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Lenten Reflections: Encouraging Faith Through Pain

Woman_at_ntl_gatheringWednesday, Feb. 20

Judges 11:111

Mark 1:29-45

Hebrews 3:12-19

By Elisa Jillson

In the passage from Judges, we meet Jephthah, who, though a “mighty warrior,” is driven away by his family and people because his mother was a prostitute.  Cast out, he holds company with a “gang of scoundrels.” Despite this rejection and Jephthah’s questionable company, God does not reject Jephthah. And, ultimately, Jephthah does not reject God. When the elders of Gilead ask for Jephthah’s help in fighting the Ammonites, he acknowledges that any victory will come from God (“the Lord gives them [the Ammonites] to me”). Jephthah, once scorned and rejected, becomes the “head and commander over them.”  

In the passage from Mark, Jesus heals many people—Simon’s mother-in-law, the demon-possessed, a leper. He heals them without regard to whether they “deserve” sickness or healing. Simon’s mother-in-law immediately shows her gratitude by serving him, but the leper immediately disobeys Jesus’ command not to tell anyone.

The passage from Hebrews warns us not to have an “unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” It exhorts us to “encourage one another daily” so that no one will be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

These passages tell us a bit about pain, faith, and encouragement. When we experience pain or difficulty, it is tempting to explain the inexplicable with two fallacies: God clearly doesn’t care about me because God did this to me, or I deserve this bad thing because of something bad about me/something bad I did.

But these are fallacies. God loved and blessed Jephthah no matter his parentage, no matter his rejection by his family, no matter his decision to take up with bad company.  And Jesus loved and healed the sick no matter the nature of their illness, no matter how they got sick, no matter what they would do upon being healed.

In our pain, we can find strength in faith in God’s love for us. Sometimes, as we believe, the immediate source of pain will go away (Jephthah was welcomed home as the head of his tribe; illness was miraculously healed). But sometimes it won’t. That doesn’t make God’s love any less real, but the pain can feel insurmountable. That’s why the passage from Hebrews tells us to believe and to encourage one another in our belief. Faith isn’t easy. We need community with God and with other believers to meet pain with faith.

PRAYER: God, thank you for your unchanging love. Please help me to believe even when I feel rejected, disappointed, or afflicted. Thank you for the encouragement of my church family. Please help me to remember to encourage others in their faith.

Elisa Jillson is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Photo: A woman praying during the second day of Bread for the World's 2011 Gathering at American University in Washington, D.C. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)


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