The Pain for Peace Exchange

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.  Psalm 55:22  (NAS)

Just yesterday I was talking to a person and we were commiserating about the fact that the longer we live the less we know.  This observation was generated out of a mutual confession of perplexity with regard to recent painful disappointment he had suffered.  Some things in life, especially painful circumstances beyond our control, the unfixables of life, eclipse our understanding.  Like the moon passing before the sun, or cloudy skies blocking its warming rays, there are times when we do not comprehend the whys and wherefores of life.  Such darkness can make it difficult to find our way.

It is necessary to be reminded that understanding the reasons for our lot in life is not necessarily the solution to our problems.  While there is a tendency in all of us to grapple with the “why” question, sometimes it serves only to prolong our pain.  One thing is certain, pain and suffering are an ever present part of the human condition.  Not only does our experience testify to this, but an examination of the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God confirms it.  Isaiah the prophet predicted hundreds of years before His birth that He would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) And the writer of Hebrews tells us years after His death, burial and resurrection that He “learned obedience from the things He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) 

If Jesus had to deal with pain and suffering in His life, how much more do we?  In fact Paul the apostle tells us that our suffering in some mysterious way is meant to compliment and complete the sufferings of Christ. (Romans 8:17 & Colossians 1:25)

How can that be and how is that meant to happen?  Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author, has said “If you do not transform your pain, you will always transmit it.”  That statement clearly spells out the two options we have when confronted with pain and suffering.  We can ask God to take our pain and transform us into better people.  Or if we fail to do so, we will only become bitter and transmit that bitterness to others. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  (Hebrews 12:15 ESV)

Suffering is meant to be transformative – first and foremost to transform us more into the image of Christ.  It is meant to happen through a transaction that might be called a divine exchange.  Psalm 55, written by King David provides us a pattern for how that exchange takes place.  In this Psalm, he is crying out to God regarding the fear, anguish and affliction he is suffering at the hands of an enemy.  Ironically, this enemy was once his friend.  It is an unfair reality in David’s life that he did not choose nor deserve.  Can there be any greater pain than the pain of betrayal? (It must be noted that this is a Messianic Psalm foretelling the suffering Jesus Himself would experience at the hands of His friend, Judas.)

The second to last verse of the Psalm, quoted at the outset of this article, is the key to this divine exchange that can transform our pain into peace.  We do not know if this is David exhorting himself or the Holy Spirit breathing a word of direction to him in the midst of his agony. 

David writes “Cast thy burden on the Lord.” (vs. 22a)  The word “cast” in the Hebrew is a strong action word as if to say “fling or throw it.”  And the “burden” being thrown literally refers to those things in life that are beyond our control, as if given by divine providence or at the least, a lot in life we find ourselves bearing.

Exchanging pain for peace can be a forceful transaction.  It is obviously a heartfelt all-abandoning process.  Again we need to consider Jesus as our example in how he transformed His suffering. “During his life on earth, Jesus prayed to God, who could save him from death. He prayed and pleaded with loud crying and tears, and he was heard because of his devotion to God.”  (Hebrews 5:7 God’s Word Translation)

The literal meaning of the promise at the conclusion of the Psalm 55:22 is very insightful and worth claiming.  “And He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”  (vs. 22b)  The Hebrew word for “sustain” here is pregnant with meaning.  It literally means to “comprehend” the suffering in a way that enables a person to both endure it and find nourishment or sustenance from it.  And so doing the suffering will not be allowed to so “shake” a person to the point of bringing them down.

Jesus came to show us how to suffer, how to carry the pain of the human condition and how to transform it for God’s purposes.  For the joy that was set before Him He carried the cross for our transformation.  That is why it is not an option to cast all our burdens on Him if we want to exchange pain for peace.  Both joy and suffering are found in the same deep places of our soul.

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