From “And Jesus Wept,” by Pastor K. David Oldfield
To God be the Glory
The Being that we call “God” is made up of many attributes and characteristics.
For example, Jehovah can be said to be omnipresent and omniscient, which mean that He always knows the name and face of every sufferer. He even knows and, in a sense, feels every ache, sting and sorrow. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do…. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:13, 15).
Our God is also eternal and thus lives beyond both the “day” before there was pain-inducing sin and beyond the “eternity” when pain will be no more.
God is righteous and just, requiring pain for the punishment of sin, and yet recompensing the sufferer when it is due. “So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…” (Job 42:12).
The Lord is holy, immutable, self-existent, omnipotent and a number of other things, all of which play a role in the question of sorrow and suffering.
If logic has a part to play in the Christian faith, and of course it does, then God’s special love must also enter the study of pain, because along with His other attributes, love abides there as well. God’s justice in sending painful punishment must at some point intersect His love. This means that somewhere, somehow, pain must have its redeeming qualities, even in the sight of people like us with sinful hearts and fallible minds.
In the light of such verses as Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he,” it is obviously a mistake, on our part, to say that pain is a mistake on God’s part, for God can make no mistakes.
In many ways, pain is like an uncut diamond. The untrained visitor sees the stone but passes by because he doesn’t perceive its hidden value. Pain is the gift that nobody wants, yet it has some very important, if not essential, functions in life.
Nearly all of us have reached for a sheet of paper only to have it slide between our fingers and as quick as a flash given us a stinging “paper cut”. “If only,” you thought, “if only I couldn’t feel pain, this wouldn’t annoy me. I wish that I was born without the ability to feel pain!”
Medically speaking, this pain perception is called nociception, and just about everybody has it. But there are a few rare people who defy the norm and simply cannot feel any pain. This is called “analgesia.” These “lucky” folk are extremely rare. Less than one hundred have been reported in standard medical literature, but they are exceedingly fascinating to science, because, if they can be understood, perhaps they can show the rest of us how to turn off our pain after it has served its purpose.
There was an eight-year-old English girl, for example, who caught viral encephalitis. After the disease had run its course, her nervous system had so radically changed that, although she could tell the difference between the sharp and blunt ends of a pin, she could not feel the pain (Richard Stiller, Pain, pg. 16).
A more important case was a Canadian girl apparently born with congenital analgesia; this means that she was born without the ability to know pain. Was this a blessing? Not at all! As a child she bit off the tip of her tongue without knowing it. To look out a window she knelt on a hot radiator. Her eye-lids didn’t blink, and she had constant eye problems. She stabbed a stick through her nose. She broke many bones and damaged her joints because of her inability to determine how much pressure her body could endure. She had many serious infections and didn’t treat many of them wisely, because she didn’t know that she was ill. This beautiful young lady died in her twenties because of complications brought on by her condition, and only during the last month of her life did she feel any pain at all (Richard Stiller, Pain, Pg. 17).
Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, an unnatural numbing of its victim, also causes a loss of pain. Most Christians can picture the lepers of the Bible, with their fingers and toes gone and only part of their nose or ear. These things were really only symptoms and not the disease. “Mycobacterium leprae”, which is similar to the bacillus that causes tuberculosis, affects primarily the nerves of the sufferer. Sometimes motor nerves are damaged disabling certain muscles in the area, but usually it’s the sensory nerves which are infected. This lack of ability to feel things, from a rock in the shoe to a knife in the arm, means that over time other medical problems will develop and often go untreated, bringing about what most people usually picture. Burns and cuts become infected; eyes won’t blink naturally and lubricate themselves, causing blindness; the skin will become deeply ulcerated, and even when under proper treatment they heal, often ugly scars remain. Yet through it all the sufferer feels no real pain.
The Lord, for several reasons, uses leprosy as an illustration of sin, and one of them seems to be that the sufferer doesn’t suffer in the right way. He is insensitive to the will of the Lord and his own transgression.
Diabetes is another condition that can rob a person of his sensitivity to pain.
Our bodies view pain in different ways. There is chronic pain: a condition of deteriorating bones or muscles. Diseases like arthritis may be responsible, but often this pain comes through the kind of life-style that we live: for example someone might not sit properly over long periods of time, causing back trouble.
Acute pain is that searing pain which screams to us about some serious problem in our bodies. For several weeks a few years ago I was waking up with unbearable pains in either eye. It felt like an ice-pick or knife was being plunged into them and then twisted. The ophthalmologist told me that the very old, hard contact lenses that I was wearing sixteen hours a day, were causing the death of the cornea of my eyes. The solution, he said, was to stop wearing those lenses. If it were not for that acute pain, I could very well be writing these words on a Braille keyboard. Someone has said that few of us would have ever made it through childhood if it were not for the blessing of acute pain.
