A Christian Testimony of Triumph
Pain. It might be physical. It might be emotional. It might be brief. It might seem endless. But we have all experienced it, and those of us not currently flattened by it are haunted by what it could do to us before our lives are over.
Roy White writes from his personal torture chamber. And he brings us hope. In nine years he has suffered perhaps a hundred times more pain than most of us will ever see in our entire lives. As I read, my bloated opinion of my own decades of trials shrivels up, losing its power to mock me.
Over the last few years it has seemed that whenever the Spirit of God is heavily upon me, a desire to suffer for Christ comes upon me. I don’t yet know the personal implications, but I know there are treasures to be found in suffering that few western Christians could dream of.
One of the great challenges facing us Christians is to stretch our narrow minds to cover more than a fraction of God’s revealed truth. We have a strong tendency to focus on one aspect of truth to the exclusion of other seemingly contradictory, but equally significant biblical truths. Consider the spiritual heroes portrayed in the faith gallery in Hebrew 11. Many of us lock on to the first half of the gallery – those who by faith received miracles – and overlook the second half, who through faith received the power to endure torment and martyrdom when God saw a better way than to grant miraculous avoidance. We nod knowingly when Paul says he knows how to be full and abound, but we scratch our heads when he says he knows how to be abased and hungry (Philippians 4:12). We claim to know all about the early church’s source of power, yet blink in bewilderment when we see them rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for their Lord (Acts 5:4). We cling to the Christ who said ask and you shall receive, and hold at arm’s length the Christ who said deny yourself. We rejoice in the Christ who said he came that we might have abundant life and recoil from the Christ who said take up your cross.
Many of us argue vigorously that Paul’s thorn in the flesh could not possibly have been sickness, then slip over the fact that whatever it was, God refused to answer his prayer, even though Paul acknowledged that what he was suffering was from Satan and the torment was so awful that three times the mighty apostle pleaded with God to remove it. Moreover, under the Spirit’s anointing he proclaimed that it was God’s plan for the affliction hammering him to bless him by saving him from the quicksand of pride.
Roy White stretches us by presenting that half of spiritual truth that we shrink from. He does this not by dry Bible exposition but by digging deeply into his own spiritual adventure. Nevertheless, if your love for Christ is superficial, you won’t like it. In fact, you’re probably better off reading no further. Go back to my self-indulgent writings for baby Christians and pray that one day your eyes will be so opened to the beauty of Christ that you fall in love with him. Then, and only then, are you likely to appreciate what Roy shares.
In the following you are granted a sneak preview of a powerful, much-needed book. It would be much more flattering to Roy if he permitted us only to see the polished work that, God-willing, his book will become. Nevertheless, Roy has graciously yielded to my concern for the thousands of us who desperately need this book NOW.
I have abridged an early draft of Roy’s book. Had I the time I would have further concentrated the nectar. If you love Jesus, however, I believe you’ll be rewarded as you slide through the words.
Roy has little comprehension of the value of his writings, so please e-mail him with feedback.
Comforting Thoughts When Distressed or Depressed
(Keep following the main link at the end of each page)
Here I sit again at my screen feeling awful. I can’t describe how difficult it is to NEVER, EVER, feel good . . . I’d like to start this with an inspiring quote or poem but frankly I just don’t have the energy to hunt anything up . . . I swear it feels like my spine is coming apart.
Years before this continuous pain began I was forced into recognizing the universal nature of suffering. All of us to one degree or other suffer and just because you are not suffering as severely as I am, (or I as much as you) does not diminish anyone’s personal experience of suffering one little bit.
One day I was driving my van at work, cruising along feeling fine in downtown Salem when a poor miserable soul in a wheelchair rolled past in the crosswalk in front of me at a traffic light.
He was twisted and crippled, his head forced to the left, nearly lying on his shoulder so that he could only look forward with one eye. His face was drawn and disfigured, one hand immovable, withered and cradled tightly to his chest, the other was wrapped around the control stick on his motorized wheelchair.
He was truly pitiful sitting there, unable to . . . Well, I’m sure you have seen many people like him in your life.
I became enraged by the injustice of it all in that moment.
I began angrily questioning why.
