Books have been written, volumes penned, and limitless counseling sessions undertaken to understand the problem of pain. Whether physical, emotional or even spiritual, no one can escape feeling pain’s raw effects. We seek only to end it, sometimes at all costs – without bothering to understand it, much less embrace the experience. Sometimes, it seems the only ones who embrace pain are the unbelievers who use it as an accusation against God, as in, “If God is so great, then why does He allow pain?” They ask as a test for God’s very existence, that if He is real, He would never allow pain to afflict us.
Indeed, we all suffer pain for a variety of reasons (1 Peter 4:12) and some do seem to suffer more than others.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. (John 9:1)
There is a very rare condition called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis – an absolute inability to feel any pain. At first blush, this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it – a life without pain? Until you consider that physical pain protects our bodies from injury and illness; without pain, we could literally chew our tongues to a bloody, shredded mess at every meal, burn a finger to the bone on a hot stove top, or let a tiny sore turn into a deadly infection.
Without the pain of failure, would we ever really try to succeed? Without the pain of embarrassment, our personal conduct would devolve into an uncivilized mess. If we did not grieve so painfully for the loss of a loved one, how could we appreciate the value of life? If lost love did not wound us so greatly, how could we fully experience the beauty of love in our life? If we could not suffer pain, we would not truly know joy – life would be bland, unrewarding and devoid of meaning.
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
In the midst of pain, it is easy and understandable to feel as though we are being punished. However, we must seek God’s view, His timing is not ours – a life taken too early as we understand time is painful from our perspective, but if that life has fulfilled a great purpose from God’s perspective – then all of Heaven celebrates that life as much as any other, lengthy or not – even in the midst of our own sorrow. God has many reasons and uses for our pain (Hebrews 12:11)
We have all met people who are dealing with extraordinary burdens or pain. But have you noticed that when pain turns someone bitter or angry, they become a black hole of emotion? They are unlikable and they drive everyone away in their life and we avoid them at all costs. Contrast that with the person bearing identical burdens who instead of becoming bitter, seems peaceful, and even joyful at times. We are drawn to them – wanting to share in their joy. What is their secret? Frequently, these are the people who walk side by side with Jesus and seem to bear their pain without it becoming a millstone around their necks, seemingly content with each day as it comes. This makes perfect sense. Jesus suffered every form of pain known to mankind – He suffered everything for us so we would not be alone, so He can share the burdens of our inevitable pain.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)
You see, it is not that pain is for us to suffer, it is for us to glorify God. If people around you recognize your burdens and pain and yet see you thrive, living with peace and joy, I guarantee they will be drawn to you and feel a deep need to understand how it is you can live such a life despite your difficult personal circumstances. Then you can share with them the mystery and joy and power of your relationship with Jesus, whose yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30) as He looks to share your burdens.
To personalize this, many years ago my wife and I were severely and permanently injured in a devastating car crash caused by a drunk driver. It left us with lifelong physical pain and other difficulties, emotional challenges, and years of drastic financial problems and other consequences. If my suffering draws others closer to Jesus, I consider it a privilege. My personal pain is itself not always enjoyable – but I bear it with humility and submission. And yes, I do – consider it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds (James 1:2) because I hope that my actions and response may draw others nearer to Jesus, so that they may know the unspeakable joy of Jesus in their own lives.
As difficult as it is to endure, pain is not punishment; pain is a gift from God!
(By request, this post is repeated from my blog that originally appeared in October 2011)