The Problem With Pain

I hate pain. I hate seeing people in pain. I hate causing pain. I hate pain. Many of us use it as a way to remove God from reality. It fuels the flame of doubt and sometimes undermines the believer’s faith. I know I have a few times.

C.S. Lewis has a book titled The Problem with Pain and it has helped me understand this at least a little bit. Lewis, like all of us, was no stranger to pain. His mother dies at a young age and then his father abandoned him soon after. He grew up around war and was rejected by friends. He was married but lost his wife 4 years later to kidney failure.

One of the questions I have always had a problem addressing as a Christian is pain in the world. On the surface, why would anyone want to believe in a God that allows pain and suffering? I know I used to have this question in my mind. My grandma passed away when I was in the seventh grade and the last thing I wanted was for someone to tell me “It’s going to be ok”. It also ended being the response I heard the most.

I know that I am not the only one that has these feelings about pain, though. We all experience different things that cause pain. Some of us have gone through excruciating pain. Others have had their fair shares of heartbreak. Maybe some of us grew up homeless. Maybe others went on a mission trip and saw how many were living with life-threatening illnesses or without medications. We all hate pain.It is not simple enough to say that there is a purpose for pain either. I mean how can you tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is for a bigger cause? There’s so much I wish I could say to others. There are so many directions I can go with pain; I could talk about physical pain, emotional pain, or psychological pain just to name a few. Somebody could be going through chemotherapy or a break-up with a significant other. Somebody could be having a hard time in school or trying to understand what their identity is. It is impossible to write about all of this and everything that I haven’t even mentioned.

There’s so much I wish I could say to others. There are so many directions I can go with pain; I could talk about physical pain, emotional pain, or psychological pain just to name a few. Somebody could be going through chemotherapy or a break-up with a significant other. Somebody could be having a hard time in school or trying to understand what their identity is. It is impossible to write about all of this and everything that I haven’t even mentioned.

Instead of trying to write it all, I want to write to those who will or are experiencing pain and those that are seeing someone else experience pain. To start it is okay to be upset and grieve. Grief is a natural response, and I would argue that if you’re not grieving, then it’s not really pain. If we do not give ourselves permission to grieve, we inadvertently believe that God is more concerned with us immediately feeling better, rather than working through the hurt to bring real transformation to our heart. We lose sight of the invitation he has given us to place our struggles at God’s feet.

As believers, we believe in a God who is completely and utterly good; He is all-loving. It is argued that if God was loving and good, there would not be pain in the world, that God would not allow evil to perpetuate and invade our lives. Yet suffering is an inescapable reality. Jesus affirmed this in John 16:33, saying that we would have trouble in this world. In light of this fact, we recognize humanity’s free contribution to suffering. What’s more, we must look at our understanding of what it means for God to be good. God’s idea of goodness is different from ours, vastly better, higher, greater—although not wholly different altogether.

To take from Lewis, he says

“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable.”

We should be reminded that the supreme act of self-surrender was found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ knows pain and suffering, intimately, personally, profoundly. His loving sacrifice was for the redemption of us, the sinners whom He loves. His followers are similarly called to lives of submission, to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Pain reminds us of our humility and utter dependence upon God, upon our true source of goodness, strength, and happiness in Christ. When pain is withdrawn, we tend to forget God and return toward self-sufficiency and sin. Pain does its work on those whose hearts are willing to receive, to grow, to love in greater and more godly ways—to surrender self to God.

The existence of pain does not negate the presence of an omnipotent, loving God. When understood in the fullness of its context, we realize that it is the very presence of God that provides meaning and hope amid the pain. Christ was the ultimate, innocent bearer of unjust suffering. In the face of abject pain, self-sacrificial love, goodness, and power are met on the cross.

Maybe you’re like me in the fact that you love to plan everything out. And when a small wrench is thrown in your plan or something changes completely, you begin to freak out. That’s okay. Redirection forces something out of our hands we had hoped to keep. Through that, we begin to realize God’s plan for our life does not equate to the easy or comfortable road; but he is working all things together, even this disappointed, for our good (Romans 8:28)

I have an aunt who has dementia. Whenever I go back to Corpus Christi, I always make it a plan at some point to go and visit with her. There are some days where she remembers me and others where she has no idea who I am. The worse part is when I’ve been away at school and come home to see her. I see the changes in her physically and mentally. I last saw her after New Years and I left there crying for the first time in a long time. This was a woman who had cared for me my entire life and encouraged me in my faith like no one else. I love her but I am brought to tears and pain in seeing her current state. Pain wasn’t meant to be easy, I know that much.

Though the Bible makes no promise to take away our suffering in this life, it does give us hope that suffering will one day be ended forever. At the end of the Bible, we are given a glorious vision of a coming world in which all pain and suffering is gone forever. Revelation 21:4 tells us something beautiful: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” That relieves me a lot. Sure, the pain is not taken away but I can look forward to the day knowing that this pain will be no more.

According to the Bible, God already gave us the first installment of this beautiful ending when he resurrected Jesus from the dead. One day, what happened to Jesus—the reversal of death and liberation from decay—will happen throughout creation; the world will be redeemed and made new. The antidote will spread throughout the whole system. This vision of joy as the ultimate destination of redeemed creation explains our longing for permanent happiness, and the feeling of being out of place that we sometimes have in this world.

If you are currently in pain, I am sorry and I wish I could take on your pain for you. I wish I could wipe it all away. I have many problems with pain, but I cannot hold on to those for forever. These are my tips in no particular order from my experiences: Grieve now because you can. Yell out to God, but also allow God to speak back to you. Do not leave prayer angry because your heart will become hardened. Understand that you are not excluded from pain just because you are a Christian. Be reminded that there is more to come. The pain we currently experience will be wiped away with time but more importantly with God’s love and compassion. Pray and meditate. Take a “you” day to contemplate what is going on. Write down in a journal what is on your mind. Reach out to friends to vent (plus your friends might have more wisdom than you think). Last, but not least, understand that pain cannot go away over night.

One of my favorite passages is Romans 8: 37-39 which says:

No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To whoever is reading this, you are loved by me and those around you. If you want prayer or just to talk, reach out to someone. God never intended for pain to separate you from Him. Reach out to God and I believe that He will grab you and hold you close. Pain like life, is a process. I want to leave you with 2 quotes from my favorite movie series, Harry Potter. the first is “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.” The other is  “Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it”.

Amen.

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