I had a sore throat last week. It was good for me. The doctor put me on ten days worth of pink antibiotic pills that smell like vanilla flavoring. The instructions said: “One tablet by mouth four times daily.” Noël and I decided that it says “by mouth” because they are big enough to be suppositories. The pharmacist stuck a green top on the plastic brown bottle which says, “Take on an empty stomach, one hour before or three hours after a meal.” I’m sure that if I get well it will be a miracle, because I simply can’t remember when it’s three hours after and one hour before a meal. One could get an ulcer worrying about when to take one’s pills.
But back to the point. I said, it was good for me. Like J.I. Packer says in the current Christianity Today: “Poor Health May Be the Best Remedy.” He meant: there are worse things to lose than health and better things to gain. And sickness may help us gain what is best. Here’s what I gained.
Sympathy—at least a little. How will a pastor ever feel for his suffering sheep if he never gets sick? One night I could hardly sleep, it hurt so bad to swallow. I lay there and thought: some of my people live in constant pain. My heart went out to you who can count on pain as sure as the sun rises. I preached to myself a three-point sermon: Point 1—stop grumbling and wallowing in your self-pity! Point 2—learn as many lessons from this sickness as you can. Point 3—pray and care for the suffering members of the church family. I said to myself: if I can’t endure this little sickness patiently, what sort of a monster grouse will I be when arthritis strikes?
So I have been thinking about those of you who live with pain. My sore throat has been good for me because it put you on my heart. It also set me to pondering Romans 8:23-25. It’s a word for you and all who suffer.
Not only the creation but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
The great apostle groaned! O Christ, hasten the day when my body will be redeemed from this cursed pain! God, it hurts! How can I endure? By remembering the day is coming! “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Freedom from suffering is coming! In this hope we were saved. But hope implies waiting. Waiting in pain. Yet by the grace of God we also wait in patience. O what a mighty gift of the Spirit! How I marvel at the patience among many of our people, older and younger, who live with pain. God bless you! In God’s sight this is very precious.
John Milton (1607-1674), the great English poet and Christian, went blind in the midst of a vigorous career. “Sonnet on His Blindness” is a great poem. His theology emerges triumphant because it is the theology of Romans 8. The sonnet concludes:
“Doth God exact day labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask; but Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work, or His own gifts; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Standing with you all,