The genius use of the word tender in the quote above isn't lost on me; showing compassion because you're sensitive to the pain. And there in lies the meaning of our week.
It's well-documented that in his bedroom Charles Spurgeon had a plaque on the wall with Isaiah 48:10 on it that read: "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." He once wrote, "Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering. There are none so tender as those who have been skinned themselves. Those who have been in the chamber of affliction know how to comfort those who are there. Do not believe that any man will become a physician unless he walks the hospital; and no one will become a comforter unless he lies in it, and has to suffer himself.” (Christian George, The Spurgeon Center.)
Cancer survivor and medical director, Dr. Eric D. Manheimer, of the Bellevue Hospital Center, said in the New York Times, "No amount of doctoring can prepare you for being a patient. If anything, it’s that recognition of vulnerability as well as expertise that makes me a better doctor today." Something tells me Dr. Manheimer would agree with Spurgeon.
So here we are. The end of a week where we looked at sickness and suffering through the eyes of a man that Carl Henry called “one of Christianity’s immortals.” I take a deep breath and shake my head slightly at the irony of that as I type, because when it came to embracing his mortality, few had a better grasp. After all, it was his illness, not his fitness, that assured him of God's grip on him and God's love for him.
"I, the preacher of this hour, beg to bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best. When God has seemed most cruel to me, he has been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than for anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me. Love letters from heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes."
Wow. Right? Spurgeon saw his disability as divine, his gout as godly and his suffering as safety. His greatest blessing wasn't wellness or strength or grit or ability or victory, but it was sickness, sorrow and loss. Why? Because of the arms to which they made him run. The dirt where his face sank was an altar. He worshipped where he wept. He saw it as guided, directed affection. First to him and then from him.
His tender pain was a love note that he would read and send back.
Now, I don't mean to put words into his mouth, but this old song comes to mind. As a modern-day psalm to his God, I think for Spurgeon it would be just about perfect...
Love me tender,
love me long,
take me to Your heart.
For it's there that I belong,
and we'll never part.
- Jimmy Peña
For Discussion: May that be the same for us. Guys, we have so many things going on in this entry, and this week, that it's impossible to summarize. If you missed "The Black Velvet" or "Resignation," I hope you find a moment. And I'd love to know your thoughts about the trio of entries. Circumstances prevented me from sending two of the days this week, but I hope it turned out right. Have a good weekend.
And if you're suffering, I'll stay and sing with you. I know it by heart.