There were healthy and happy college students having a great time on the nearby tennis court and the contrast in that moment got to me in a big way. I began to pray. “Why is it, that this man must be so crippled, that he must sit there in such pain and restriction while these others enjoy their lives so much . . .? It just isn’t fair God . . .”
I prayed along these lines for a few minutes then felt God speak in my heart. “Roy, why do you imagine that you, or those students on the tennis court, are any different in my sight from this precious man in the wheelchair? In my eyes, in your insides, in your spirits, all of you are crippled beyond your imagining. Sin has ruined all of you. Don’t imagine that anyone you see, no matter how healthy, is walking true and free in his or her spirit. Not one of you is anything but twisted and crippled and broken in my sight. Roy, lay no burdens on any one. They, and you, simply cannot carry them.”
I think about this word a lot these days . . .
All around me I see people who are hurting. People who look great on the outside, but when you begin to get to know them and they start sharing their problems it quickly becomes evident that they are not so well off. I am learning to picture that crippled man in his wheelchair, such suffering so evident in his visage, and super-impose that mental picture over the healthy, even smiling, people that I see before me every day.
It helps me to be merciful . . .
Now it is my own nerve endings that are screaming. It is my own life that is ruined. It is my turn. How emotionally, can, and am, I dealing with this?
I will be revealing extremely personal and intimate details, hopefully from my own soul. This writing may seem self absorbed and terribly introspective, but this is unavoidable for pain strikes internally and must be confronted internally, after all the medical options have been abandoned.
This is the condition of chronic suffering . . . When nothing can be done but to simply grit your teeth, and to live each intolerable, uncomfortable, monotonous, horrible, moment . . .
Pain . . . What an awful thing it is.
Phillip Yancey, in his excellent book, Where Is God When It Hurts talks about the physical value of pain.
He writes about how leprosy is widely misunderstood as the ‘rotting away disease.’ In reality, it is a disease in which the nerve endings simply die off. There is no pain for these people . . . A state that at first thought seems to me to be greatly desirable . . . Consequently lepers can seriously injure themselves without being aware of it.
Because he feels no pain, a boy turns a key in a rusty lock that a strong man cannot open. In the process he cuts his finger open to the bone and doesn’t even notice. Lepers will reach into a fire to pull out a potato and burn themselves severely without feeling pain. An infection goes completely ignored. A finger can be slammed in a door and torn off and it goes completely unnoticed.
The ‘pain’ of leprosy is truly horrid . . . It is the pain of social ostracism. To be rejected so thoroughly by society . . . A man tells of how he had to sit in his car outside of a church as his daughter got married within. He was ‘outcast,’ asked to stay away because of his leprosy and the stigma attached to leprosy. Imagine that you must stand by helplessly as your body literally rots away and there is nothing that can be done.
And this is a disease with no ‘pain . . .’
My mother, who suffers from neuropathy, had a very close call because of the lack of pain. (Or at least the lack of the ‘proper’ sort of pain.) Neuropathy is a mysterious nerve disease of unknown causes and mechanism in which the nerves in the extremities of the body slowly die off. Mom is in tremendous pain from the dying nerve endings even though there is a numbness and lack of pain in her hands and feet.
A few months ago she was helping out on a remodel construction job. She stepped on a screw early on in the day. Without feeling any pain (“Oh, desire of my heart,” I think) the screw became embedded in her shoe and worked its way in as she continued walking around through her shoe, into her foot, all the way into a bone.
She felt no more discomfort than she usually does what with the tingling and numbness of neuropathy.
She got all the way home without discovering anything was wrong. Finally, when she took off her shoe, she had to tug and pull, “Why won’t my shoe come off,” she’s thinking. When she finally got her shoe off there was a great deal of blood soaking through her sock. She saw the screw sticking up through the bottom of the shoe on the inside. Only then did she see the hole in her foot.
She immediately rushed to the emergency room. The doctors there told her she probably was going to have to have her foot amputated because of infection. (Apparently the inside of a bone is very susceptible to infection.)
She was still not feeling any pain from the injury although her overall pain level from the neuropathy was just as high as ever.
We all immediately began to pray for her, begging God to stop the infection, to save her foot from amputation.
God was so faithful and her foot healed up just fine. There was no infection at all. Praise Him for his excellent love!!!
