So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
As a teenager I attended a neighbouring church’s evening Folk Mass from time to time (this probably dates me). The excellent choir there sung a piece with the striking lyric: “what God asks of me can never be the same as what He asks of you so I must cause you pain.” One of the difficult things in life is the realisation that, however, unwittingly we cause others pain – sometimes by our own sense of vocation and call, sometimes by the more mundane minutiae of daily life.
Paul clearly had a difficult relationship with the Corinthian Church. We read in 1 Corinthians of the ways in which he was appalled at how their worship had descended into drunken depravity and, whilst his teaching was expected, one imagines that his visits and letters to them were difficult. He is clear that his intention had not been to cause pain but he is aware enough to recognise that pain was caused.
In our contemporary culture we see pain as something to be avoided – it’s probably why we talk about the weather so much as it’s safer than politics! Yet through the pain of childbirth comes new life, through the pain of growing we mature, through the pain of love we become stronger and, at the end, the pains of life ebb away as we enter into our eternal rest. Pain is part of life and one we need to embrace. Again, as a child, there was a saying to “offer it up” meaning our pain and despondency. It’s not a phrase we use much in the URC and can easily mask underlying issues but there is some truth there. We should offer to God the pain we feel and the pain we cause in the hope that through the painful experiences of life we’re refined and made ever more into God’s own image.
God of sorrow and joy, you take our pain and uniting it with yours, use it to transform our world. Give us the grace, when we cause pain, to be self aware. Give us the time, when we are pained, to forgive. Give us the faith to follow you. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Branston ministers with four churches in and around Glasgow and co-ordinates the Daily Devotions from the URC.