The Comfort in Pain

Psalm 41

1 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;
    in his illness you restore him to full health.

As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me;
    heal me, for I have sinned against you!”
My enemies say of me in malice,
    “When will he die, and his name perish?”
And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
    while his heart gathers iniquity;
    when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
    they imagine the worst for me.

They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
    he will not rise again from where he lies.”
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10 But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
    and raise me up, that I may repay them!

11 By this I know that you delight in me:
    my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
    and set me in your presence forever.

13 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.

(Psalm 41, ESV)

My wife posed a question to me one day. What’s worse, physical or emotional pain? I never really thought to compare them, but I think she’s dead on – emotional pain is worse. So I did some reading on it and discovered something fascinating. We only have one nerve network, our physical one. So when we’re experiencing personal emotional distress, the only way the body can experience it is through our physical nerves. So although the source of the pain may be different – instead of a stubbed toe it might be a critical word from someone – the net result is the same in our bodies. That makes a lot of sense. But emotional pain can’t be pinpointed as a toothache can, so it’s so much harder to understand or heal.

David is struggling with three areas of suffering. He’s broke, he’s been sinful, and he’s been betrayed. It’s a nasty trifecta of pain. Being poor is hard on the soul. It creates anxiety and a sense of helplessness that’s paralyzing. That’s why he begins his poem by blessing those who help the poor! His sin has also so damaged him. He needs healing and forgiveness in it. His brokenness itself is creating pain in his soul. And finally, he’s been hurt by a friend. That last one is very hard. We have all felt the ugly grief of betrayal.

I think this is why the apostles grabbed this poem as being about Jesus. Their advent comfort is here because Jesus felt all the pain of this world. Jesus was born poor. No amount of varnish can make an animal feed bin pretty. It’s awful. It’s a choice of the poorest of the poor, i.e., no choice at all. Did Jesus know the damage of sin? Yes, Jesus actually was sinless and “became sin” as Paul says in his letters. The damage of our souls was taken into His soul. Jesus was betrayed, betrayed by the person he “ate bread with” as it says in the poem. That eerie detail reminds you of that awkward moment at the Last Supper, when Judas dips his bread in the dish with Jesus. It must have gripped the apostles’ imagination to see this poem predict something that specific. More than that, it also gave them their deepest comfort in two ways. First, Jesus knows our pain and what it feels like. Put it this way: there’s a lot of “I know what you’re feeling” vibes coming from the throne of grace. But there’s a second part we don’t see, that the prophecy makes certain. If it was predicted, then God has planned it. As wild and out of control as life can feel, He does not let go. Advent means God works His love and grace and power in our greatest moments of pain and fear. Advent then offers us that hope and love in Jesus.

Praise Him!