Yancey makes the strong and obvious case for pain. How good it is, how life is truly impossible without it, what a wonderful ‘security system’ it is, how finely crafted we are with our ability to feel both pain and pleasure with the same nerve endings. (Really, you should read his book, it’s much more concise and makes a ton more sense than these ramblings of mine. The only difference between these writings and his, besides his incredible scholarship and logic is that I am right there . . . I am in the fire . . . It’s ‘goring my ox,’ not his . . .)
Pain, when it is working right, is what makes the world go round. Pain is a wonderful gift that blesses and helps our lives.
What to do though, when it rages unchecked and out of control . . . When pain is like a dragon waiting around every corner.
When pain is the single most present reality to your life. When there isn’t anything that can be done about it but to stand bent and helpless in the face of the hurricane and lean into it. (Oh, I want to flee from it but I don’t know how.)
When every single waking, and most of my dreaming thoughts are centered around and wrestling with pain . . .
When . . .
Oh, can’t you see? Don’t you understand? This is why I, who never ever dreamed of writing a book about pain, am sitting here like a blacksmith over his anvil pounding with all of my soul. Hammering with every fiber of my being.
Hammering out my heart’s blood and trying to come to terms, trying to make a treaty, trying desperately to make a life out of the ruin I have become.
This is written from the deep . . . By his own admission in his book Mr. Yancey wrote from the comfort of the fireside.
I am writing from the coals themselves . . .
The abyss of suffering is dark.
It’s lonely . . . It’s frightening . . . It’s out of my control, out of my hands. I am hesitant to even write about my true feelings about this experience because I don’t want to depress anyone, yet the truth of my life calls for transparency.
So . . . The Truth . . .
The truth is, I’m sitting here weeping as I write.
The truth is, I contemplate with dread twenty two thousand more days like today and my spirit recoils in horror . . .
I no longer fear death. I no longer fear terminal illness. I no longer fear men in any way. I do not fear financial ruin or . . .
I fear pain itself . . .
I think I am writing this mainly to try and work through my fear of pain itself and finally learn to ‘live with it.’
My title is . . . “From Under the Lava tn the Far North.”
As near as I can put into words, this is where I’m living . . . In the far north, deep in a cave under the Lava with no companions. In a tiny subterranean ice cavern chained to a wall, shivering and groaning without a shred of comfort or well being . . .
All alone with friends and family around calling encouragement, but nevertheless . . . All alone . . . Here in this dungeon I live now. Here on this rack, stretched out, twisted and broken.
Here I live . . . There is no reason for me to think that after NINE YEARS of this, there should be any other place for me to live. That I will, in this life, ever be free from intense, physical suffering . . . So. Under the lava it is.
God is with us!!
Here, in the middle of a life rendered useless and detestable to me.
Here, the Almighty Creator of billions of stars . . .
He is with me . . .
Not as a triumphant King riding high, like a seven forty seven above the clouds . . .
Not like a moviegoer munching on popcorn, detached, watching a tragedy unfold on the screen before he leaves to have pie at Marie calendars after the show, but here.
Here in the very midst of all the suffering he himself has allowed in me, FOR me. He himself has even chosen to identify himself entirely with my present pain . . .
Only a suffering God can help. He does not, “Walk beside me,” in my heart. He lives with me in my heart.
HE does not, merely, Act within me.
No. What he has done, the depths of His love poured out is revealed in his incarnation IN me. HE CHAINS HIMSELF to my situation. I am not alone here in the cave under the earth. Jesus is with me.
It is as if I, before He entered in was the color blue and He was yellow. Now there is no longer any split in the colors . . . He has made me green – the mixture of blue and yellow – a brand new living color. What a raw deal for God . . . He receives nothing from me but my sin, shame, and pain. I receive everything. I can keep nothing in this world. I keep everything in eternity and I will receive everything there . . .
A few years ago someone asked me. “So, brother, What are you doing for God these days?” Me, having thrown up that very morning was struck by the absurdity of the question. “Who, me? How can I possibly imagine that I can do anything for God? NO WAY. He does everything for me . . . I . . . Do . . . Nothing . . . For . . . Him . . . How can my goldfish do anything for me? How can an infant do anything for his mother? How can a nail do anything for the carpenter? How can a lump of boring old clay do anything for the potter?
