Most of us are unaware of how strongly we are hardwired to distance ourselves from pain. It's one of the many instincts of survival that are woven into our human nature. It's cousin to the optimism bias that has us underestimating the capacity for trouble to affect us in spite of evidence to the contrary. A mental bias powerful enough to have newlyweds across the country proclaiming with unreserved certainty that they will remain in love forever even though statistics inform them that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.
Though these survival instincts serve a valuable purpose, without mind-renewing grace they lead us away from facing the raw reality of our fallen condition and away from bravely stepping into the inevitable heartache of that condition. Especially into the heartache of others. Without the mind-renewing work of grace that transforms our thinking, our instincts will lead us away from the Cross and away from humbly entering into fellowship with Christ's sufferings and sacrificially into the sufferings of others.
One of the best demonstrations of our human inclination to distance ourselves from pain is seen in our overwhelming desire to assign reason to the suffering of others, even when their cry for compassion makes that assignment inappropriate. How many times have you heard factual declarations almost desperately, yet unbefittingly, spoken in the wake of tragedy?
Their child wasn't being supervised carefully. They disobeyed the warning signs. They were speeding. They were texting.
These aren't just statements of fact uttered in untimely moments of deep suffering, they are statements of fact that mentally and emotionally distance us from the sufferer. Because we don't fail to supervise our children carefully, and we don't disobey warning signs, and we don't speed, and we don't text and drive. In other words, I have nothing in common with this sufferer.
This desire to distance ourselves from suffering doesn't just reveal itself through inappropriate and heartless communication of facts, it also reveals itself through sinful speculation. Because in the absence of factual causation, we'll instinctually scramble to create a reason for the suffering of others. Reason that finds no dwelling place in our economy. Reason that proves the sufferer has nothing in common with our world.
That couple is facing divorce because they didn't make church attendance important. That child has behavioral issues because the mom works outside the home. That son is rebellious because he was sent to a public school. That girl was raped because she dresses immodestly. That friend has cancer because they don't have healthy eating habits.
Without the washing of gospel grace, our human condition will leave us pridefully securing our positions of safety at the expense of others. It will lead us to sinfully speculate. And it will silence genuine love and hope. It's the reason why the wounded far too often experience hurt within the Church at the very time they need help most. If you've found yourself in a place of deep suffering, you might understand when I say that the silence of others can often come with a scream of shame that is deafening.
If we want to be a community of believers marked by genuine love, it's not going to happen without the appropriation of gospel grace that empowers us to resist our instinctual response to retreat from suffering. We need Jesus. We need His transforming grace to daily renew our minds and set us free from ourselves. Free from the prideful self-preservation that recoils from the truth that we can only ever save our lives by losing them. Free from the prideful self-preservation that resists a brave entrance into the sufferings of Christ at the Cross where we surrender our rights, and our dreams, and our delusions of hope. A freedom that doesn't silence love, but a freedom that gives voice to love.
Jesus, we need you to set us free from ourselves so that we can love. We are desperate for your grace so that we can humbly render only the kindest of judgments as we live out your mercy and your compassion!