Hope and Pain
Vol: 27 Issue: 1 Friday, September 1, 2017
Life is pain. We can’t separate the two. It is pain that defines life. Our entrance into the life is characterized by pain; everything about the process involves pain; labor pains, birth pains, delivery pain and so on.
We learn from pain — indeed, there is no more effective teacher.
A person born without the ability to feel pain is a medical emergency waiting to happen, one who is unlikely to survive childhood unscathed.
From the moment we enter this life until the day we leave it, life is an exercise in pain avoidance, bookmarked by pain on both ends.
Physical pain is a necessary element of survival, but that doesn’t make it one millimeter more attractive. One of the most attractive features that heaven has to offer is found in the verse;
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
But notice where in the Book that promise is written. It is written at the end. Between now and then, all we have is ‘hope’ — and even for Christians, that hope isn’t always enough.
It is one thing to talk about it, but it is another thing to feel hopeful when all seems hopeless.
Oftentimes, it is because we misplace where our hope is supposed to be centered.
Of all the kinds of pain that, taken together, define our earthly existence, the worst kind of pain is the pain of separation by death.
That pain is different for Christians than it is for unbelievers, but different isn’t the same as non-existent. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13)
I can barely recall the tragedy that death was to me as an unbeliever. Death was the end. All that person ever was, gone forever. It was an incomprehensible tragedy.
When I became a believer, the nature of death changed for me, but not the pain of it. I knew that death was not the end, but the beginning — for the one who has gone on.
My Bible says I should be happy for that person. And I am, but that doesn’t do much to assuage my own loss.
The pain of separation is (for me) no less intense.
As a believer, my Bible tells me I should welcome death as a new beginning. But I have to confess that I don’t. It is part of that Christian dichotomy that notes that “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
Even those who object to the Rapture doctrine on the grounds it isn’t fair, base their objections on our inherent fear of the death process.
They don’t object to the idea of believers going to heaven, or receiving Resurrection bodies, they object to the unfair notion that there are believers who will circumvent the normal death process.
The Blessed Hope of the Rapture is, when broken into its component parts;
a) the Hope that some of us won’t have to die to see Jesus; and,
b) the Hope that we won’t have to endure the loss of separation from our loved ones who will be Raptured with us.
What makes the Rapture attractive to us is entirely carnal — the avoidance of pain. Remove that element, and one also removes most of the philosophical objections to a pre-Trib Rapture — the so-called “Great Escape”.
The Promise of the Rapture is our ‘Blessed Hope’ — but if its purpose was simply to ensure a smooth and painless passage into the next life for an elect group of Christians, I would also question its veracity.
The Rapture is our ‘Blessed Hope’ because it is natural for human beings to want to avoid the pain of death and separation. And by its mechanics, that is what the Rapture offers — but that is NOT its purpose.
Understanding that one fact sweeps away most of the confusion surrounding the question of why God would so bless what is arguably the least deserving and already most-blessed generation in the history of the Church Age.
The purpose of the Rapture is NOT to provide a Great Escape from the pain of death and tribulation.
The purpose of the Rapture is to withdraw the restraining influence on evil that is the Church Age ministry of the Holy Spirit.
How does the Holy Spirit restrain evil? The Bible says He accomplishes it through His indwelling influence of the Church.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.”
Of course, the Comforter of Whom Jesus is speaking is the Holy Spirit. (Notice Jesus refers to “Him” rather than to ‘it’)
Notice also how Jesus defines the Comforter’s ministry during the Church Age.
“And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:7-8)
During the Tribulation, there is no reference to a Restrainer reproving the world of sin or righteousness or judgment. The Tribulation is a time of unrestrained evil and unrestrained Divine judgment.
Paul tells us what holds back what he calls “the mystery of iniquity” –or, an evil so pervasive that it causes “all the world” to worship the beast. (Revelation 13:4) Paul writes,
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now letteth will let [restrain], until He be taken out of the way. And THEN shall that Wicked be revealed. “(2nd Thessalonians 2:7-8a)
The Restrainer is not a thing, but a “He”. And that “Wicked” is also a person.
Until He [the Restrainer] is ‘taken out of the way’ that Wicked cannot be revealed — because he won’t have the Satanically-energized power to do so.
The power and signs and lying wonders are not manifested until after the Restrainer is taken out of the way.
But Jesus promised the Church that the Comforter will indwell us until He comes for His Church. So we have two conflicting promises.
The first is that the Holy Spirit will be taken out of the way BEFORE “that Wicked” is revealed. (2nd Thessalonians 2-6-9)
The second is that the Comforter will indwell believers until Jesus returns “in like manner as you see Him go.”
As the Apostles watched Jesus ascend into Heaven after Pentecost, two angels stood by, and addressed them.
“Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
Jesus did NOT ascend into Heaven astride a white horse, accompanied by ten thousands of His saints, and bearing a flaming sword of judgment. He ascended into Heaven in secret, witnessed only by His Apostles and the two angelic witnesses.
So, if Jesus is to return for His Church in “like manner” to the way He left it, then He comes in secret, visible only to the Church and the angelic witnesses.
Jesus ALSO promised that the Comforter would indwell us until He returns for us.
If, as I said, the purpose of the Rapture was to provide a ‘Great Escape’ for a single generation of supremely undeserving Christians, then I would share the same problem as others do.
Why wouldn’t the Church have to endure the Tribulation? What are we, something special compared to all those generations who came before?
In reality, the Rapture isn’t a Great Escape for Christians — it is the promised evacuation of the Holy Spirit — which requires the evacuation of the vessels He indwells.
It might seem unfair from the perspective of man, but therein lies the difficulty. God doesn’t see things the way that we do.
That is why He expects us to trust His Word.
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5)
Featured Commentary: Pilgrims in a Foreign World ~Alf Cengia