Now, about three weeks after the wheels came off, I’m sort of back to normal, but still with a tender spot or two, a bit more wisdom and self-awareness. Anyhow, I’ve decided it might be time to try a counsellor. I’ve heard they can be delicious.

It’s usually said that – if you’re a Christian – Christ has set you free. The truth has set you free (John 8:32). Free from what? In context, it’s sin. Paul echoes this concept in Romans 6:17-18.

This idea of freedom can be extrapolated to more than whether we are a citizen of heaven or hell. Jesus set a woman free from being crippled (Luke 13:12), and He bought our healing at the cross, enabling him to heal people, even before the Cross (Isaiah 53:4; Matt. 8:17). But being a Christian doesn’t mean we will be healed. Moreover, there are other hurts just as destructive to us as physical suffering, although they may not be as perceptible or intrusive on our ability to live a normal life (eat, sleep, work, play; man, woman).

We have several ways to cope with life in a fallen world. We naturally don’t want to be hurt, we want to belong and to be significant. The way we learn to obtain these desires can be damaging to us or others. For instance, in order to fit in with a group we may take on the culture and mindset of the rest of the group. If this means putting others down or thinking they are less important or human than we are, we might do that. Or a girl might think the only way she can be loved by a man is to have sex with him. Or to take away the pain of suffering, we might get drunk or take drugs; bury ourselves in work or a hobby; or deny the pain and how it affects us.

However, when we become a Christian we don’t immediately become freed from the past, in terms of the physical, emotional and psychological effects of our past life. That’s why Paul tells us in 6:19f to continue to offer ourselves to God, and in 12:2 to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we were all healed completely and instantly, there’d be little need for transformation.

One might argue that we have sinful ways of thinking and acting that don’t arise from being hurt. I disagree. All our motives, words and acts arise from seeking satisfaction for those two needs of ours: for love and for significance. (Read Dr Larry Crabbe’s Inside Out.) If we don’t find those ultimately at Golgotha, we will end up seeking them in a way that is, or leads to, sin. We might try to satisfy those needs through callousness or cowardice, swearing or silence, hard work or laziness, lust or stoicism, greed or giving to charity. And yes, doing good can be sinful. If we do an act because we think it’s good, irrespective of what God says about it, it’s sinful. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

Yes, giving to charity is right and good, in the sense that God cares for the poor and approves of helping those in need; it’s line with what God would have us do. But we mustn’t confuse ethics with religion (for want of a better word, and I’m on a roll so I won’t get my thesaurus). Ethics is what we are to do. Religion is why we are to do it. Religion is the foundation, the ethic is the building.

Considering the proposition “giving to charity is good”, the non-Christian /religious ethic agrees with secular thought. At least, at the current time, in many parts of the world. But what happens when what the Bible (God’s word) says something about ethics that opposes what society says? Same-sex marriage, for example? These situations show us what our ethics are based on: the Bible or our culture.

But after that detour – hope you brought a packed lunch – back to the original topic. Which was..? Being set free from past hurts.

Sure, God can heal us immediately; psychologically and emotionally just as He can heal us physically. But mostly, I think, He doesn’t. He walks with us as we work through these issues ourselves. He might not heal a smoker’s emphysema, a drunkard’s destroyed liver and brain, the emotional pain of childhood abuse or the negative irrational thinking of depression.

We may have to endure these experiences. William cowper, author of many great hymns, had depression which eventually caused him to commit suicide. If you’re going to say he went to hell, I disagree; there are several reasons which it would be superfluous to discuss now – read that section in Called to Hope: overcoming depression.

So we may have to go through these experiences rather than God taking them away. I tend to hear about people who “overcome” these experiences rather than “enduring” them; and I wonder about the difference. I think enduring means we go through an experience, but overcoming means we rise above the experience so it doesn’t dominate us. It still affects us, but it doesn’t control us. Rather, we control our reaction to it.

One of my teachers at high school lost his wife; to cancer I think. He got through the experience: that is, he now lives a normal life. A man at my church also lost his wife to cancer. He got through it, but did he “overcome” it?

What about parents who lose a child? Or a person who gets raped? Or, on another level, having an obnoxious co-worker? On a third level, what about being 40, single, never had a partner, never had sex, never even been kissed? What’s the difference between getting through the suffering and overcoming it? In both, you generally end up on the other side of the experience, living a normal life.

Does “overcoming” mean you suffer less, or for a shorter amount of time, or that you have fewer emotional scars? It’s definitely not the first, and probably not the latter. I think overcoming can best be described by a story I heard about a Christian woman whose daughter was raped and murdered.

The man was caught and put in prison. Naturally, the mother was grieving for her daughter and had the natural desires for vengeance that any of us would have. Then one day, she felt God telling her to visit the young man who raped and murdered her daughter. As I would, she fought against doing this, but eventually went. To keep a long story short, she kept visiting him: only God knows how much she suffered and cried and begged God for vengeance and tried to forgive – I dread the thought of being in a similar place, having tasted a tiny bit of this myself. Then one day many many months after that first visit, she gave him a Bible, and on the flyleaf she had written, “To my son”.

That lady overcame. She experienced suffering, and it might have been
intensified by what God told her to do, and she still bears the scars. But she obeyed God, and the seeds of bitterness and hatred in her heart were torn out, and she has experienced a greater healing than mere time could give.

I think that is the difference between just enduring suffering and overcoming it: trust in God’s word; the genuine faith that causes obedience. John writes that our faith (in Christ; in God’s word) has overcome the world (John 16:33; 1 John 5:2-5).

What John calls “the world” here comprises people who reject God and those who trust God’s word. Such rejection will cause others to suffer, and all of us have hurt people and been hurt by people. So we’re told to “overcome evil with good”. This won’t eradicate the evil or minimise its effect on us, but it won’t  leave a root of bitterness inside us, or a kink in our psychological hose.

Overcoming suffering is not a uniquely Christian experience – many of us do  just get through, because we still seek ways other than Calvary to find love and meaning – but from the stories I’ve heard, it’s more common among Christians than among any other culture or group.

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