There are numerous ways in which life is physically difficult. There is pain. There is sickness. Things just do not work right. Things break. Things deteriorate. The mind gets weaker. Health issues abound.
As we all know, you cannot really express what it is like when you experience these things either. Maybe you have heard someone say that you don't know what it is like to have your nose clear until your nose is stuffy. Well, as we all know, there is a real truth to it, and the same applies to everything else. You also don't know what it is like to be healthy and pain-free–be it in you joints, your mind, or anywhere else–until those things start to not work rightly. Only then does that certain part of your body nag at you. Only then do you wish so badly that it was working as it should.
Add to this that when we are in physical pain, not many other people can experience or understand it either. Pains, brokenness, hurts, afflictions are all way too unique and personal to usually be experienced or understood by another. It is a frustrating truth about life.
My Flesh May Fail
A verse that has been very encouraging to me about all this is in Psalm 73:26:
"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever."
I love this for a few reasons. First, the Bible here is wonderfully honest and speaks into pain and sickness here. It talks about how the flesh and heart fail sometimes (or even often), and seeks to provide encouragement. (By flesh, the physical body is being spoken of. By heart, the totality of the inner self is most likely being addressed. Both fail. But for this discussion, we will focus on the flesh).
Yet that is not the main way this text is refreshingly honest and encouraging to me. The most beautiful part about it is that the Bible does not just shrug off the failing flesh as if it is no big deal. It does not say, "My flesh may fail, but because I have God, it does not matter." I've sadly quickly read it this way before, but that is not what it says. There is no sense from this text that our failing flesh is not a big deal.
God Is Very Precious
If the text were saying that the failing flesh is not that big of a deal, then God would be much less precious. He would not matter that much. If the failing flesh is not a big deal, then it is not a big deal to have God along with it.
Here is what I mean. Imagine saying, "I lost a nickel today, but I have God." How worthy does God look in that sentence? How precious does God appear in that contrast?
Now instead, imagine saying this, "I lost my house and my family today, but I have God." Now ask the same questions. How worthy does God look in that sentence. How precious does God appear in that contrast?
Clearly, God is more precious when the thing lost is more precious.
Therefore, this text is exalting the serious sorrow of a failing flesh. It is not downplaying it. We know this because it mainly is exalting the preciousness of God. There is no reason to read this and think lightly of the sorrow, the pain, the aches–which is how it can so easily be read. Rather, by elevating these pains, we elevate God as we cling to him in this verse.
He Is My Portion
But that is not all. There is still more that I find very encouraging about this text.
By "portion" the Bible here means that God is what (or who) I get. I don't get healthy flesh, but I get God. "Christ died...to bring us to God" (1 Pt. 3:18). Knowing him, loving him, being on his side forevermore is our portion.
Yet let's all be honest. When my body hurts, when my feet won't walk right, when I can't run, when things don't heal right, I sometimes really do not care much that I have God. We all can think, "Yes, of course I get God, but I really wish _______ was better."
Now, this is understandable, because, as we just covered, the failing flesh is a big deal. But this also is a mistaken way to think. It misses the truth that he is our ultimate portion.
Let me use an analogy again to get the point across. Imagine you're entering retirement and your life savings consisted of $2,000,000. No one would downplay that saying that is not a lot of money. It is. A whole lot. You're a millionaire. But now imagine that someone came to you and offered you a deal to sign. The deal is that there is a strong change you might lose your $2 million, but you would definitely get $2 trillion as soon as you signed the papers–yes I literally mean $2 trillion. What would you then think about your $2 million then? You're starting to see the point.
In truth, God is our portion. He is my portion. He is that much greater than a healthy ankle. He really is. And this also gives me encouragement.
A Light Momentary Affliction
It's helpful to point out that Paul says something strikingly similar about suffering twice in his epistles. He writes, "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17), and, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:8).
In these texts it is not that the sufferings are a small deal. Paul knew that (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-30). Just like no one can really say that $2 million is a small amount of money. It isn't. But yet, in comparison to $2 trillion, it is light. It is small. In comparison to our eternal portion, it almost is not even worth comparing (like 2,000,000 compared to 2,000,000,000,000).
Our Failing Flesh Matters, But God Is Much Better
Therefore, what we see is that the Bible gives us the perfect double truth which we all so desperately need as our bodies fail in so many ways.
The first is that our flesh failing really matters. If the Bible said that it does not really matter because we have God, then we all would deep down know that my leg hurting, my eyes failing, my brain not working does really matter to me. The Bible speaks of that in Ps. 73. Our text makes this plain: God is so precious because our flesh failing is no light thing. Our flesh fails, and it matters a whole lot. It is like saying, "I lost my house and my family, but I have God.
But that is the second truth: we have God who is way more valuable than we can imagine. This does not minimize our failing flesh, but it does put it in perspective. It is like saying that I might lose my life savings (which is precious!), but I know I'll get $2 trillion (and even that is not enough to represent the infinite God). He is far better than all else.
This Is What We Need When Our Flesh Fails
Isn't this what we each need in those times (possibly even right now) when our flesh is failing? One the one hand, I want to be okay with admitting that it is a big deal, and yet on the other, I also desire to joyfully acknowledge that having God is so much better than all of my body parts working flawlessly. I desire to have our sufferings not taken lightly, but then I also long for a perspective that shows that they are actually light in comparison to the wonderful, inexpressible hope I have in Christ.
Now, I am not saying this is easy. Right now we may doubt that God is enough as our portion. Right now, we all live so much by sight that it is fight to believe that the God we cannot see is of such worth and value. But in 150 years, we will all know the surpassing value of Christ. It is helpful for me to keep this perspective in mind. The goal is to taste it more and more here. He is better than all else.
And so our flesh fails, and that really, truly is tough. But, oh, what a surpassingly amazing truth, we have God.