Pain helps us interact with people who are far from God the way God himself interacts with them. In John 16:7, 8, Jesus said:
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment (tniv).
The Advocate is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. God’s Spirit is pictured here as someone who would come to earth to “take over” for Jesus after he left. Unlike Jesus, who as a human was physically bound to one location at a time, the Advocate, without a physical body, could be present all over the world at once. This is why Jesus indicates that it was actually better for him to leave his disciples—more people could directly encounter God’s presence after his departure than if he stayed. The Advocate’s job, “to prove the world to be in the wrong,” might strike us as rather harsh, a lot like the hellfire-and-brimstone children’s homily preacher, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The word translated “Advocate” is the Greek word parakletos, which is a combination of two Greek words: para, meaning “beside,” and kalein, meaning “to call.” A parakletos is someone who is “called” to “come to the side of” someone. Other versions of the Bible accurately translate this word “Comforter.” The image that immediately comes to mind is a row of people sitting arm in arm alongside a widow offering as much comfort and support as they can possibly muster.
Pain helps us assume this posture with people who are not yet Christians by letting us experience what spiritual writer Thomas Merton called “an evisceration, a gutting and scouring of the human soul.” Pain humbles us and breaks us so thoroughly that we become almost incapable of delivering a spiritual message in a condescending manner. Pain acts like a spiritual abrasive: it scours us. It lowers our gaze, slows our steps, and bends our spiritual back. Pain can turn the proudest of Christians into a parakletos. This is what happened to me.
I’ve grown to the point where I really resonate with the last written words of Martin Luther, the man who instigated the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. Luther, by all accounts, is arguably one of the most influential Christian leaders and thinkers the church has ever produced, yet Luther’s life was one long journey of affliction. Persecuted by the Catholic Church, tormented by personal demons, carrying the pressure of leading a newly emerging church movement—by the end of his life he was a broken man. Among the endless volumes of books, sermons, and letters this brilliant man left to the church, Luther penned these poignant final words: “We are beggars: this is true.”
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