"No pain, no gain" was my basic-training drill sergeant's favorite expression during arduous Army workouts.
The cry brought results.
At the time, my 19-year-old body responded with a surge of adrenaline. I assumed for the moment that the sarg's slogan existed somewhere in the cosmos as an immutable law of nature, and perhaps was an aphorism etched on a space rock circling the asteroid belt.
No pain, no gain.
But to that point in life, I'd never had an actual encounter with pain.
This I know today: In the second decade of the 21st century, humans are a deeply wounded species in need of repair. Virtually no one would attempt to refute that.
I've discovered that there's a remedy for our grinding suffering and dysfunction: the redeemer, Jesus Christ. Scripture says: "He will take our pains and he will bear our sicknesses." Certainly no other has entered human history with such a portfolio.
The assurances of Christ may not be your cup of tea. Understood. But as a caution, neither should they be rejected out of hand. Jesus' assertions are too profound, too significant to be routinely dismissed. For sapient beings, the savior's claims are worthy of examination.
Pain has tormented humans since the dawn of time. Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden and acquired a mantle of pain. Cain killed his brother, Abel, and humanity was off the rails.
"The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith and has been in every generation," observed British evangelical John Stott.
Some believe that if you're a good enough person you can avoid travail. But the God of the Bible never promises that.
Pain, unfortunately, is part of the equation — and, I daresay, a necessary one.
Catholic novelist and writer Michael D. O'Brien explains it this way in his illuminating bestseller, "Island of the World": "How else do we know God's rescue unless we have been drowning? Can healing be demonstrated without injury, or love proven without trial?"
With pain comes insight. That's how it works.
"Life is pain, Highness!" says the Man in Black in "The Princess Bride." "Anyone who says differently is selling something."
I spent years selling myself a load.
Pain and suffering were anathemas to me. If I allowed them no quarter they couldn't exist, or so I reasoned. I contrived that a "good God" wouldn't allow calamity to enter my life. Pure claptrap.
For a time, life accommodated my misguided notions. I thought it was God's duty to give me a happy, satisfying life. I didn't consider the fact that I was being prepared for an existence that transcends the bounds of time and space and goes far beyond the limits of threescore and 10.
Hardship is integral to character development.
The realities of habitation in an unjust and broken environment began to catch up with me. I couldn't outrun them, though I tried. They began breathing down my neck, and the race grew uncertain. Suddenly, after experiencing a patch of stinging "bad luck," I was no longer winning the race.
I was floundering.
I sought the counsel of others wiser than myself.
"When pain and suffering come upon us," cautions Timothy Keller in his book, "Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering," "we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were."
How could I have supposed otherwise?
I've been scuffling with Parkinson's disease for eight years now. Despite a surfeit of prayerful petitions, things aren't getting better. They're getting worse. I'm following friends of mine with the disease down an all-too-predictable path.
"We do not … grieve as others do who have no hope," Paul the apostle offers with full-throated certainty. That's not happy talk; it's a lifeline.
I have security in the one who gave everything to bring about my deliverance. The things of this life may be excruciating, but hopelessness doesn't have to be our lot.
Paul describes our release: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
That's a game-changer.