in that convenient space and my gum would become very, very sore.
After a number of weeks of eating, hurting, flossing over and over again, I contacted the dentist’s office and asked if he could see me sometime in the near future. The receptionist asked me this question: “Mr. Brunner, are you in a lot of pain?” I told her the situation and explained to her that it had become so painful that I was having a difficult time eating at all. Expecting an appointment within a week or so, I was quite surprised when she told me that I could see the dentist by 2:15 that afternoon. What a shock! Same day dental service!
I went into the office with great anticipation. It had been months since I could eat properly. Stopping at the desk on the way in I expressed my gratitude to the dentist for seeing me so quickly. The receptionist smiled and answered rather matter-of-factly, “Well, you said you couldn’t eat.” Then it struck me. Just plain old inconvenience and mild discomfort could easily merit several week’s wait. And a cleaning? That could be months. But, not being able to eat was an open door to same day service. It seems that in order to see the dentist same day you needed to be completely undone in order to be redone. In this case, the pain merited the gain.
John Donne, a 17th century poet, experienced great pain. . . He endured a long illness which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering . . . In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness which keeps him in bed forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering gets our attention; it forces us to look to God, when otherwise we would just as well ignored Him. (Adapted from Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts?, p. 58.)
In Psalm 38 the psalmist writes: “O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O God” (Psalm 38:21). Was the Psalmist truly forsaken? Had God left him? Sometimes God leaves us for a time in order to empty us out, to undo us so completely that there is only one remedy for our pain and suffering--immediate attention. He has mercy on none but the wretched, receives none but the forsaken and helps none but the helpless. When we are thus, totally undone, that is when He does His best work. Sometimes it is blessed to be so undone in our sickness and pain. It means that He is close at hand.
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