The Good Dentist

In C.S. Lewis’s heart-rending book, A Grief Observed, he chronicles his intensely personal journey through the fog and madness of losing his wife to cancer. If you’ve never read it, it’s definitely worth the read.

This short paragraph caught my eye yesterday:

What do people mean when they say ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never even been to a dentist?

We say, “God is good–all the time.”

Is God good because He always gives us good things? Does God want us to be always comfortable and pain-free? Does God want us to be always wealthy and healthy?

It’s a fact–God IS good all the time–but it’s also a fact that we experience periods of (sometimes intense) suffering on this cursed globe. Lewis lost his Joy, his best friend and lover, to cancer, leaving a gaping hole in his life and heart which took a long time to heal.

But does it ever heal? Scars remain.

A friend lost her dad this week. Another just lost her mom. There’s a time to rejoice and a time to weep, and sometimes the times for weeping seem to swallow up the rest.

But what does Lewis mean by “Have they never even been to a dentist?”

A dentist must hurt, must cause pain, must do things that feel violent. The patient, who was once convinced this small torture was a good thing, now just wants it to stop–let it be done! Yet, plead as he may, the dentist determinedly drills on, not because he enjoys to cause pain, but because he knows this pain is necessary in order for the patient to be whole and healthy again.

Our Lord, the Great Physician, knows our needs before we ask. He knows better than we.

When we pray for healing and grace, what do we expect? Do we expect all pain to suddenly vanish? When we pray for growth and patience and endurance, for what exactly do we ask? Do we think God will suddenly drop it in our hearts with no effort from us? When has anyone ever gained strength without exercise? When has anyone ever advanced without work?

Every one of us will endure pain and hardship. Wealth doesn’t shield a person from cancer. Health does not remove the pain of a rebellious child. The greatest relationship with your spouse will not shield you from the ultimate separation. This earth is still under a curse, evil happens, BUT God is in control! Do we trust Him?

Hebrews 12.3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

            “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
      nor be weary when reproved by him.
            6       For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
      and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Sometimes God is the good dentist.

Thank God for Suffering

We speak of the “comforts” of life, but what is comfortable? Perhaps we can know joy only after misery. Perhaps we can know peace only after the storm. Perhaps we can know comfort only on the other side of suffering.

Walking into a delicious fall breeze tingles your senses and fills you with a sense of energy and calmness. It’s fresh and invigorating precisely because it’s new and different. You have known sweltering hot summer days and chilly winter days, so the perfect autumn morning strikes you as just right.

Spiritually mature Christians know the comforts of the Lord because they have joined Him in His sufferings. They know what is pleasant because they know what is uncomfortable. They know what is peaceful because they know what is terrifying. Paul began his second letter to Corinth in this way:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1.3-7)

He is the “God of all comfort”! Is that not wonderful? And His comforts work in us to such extent that we can now aid the afflicted around us. As the Lord has granted us mercies, so we extend mercy to the fallen and the outcast, the orphan and the widow.

But what shall we do with our own heavy burdens? From time to time the weight of this life can feel almost unbearable. Will it crush us? Will it destroy us? Will our faith be broken? Paul continues:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Cor. 1.8-11)

Paul–the great apostle, no less–had felt burdened so excessively that it was beyond his strength to bear! Yet he glimpsed God’s purpose underlying the burden: SO THAT he would not trust in himself but in God who raises the dead!

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13.15)

So, dear Christian, where is your hope today? Where is your peace? You will surely not find it on Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, etc. Talk radio does not deliver joy. Facebook comments usually do not leave peaceful feelings. Our hope is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Therefore we must join in giving thanks to Him in all things.

Enjoy the comforts God affords, but also give thanks for the sufferings He grants (Phil. 1.29), because through afflictions we find His rest sweeter and through sufferings we find our hope brighter (Rom. 5.1-5).