I have truly forgotten what it is like to NOT be in pain . . . And so hope flies far away and I sit chained to my wall by the shortest, rustiest chain.
However hopeless, however bleak, there is a basis for hope. The basis of hope is always faith. Faith, based on God’s word, His inimitable promises of blessing and joy, is the only possible source of hope. Many times the only thing that can make me smile, the only thing that can thrill my heart and lift my head is the eternal promise of heaven itself. “The confident expectation . . .of future, (not necessarily present) GOOD.”
I believe in the ultimate truth of God’s word. That His promises are true, no matter what my experience is. I believe that those promises MUST at last come true in my life, in THIS life . . . That healing, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control are all possessions that I have now. The problem then, has got to be in me . . . In my expectations of exactly what are God’s responsibilities in regard to His word and promises in my life.
I think that I expect too much from God. That I truly believe He is a gigantic jukebox who exists entirely for my personal comfort. I put my quarter in, say a few prayers, and out comes exactly what I want so that I can spend my life for my own personal pleasure . . .
Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” There is not one thing about my life as I now experience it that I consider abundant . . . Except for an over abundance of pain.
Who is wrong then? Him or me?
This is the man who raised Lazarus from the dead. The man who cured a man born blind by spitting, making mud, irritating mud. (You probably have had mud in your eyes, how do you like it?) And sending him on a long, humiliating walk across town. See him walking hands outstretched in the habitual manner of the blind. “Excuse me sir, or Ma’am, I am hurting and . . . No, please don’t wash this mud out of my eyes I have to go to the pool of Siloam, please point me in that direction . . . What’s that . . .? Oh, no sir, I’m not losing my mind, Jesus told me to find Siloam and wash . . . What’s that . . .? Yes sir, it hurts like the dickens but the pool of Siloam . . .? . . . Please . . .? He says I will be able to see if I wash there . . .”
I imagine that that man, on the way to the pool of Siloam had some serious questions about Jesus’ word and his own sanity. Did the crowds laugh at him for believing? Imagine him walking with his eyes packed with mud, desperately seeking Siloam. His life probably didn’t seem very abundant at that point, except for the abundance of his pain.
Imagine the reality that was waiting for him at the pool. It is very likely that, by the time he reached the pool of Siloam his own tears had washed the mud from his eyes and all that was left for him was obedience. “Wash.” He had been born blind . . . He had never seen . . .Anything . . .
Foremost on Jesus’ mind was... The humiliating journey through the streets of Jerusalem and pain?
I believe Jesus was laughing with joy as he saw in his spirit this man opening his eyes at the pool and for the first time seeing the incredible beauty of the blue sky he would one day be lifted up into.
What a future we all have. What sights and sounds, the multitude of sense in the Spirit we will have when at last we are awakened from our sleep here in this sinful flesh and ‘called out’ to go to our eternal home.
What joy must fill the heart of Jesus as He labors within us here in the midst of our ‘dimness’ and pain, striving mightily that his own blessed character be formed in each of us.
Romans chapter eight says that he is ALWAYS interceding for us before the Father. He always prays for us.
But still we must shoulder the burden.
Still we must grope blindly for our own personal ‘pool’s of Siloam.
Who knows why, but some of us must toil along bearing HUGE burdens. I must be faithful. I must hold on, good good good good things are coming my way.
This path leads to Siloam.
My burden, calling, and task, is to live that journey from the moment of Jesus’ touch, and mud, (for the blind man, the beginning of his pain,) to the pool, where he (and I,) at last will receive the fullness of the word of healing. For him his sight; the deepest desire of every blind man, and yet he, like a woman pregnant, carried within himself his healing every step of the way. Jesus’ Spirit, inhabiting, indwelling, the spitty mud in his eyes was the word, was the hidden promise, was the hope itself.
The mud causing the pain was the embryo of his healing.
What if that errand had been a lifelong task for this man?
