September 1, 2009
Mathematicians instruct us that a common denominator is a quantity into which all the denominators of a set of fractions may be divided without a remainder. Put more simply, a “Common” Denominator just means that the denominators (the lower part of a fraction) in two or more fractions are the same. But the term has sociological meaning, too. It describes an attribute common to all characters in a category or a shared trait; as in “Unbelievably, everyone in their family shared the common denominator of being left- handed.”
For human beings, pain is the common denominator. None of us escape its grasp. Eventually, everyone you know will walk through a season of suffering. It comes, uninvited, to the infant born with special needs and in equal measure to the senior citizen whose genetic predisposition blossoms into disease late in life. You’ll find it on the streets of Harlem as well as the mansion in Hollywood. No race, religious affiliation, or gender is exempt from its grasp. Whether you possess diplomas, trophies, stocks and funds, or great social standing; pain serves as the great equalizer. In a world full of diversity, it’s the one thing we all share.
So why do we act so surprised when we encounter pain? What makes us think that we are the one exception to the rule? Do we really expect this unwelcomed visitor to pass us by? James taught that we should expect trials not avoid them. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). That sentence is packed full of punch. First, the word “count” is an accounting term that implies that you can take this statement to the bank. The second key term, “when” indicates time. James doesn’t suggest “if” one day you might suffer, but “when” you get hit, it’ll hurt. Thirdly, pain comes in a variety of forms. “Various” means multi-colored or diverse. In other words, suffering comes in many shapes and sizes; there’s one form that perfectly suits you.
By now, you’re thinking this is the most downer blog you’ve ever read. Well here’s the good news. Jesus was more emphatic in his prediction of pain, but He also had a common denominator remedy. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus pain will still hurt, but it also brings the prescription for peace. Also, it won’t be permanent. We can overcome any situation this world throws our way with God on our side. Jesus promises to transform pain into peace both here and in the hereafter, if we’ll just let Him.