The father of the Canadian girl with analgesia was a medical doctor. Can you imagine the vicarious pain that he endured knowing that his daughter felt no pain? Without that all-important sensation, his fears for this child were undoubtedly much greater than for any of his other children, because her sense of danger would always be in doubt. A person like this could either go blissfully through life like a blind person in an allegator swamp, or never leave the sanctuary of her bedroom, constantly watching herself in the mirror to make her eyes do the work that her nerves were neglecting.
Biologically there is a sense in which pain is pleasure taken just a step too far. Even the ancients recognized this. The Roman, Seneca (4 B.C. – 65 A.D.) said, “There is a certain pleasure which is akin to pain,” and the Greek philosopher Socrates (470-399 B.C.) noted, “How singular is the thing called ‘pleasure’ and how curiously related to ‘pain,’ which might be thought to be the opposite of it….yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to take the other; their bodies are two, but they are joined at a single head.”
The same nerves which carry the message of pain also carry many of our human pleasures. For example, what is the difference between an itch and a tickle? Just the degree of the sensation. Likewise, many people love a good warm bath. The nerves that detect the heat of the water are the same nerves that may later say, “We’ve reached our limit! We’re hot!” They MAY say that and they may not, because it is possible that as the temperature of the bath water rises, we might not discern whether our nerves were saying “pain” or “pleasure” and then find ourselves scalded.
At times even our pain is pleasure. A slight ache in our legs after a hard day’s work feels mighty good when getting into bed. Can you recall the feeling of those childhood loose teeth? Wasn’t it both enjoyable and yet painful to pull on them and play with them?
Yes, we can praise the Lord for pain; for the good that it accomplishes and even for its phantom-like appearance. It seems to come out of nowhere, and likewise, so it disappears. We can thank the Lord, too, that when pain has done its work, our bodies remember that they once hurt, but they can’t actually remember the painfulness itself.
As we think about the union of the sensations of pain and pleasure, it leads us into other similar areas in the natural world; areas where, if the danger of pain were removed, along with it would go some of the most important things in our lives.
For example, a bolt of electricity brought pain into the lives of some friends of mine. Not only was a toddler killed, but her father lost his job. There was anguish over huge medical fees, and there were the relatives’ grief and mourning. Despite all the advances that science has made in the areas of physics, electronics and electricity, so far we have not learned how to separate the danger, and thus the pain, that common electricity can bring. Yet over the last century Western society has become absolutely dependent upon electricity. We have a choice, shall we plead with God to remove electricity from His creation to spare us our pain, or shall we learn to live with the grief that it sometimes brings?
Similarly, part and parcel with life on this planet is the simple substance called “water.” Man can live many days without food, but only a few days without water. We are told that this special combination of hydrogen and oxygen molecules make up from 50% to 90% of the weight of all living things. The earth is covered more with water than soil. We must thank God for the gift of water! But what do we do with those who suffer the grief of drownings, boating accidents, scaldings, tidal waves and other tragedies?
We could go through a long list of chapters in the high school physics books, reading page after page of potential pain, all the while looking at things without which life could not exist, at least as we have grown to like it.
Did not that Christian gentleman, and perhaps the greatest scientific mind in human history, suffer a knot on the head by the fall of an apple? Whether or not Sir Isaac Newton did or didn’t feel the pain of the effects of gravity, many others have. Gravity plays a huge roll in our lives. Without it we wouldn’t have our hydroelectric power, no bridges to cross our rivers, no trains carrying our freight, no walking to the store and perhaps never another apple, because without gravity its seed might not reach the ground. Gravity is still almost inexplicable. Debates exist between the proponents of Newtonian and Einsteinian gravitational theories, but the Christian still must praise God for His gift, despite our occasional tumbles, sagging skin, varicose veins, arthritis, and failing hearts.
Again, without fire we would find our homes cold and our foods far less palatable, but we’d have no burnt fingers either. Shall we outlaw fire with its pain and its heat?
Then there is wood. Without the density of wood there would be fewer battered children, but no baseball games in the park, no frame houses and different kinds of desk tops.
How would you do in a “nerf” world?
No sir, we can’t accept the benefits without the liabilities of each of these and multitudes of other things.
Our problem is not with nature but with ourselves within that nature. We cannot escape the reality that where sin has not corrupted creation, the things which pain some, bless others.