What if he had been told, “Go to a river in China and wash.” An expedition on foot that would have taken him, blind and alone, the rest of his life. Imagine him stumbling, tapping with his cane, feeling his way into dead end canyons, retracing miles and days of the same ground, feeling absolutely foolish clinging to this word, (and the mud in his eyes) the pain as the years pass and still no sight, still no sign of the river he seeks . . . Imagine the sense of despair . . . The hot sun beating down on his neck as he walked the featureless deserts . . . (Of course all places are featureless to a blind man.) And yet he journeys on.
Such a single-minded devotion sounds incredibly romantic and epic to me, sitting here typing, knowing that eternal sight awaits him at the headwaters and yet what a weary journey it must have seemed to him.
Imagine the incredible opportunity for fear inherent in blindness. Not knowing if the next step will fling Him headlong off of a precipice or into a pit. Not knowing if the rustling in the grass over there is a lion stalking or a lamb tearing the grass as it feeds . . . He stops to rest a few moments, the sun like a weight on his head yet a shade tree not a stones throw away.
This feels like, no, this is my journey . . .
To travel on under such conditions clinging to Jesus’ words about wholeness, peace, living water, abundance . . . But oh how hard it is, oh how long how long how long must I travel?
What an awful path, what an awful calling and superhuman patience it takes. I am not made of titanium, I don’t think I can do it. I can’t imagine how I can walk on, yet I know tomorrow will come whether I sleep tonight or not.
I get so angry I want to beat my head against the wall. I have, unlike Job cursed God and tried to die but my rebellious heart is more faithful to Him than I am and it refuses to stop . . . Just keeps on beating, keeps on holding my feet to the flame. My heart keeps on thumping along and after a few weeks I’m back on my knees again, praying and worshipping.
I can’t stop my heart from loving Him any more than I can stop it from beating. This is, after all, He who died for me . . .
This is the ONE . . . The STILL POINT around which all that is or ever will be revolves.
T.S. Elliott wrote this poem. “Without the point, without the STILL POINT there is no dance, and there is only the dance.”
He is the Hinge.
The Beginning and The End.
He who created all and in whose heart I have been invited to dwell . . .
He who has, “Qualified me to share in the inheritance with the saints in light.” As unlikely and impossible as that sounds . . .
How can I ever forsake Him . . .? How can I ever throw away all that He is just because I have not yet become all that I wish to be?
After all, the book of James says that this very process of tribulation IS the very means by which I become all I am meant to be. “Consider it ALL JOY, when you encounter various trials, for the testing of your faith produces . . . (PRODUCES . . ..) Patience. Patience has its perfect result that you may be complete, lacking nothing.” LACKING NOTHING . . . Isn’t this the desire of every parent for a child?
This is an eternal cornerstone truth for existence as an eternal Spirit in a temporary, sinful state, so why am I afraid? Why am I resentful? Why am I so convinced at times that He has forgotten me? (Or worse yet, that He has turned His hand against me?)
It is morning now. I Woke up last night, spent an hour or four laying in exhaustion and pain staring at the ceiling . . .
DARKNESS . . . Another unnatural state to be endured.
DARKNESS . . . A purely temporary condition of this world.
DARKNESS . . . When all the whispering fears and doubts slither out from under all the sinful rocks and holes of my subconscious and begin speaking, whining, complaining.
DARKNESS . . . When Jesus seems like a myth unreachable as Xanadu, as untouchable as the moon itself, but even more remote because I cannot see him.
DARKNESS . . . When nothing but faith alone, in the middle of suffering, pushes on . . .
Faith does not even become real, true faith, until all props to faith are removed.
Like a Cathedral, free from all scaffolds and supports, standing impossibly tall and fragile looking in the middle of a hurricane. All other houses, trees, rocks, the very grass itself being snatched out of the ground and scattered by the fury of the wind yet Faith, the Cathedral, stands trembling but sure.
The Bible says all things that can be shaken WILL be shaken . . . Faith CAN be shaken but Faith, (The gift from God.) Is an unbreakable weapon, fortress, shield and strength. It CANNOT be shattered or fail under any possible circumstance on Earth or Hell, or even Heaven itself.
Faith is an eternal quality, kept for me by God’s infinite love. Yet here I am squarely in the Now, facing the end of a weekend, having done nothing but lay around groaning. Beginning another workweek convinced of the utter impossibility of making it through this week