“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”
– Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Suffering, p. 30 –
I watched the searing iron come down. The goat kid squirmed and begin to gasp, and yet the iron stayed.
Have you ever been burned? Has the iron stayed so long that you wondered what God was doing, why He was making you suffer?
We always take our new goat kids to get their horn buds removed, when they are only days old. The process takes only seconds. Held by a firm, practiced hand, the kids are one by one laid across a lap. Then a hot iron, specially made for the purpose, is held to each horn bud for 10 seconds. The heat burns away the forming horns.
The soft hair on their heads singes and smokes. It stinks. They struggle and kick and cry, but no one lets them up.
To them, the pain is purposeless and cruel. All they wanted was a nice pile of straw and a warm bottle. Was that too much to ask?
But I had a purpose in their pain: I dreamed for them — when they were unable to dream for themselves — of a future with no horns. They, had they known what I was taking from them, might have complained. “Hey, those are mine! I need those. They look dashing, I’ll be popular with the lady goats, and I’ll be the king of the pasture.”
When I pulled out of the disbudder’s driveway, I thought about the whole painful process. A friend riding with me asked why their horns had to be removed. I started listing the benefits of hornless goats. They wouldn’t get their heads stuck in fences as easily. They wouldn’t be hurt in the occasional “status” fights that goats use to determine who is boss. They wouldn’t gore another goat. They couldn’t poke people with the sharp tips.
So I pondered this too. It was love, I realized. We loved them enough to give them pain, because there was a purpose beyond it. Even though the kids couldn’t see it, I brought pain into their lives for their ultimate good.
Recently, a friend finally got me to listen to a song she’d been telling me about for over a week. When I finally did, I couldn’t believe the beauty in it.
Singer Elliott Park writes about a young sapling whose trunk is doubled over when a dying Rebel soldier hangs his gun on it. Watered by pain and tinted by blood, this oak grows that way — bent over, ruined in the eyes of most. But…just listen to the song “The Soldier and the Oak.” There was a purpose beyond the pain. The reality became better than the dream. The suffering can transform you into something even lovelier.
In the recent film Cinderella, after she long endures the hatefulness of her stepmother and sisters, Ella finally stands before the Prince, who still doesn’t know her name. “Who are you?” he asks.
“Cinderella,” she replies, using the name of derision that others had used to mock her. But she said it with a smile — a smile that showed that not only had she survived the suffering, but she was stronger for it. Her pain wasn’t a shoved-away corner of her identity. She embraced it, along with the change it wrought in her. Not Ella anymore. No, the pain had made her lovelier. She was Cinderella.
“In the secular view, suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption.” (Ibid., 26)
I’ve definitely seen pain that way — an entirely unpleasant interruption to my otherwise-happy existence.
But that night driving back toward the farm, I caught a new vision of suffering. In a strange shifting of roles, I found out what it was to be on the “knowing” end of things, the one that knew it would all be okay and the pain had a point (John 9:3; Rev. 21:1-7).
Every other day, I’m on the “not knowing” end of things. But…the uncertain cries of baby goats taught me a lesson that night.
“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CEB)
Sinful and weak as I am, I know better than my goats. How much more does our Heavenly Father know better than us where a moment of pain might lead (Isa. 55:8-9)? To what heights might it allow us to soar?
Could it be…that after this long enmity, suffering might turn out to be a friend?
Or that when God’s hand burns, we can trust after all?
“Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”
– Henry Ward Beecher –