No, an oxymoron is not the big oaf sitting next to you! An oxymoron is a literary term where two seemingly contradictory things are put together to make a new item. For instance, jumbo shrimp isn’t something that is big smallness, but a tasty seafood dish. A girl who is awfully pretty isn’t a beautiful jerk, but someone remarkably cute.
I love the oxymoron that appears in the section of Psalm 119 called Teth—good pain. In just eight verses the word good appears six times, right alongside the word afflicted, which appears twice.
How in the world can pain be good?!?
To be sure there is bad pain, but where does good pain come in? Bad pain is the pain that sends you to the doctor, perhaps the pain that means you need to have surgery. There is still pain after the surgery, but that’s a good pain because it reminds you that what was wrong has been fixed. But if what was wrong has now been fixed, wouldn’t we say that the initial pain was really good pain all along?
That’s what the writer of the 119th Psalm thought. He said, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees” (v. 71). Do you see the good pain there? How about in verse 67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”
A 16th-century monk named John of the Cross described good pain this way—
“Thou hast wounded me, oh, hand Divine, in order to heal me, and Thou hast slain in me that which would have slain me but for the life of God wherein now I see that I live.” (emphasis added)
We’re really good at dulling physical pain with aspirin, Motrin and Tylenol. We try to chase away emotional pain with anti-depressants. And, to our own harm, we try to excuse or mask our spiritual pain too. But that spiritual pain is GOOD pain … if we will listen to it.
The psalmist knew good pain that came from the Holy Spirit’s illumination of God’s Word was something to pay attention to and obey quickly. The writer of Hebrews knew it too—
For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power, making it active, operative, energizing, and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and the immortal spirit, and of joints and marrow of the deepest parts of our nature, exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, Amplified Bible)
Don’t ignore that spiritual pain. It’s good pain for those who will listen.
I am continuing my series on the 119th Psalm next Sunday, and I hope you can join me.