Pain is not the Last Word with the Lord
God does not say there will not be pain in this life. Jesus never makes that guarantee. He promises just the opposite. Jesus says we will have tribulation in this lifetime. Some of the most memorable Bible verses in the New Testament deal with persecution and hardship. Hardship comes even when we are following Jesus. The sinfulness of this world makes sure of it. Jesus does make an amazing statement that goes along with the certainty of suffering:
Take Heart, for I have overcome the World.
The words alone give us a sense of peace, don’t they? This is the key to overcoming bitterness and resentment in our lives. But what exactly does take heart mean? How do we do it when all around us is crumbling to pieces? How do we deal with the bitterness and resentment that can creep in when things are not going our way?
A Woman in Great Pain is Our Example
Hannah is one of my favorite women in the Bible. Her faith is inspiring. She boldly asks for a son from God despite the apparent hopelessness of her request. God answers and she gives birth to Samuel. Hannah then gives that son over to God for service without regret or complaint. Samuel is the son of answered prayer. She waited for years from him to come. Yet, she trusts her beloved little miracle with God when he comes. She is simply an awesome example for all of us.
Hannah’s story could have ended very differently, though. Bitterness, rivalry, anger, anxiety, and many tears characterize the Hannah we are introduced to initially in 1 Samuel. Life is beating her up badly and she is collapsing under its weight. Years of pain and disappointment are on the verge of consuming her. That is until she takes her eyes from her enemy, her situation, and her pain and turns them to her Lord. This is where everything changes for Hannah. Her life is one of disappointment in man. It is when she places her hopes in God that a great transformation takes place. She walks her life by faith and her story of deliverance takes off. Her song changes from one of woe and loss to joy and celebration.
A Woman Defeated by Life
We pick up the story of Hannah with the pieces of her life set in place. She is married to a man named Elkanah. He has a second wife, Peninnah. This arrangement is causing problems. Hannah is the wife that Elkanah loves. Peninnah is the productive wife. Peninnah has a large number of children while Hannah is barren. We can imagine this is not a happy arrangement.
Children are seen as blessings from God. They are a sign of stature and standing in Hannah’s culture. A couple without children was thought to be cursed by most righteous Jews. They were viewed as causing their own punishment by sinning. If you recall Jesus’ disciples asking Jesus whose sin caused the man poor man’s blindness in the Gospels, this was the prevalent attitude. If something was wrong, it was your fault ran the thinking. So Hannah is loved by her husband but since he has other children, she alone is at fault for their lack of children. She is likely viewed in a bad light by those around her family since she is the clear cause. She is the one forsaken by God not Elkanah and certainly not Peninnah. This was a heavy burden for Hannah to bear.
It was also a lonely burden. Elkanah, as a necessity, would also be required to devote much more time and resources to Peninnah and their children. His line and inheritance would be through her, after all. It is an extremely painful situation for Hannah.
Salt on the Wounds
Elkanah and Peninnah do not make Hanna’s burden any lighter. Elkanah acts like husbands when trying to help their wives through something. He first tries to improve things by giving her gifts – from 1 Samuel:
Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah, he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.
He married a second woman and created the problem, to begin with, but thinks more meat will make it all good. Elkanah seems well intentioned but a bit clueless.
When this effort doesn’t work, he tries to make things better by pointing out how great of a catch he is:
8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Rather than sit and lament with his beloved wife, he chooses error number one in the husband playbook and tries to fix it. This doesn’ t help at all. Guys, sometimes the people in our lives just need us to sit and cry with them. It is a wonderful way to show our love for them. In this situation, it is only God who can help Hannah. Elkanah’s time and effort would be better spent pointing her to God rather than his solution.
A Petty Adversary
Peninnah efforts are more malicious. She is the rival of Hannah and she deliberately undertakes a course of evil against her.
Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
Peninnah had all of the material advantages at the outset of the account. She has won their battle. She is blessed with the attention of Elkanah, many children and likely the respect of the community. Her name also means either pearl or precious gem. In the world’s eyes, she is the valuable one. She is the jewel of the two wives of Elkanah. The name Hannah simply means grace – unearned favor. Peninnah is the gem and Hannah the one who needs a free gift.
Sin demands that even though Peninnah has it all she is not satisfied. Since she is the enemy of a woman of God, Penninah is not content with just winning. She must rub it in Hannah’s face. She feels compelled to provoke Hannah repeatedly to the point of bitter tears and anguish. This left Hannah totally defeated:
Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
Have we been here? The place where the pain is so bad we cannot even think about eating. Of course, we have, life does this to all of us at some point.
Hannah looks at what she is missing out on and hears the taunts of her enemy. She takes them in and then allows them to fester and take root. She is destroyed by her loss and lack and it leads her to bitter anguish. We have a choice to make when our plans clash with God’s in our lives. Do we choose to be grateful for everything God gives us or focus on the things we don’t have? When we choose the latter, it is so easy to descend into resentment. Hannah’s plight leads her to a dark place of pain and despair. She would have remained this way had she kept her eyes on her rival. If she continued to walk by her judgment, life would have only gotten darker and more painful. Despair can be the bottomless pit of our life that swallows us whole.
After years of pain and tears, Hannah decides to do something different. She takes her eyes off of Peninnah and what she has and turns to the Lord.
In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
12 As she kept on praying to the Lord,
Hannah takes all the years of sorrow, want and feeling of loss and boldly lifts them up to the Lord. She casts her cares on God and leaves them for God to sort out. In doing so, she is no longer trapped by her enemy in a game leading to hopelessness. She puts the issue at the Lord’s feet and begs Him to handle it for her.
“I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.” v15
Why do the wicked prosper? It is a good question and one that we have all asked at some point in our lives. But the temptation in our lives is to get stuck on this question. We can get tunnel vision on our adversary with a ton of money, a job promotion we want or even a fancy television ministry…and rob ourselves in the process. This is the source of bitterness. Lack of gratitude for all the Lord has done in our lives and a focus on the lack and loss. Hannah had to turn her eyes away from her attacker and the pain. She had to move out of her despair. She even had to turn from the idea that her husband would be the solution to her problem. She had to leave the temporal behind and seek the eternal. Only God could solve her problem. That is where all help really comes from. “Take Heart”, Jesus says or be encouraged, be hopeful, because God’s plan is way bigger than what you see in front of you.
God is the Answer to Bitterness
Was God waiting for Hannah to cry out to Him in desperation? Was God’s will moved because of Hannah’s pain filled desperate prayers? These are questions we will have to ask God Himself. But we do see repeatedly in the Bible when a child of God looks away from their earthly problem and to the Heavenly King good things happen. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there, God is patient with us, it just matters that we get to God. When we do, He works for our good.
It is a matter of natures. The rival is going to challenge us. The enemy is going to oppose us. The provoker is going to provoke us. That is who they are. It is what they do. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. Take heart, God already defeated all that nonsense.
God is the Deliverer, Comforter, Redeemer, and King. What do we think He will do with our problems? In Hannah’s case, He answers her heart’s desire and provides a son, Samuel. He is one of the greatest men in Israel’s history. God then provides more children, blessing Hannah more abundantly than she asked for.
Her joy is obvious in the song she sings as a result:
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
This was the result of the simple effort on her part to change her vision. She looked away from the world and the pain it caused and looked to God. He is the answer to overcoming bitterness. There is no resentment and loss in Christ Jesus.