There will be much more said on this subject later, but for the Christian it is important to learn to praise the Lord for pain from a spiritual perspective.
“The awakened conscience is just like the sense of pain in the physical world, it has a work to do and a mission to perform. It is meant to warn you off dangerous ground. Thank God for pain! It keeps off death many a time. And in like manner thank God for a swift conscience that speaks! It is meant to ring an alarm-bell to us, to make us, as the Bible has it, ‘flee for refuge to the hope that is set before us.’ My imploring question to my young friends now is: ‘Have you used that sense of evil and wrongdoing, when it has been aroused in your consciences, to lead you to Jesus Christ…?'” (Alexander Maclaren, in a sermon on Acts 24:25)
Pain has brought multitudes of people to recognize their lack of immortality and their need of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we removed pain from this world it could very well be that, humanly speaking, some of these might have not humbled themselves before the Lord.
What were the reasons, given in scripture for the construction of Noah’s ark? One was the pain of fear: “By faith Noah … moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house…” (Heb. 11:7). Like this servant of God, thousands of people have come in faith to Christ, pushed by the pain of fear and the fear of Hell.
Now, if the value of a soul cannot be compared to the accumulated WEALTH of the world (Matt. 16:26), how can a soul be compared to the accumulated PAIN of all humanity? If one soul has ever been saved through the ministry of pain, then God’s creation of that pain has been thoroughly justified.
But why permit suffering in the life of the Christian? “I already am fully trusting in Jesus Christ, my Saviour!”
Pain may be a tool to awaken a sinner to his eternal need, but if a person came to Christ, just to escape his pain, would he be a true Christian? The Holy Spirit leads men to repent of their sins, not of their pains. Yet if the average man knew that in the Lord Jesus he would never hurt again, our churches would fill with make-believe Christians, beating a path to the membership rolls just for the sake of a few years of painlessness.
In the Christian sense, pain separates the men from the boys; the true from the false.
Then too, God should not be made to break the rules and laws which produce pain in your case, but to let them go in another. Could the sword of Joab, which slew the enemies of David, have suddenly turned to jelly when turned against Abner (II Sam. 3:27)? Must the Lord be expected to suspend the properties of gravity or electricity, just because the child of a Christian has stepped where he shouldn’t have? No, God must remain consistent.
In the mind of the average person the best things in life are those that we consider pleasant. “Painful things are not good,” we say to ourselves. So like Paul we plead for God to remove our “thorns in the flesh” (II Cor. 12:7-8). But what did the Lord think of that particular pain? Apparently the Lord was of a different mind than Paul, for He let it remain and told him not even to pray about it.
Isn’t it true that the best things in our lives are those which bless and enrich us, especially spiritually? If evil things thwart our growth and development, are we justified in saying that pain is always evil? An examination of the Bible, if not of our lives proves that suffering may be one of God’s greatest gifts, for if taken properly it can make us grow in the Lord.
Likely there will be no statues in Heaven, no war memorials, no monuments dedicated to pain, for in that place everything will point to Christ. The tools that the Saviour has used in our personal development will lay in the background covered with dust. It will be to Christ alone that we sing the songs of praise. But if a statue could be raised in Heaven, there ought to be one dedicated to “Pain.”
Paul Schilling refers to the Taiwanese theologian, Choan-Seng Song, who pointed out that in Chinese the words ‘love’ and ‘pain’ are interchangeable. “They are combined in a term that expresses the highest meaning of human love. Thus a mother is said to “pain-love” her child. ‘You have not really loved someone else until you feel pain in your life.’ In ‘pain-loving’ one pours out one’s whole being, as the father of the prodigal son. Jesus Christ is ‘God’s pain-loving enmanned.’ In Him we see a God who does not spare himself but bears our pain with us and gives himself in suffering love for our sake” (God and Human Anguish, Pg. 257).
This is the kind of pain which we need.
The cry of earth’s anguish went up unto God,
“Lord, take away pain,
The shadow that darkens the world Thou hast made,
The close-coiling chain
That strangles the heart, the burden that weighs
On the wings that would soar.
Lord, take away pain from the world Thou hast made
That it love Thee the more.”
Then answered the Lord to the world He had made,
“Shall I take away pain?
And with it the power of the soul to endure
Made strong by the strain?
Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart
And sacrifice high?
Will ye lose all your heros who lift from the flame
White brows to the sky?
Shall I take away love that redeems with a price
And smiles through the loss.
Can ye spare the lives that would climb unto mine
The Christ on His Cross?”
– Author Unknown