Chapter One – The Perplexity of Pain

From “And Jesus Wept,” by Pastor K. David Oldfield

Boy, am I Konfused

If it wasn’t for the great mysteries of life this would be a very dull universe. It is mystery that keeps the astronomer probing the sky for black holes, quasars and pulsars. Mystery pushes the biochemist deeper into the complexity of the living cell. Mystery dictates that man should look more and more deeply into the minuteness of the atom. A mystery is something that we can’t quite explain but neither can we deny.

It doesn’t disturb us that we don’t know the answer to every question; rather this fascinates us. We are like kittens venturing out for the first time, learning things to which our imaginations have only recently hinted. The wind once carried a fascinating touch of garden scent. A new, exciting insect found its way under the door and told us another world. Often we have wondered where our masters have been going while we were forced to stayed inside. Now, at last, we are out-at the cutting edge of wonder. The sun hurts our eyes. The wind whips the hair on our necks, and our hearts race with excitement.

Mystery makes us yearn and hopefully learn.

As Bible believers, we are not surprised that there is mystery in our favorite Book. Were there no mysteries in the Bible we should be forced to doubt that it proceeded from the same Mind that created Orion and the atom. That we haven’t found all the answers reminds us of our nothingness and God’s greatness. It makes us humble but thirsty. Oh, that we might not be too thirsty; there is danger in tasting every nectar. The wise man knows that some of God’s mysteries are too large for his mind, and if everything were explained in detail, life might either kill us or else take on a rather bland flavor. Then for some of us, bitterness would be all that our mortal palates could taste.

Despite the explosion of knowledge during the last few decades, and despite the claims of the evolutionists and New Age religions, man must reconcile himself to fact that he will never solve every riddle. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). Hast thou not known that “there is no searching of his (the Lord’s) understanding?” (Isa. 40:28). “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?” (Rom. 11:33-34).

Said Puritan Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), “In dwelling on divine mysteries, keep thy heart humble, thy thoughts reverent, thy soul holy. Let not philosophy be ashamed to be confuted, nor logic to be confounded, nor reason to be surpassed. What thou canst not prove, approve; what thou canst not comprehend, believe; what thou canst believe, admire and love and obey. So shall thine ignorance be satisfied in thy faith, and thy doubt be swallowed up in thy reverence, and thy faith be as influential as sight. Put out thine own candle, and then shalt thou see clearly the sun of righteousness.”

It is with these things in mind that we approach the mystery of pain. It seems that with each glimmer of solution which we think we see, ten more questions arise. When we think we know what lies behind one man’s pain, a new variety springs up. The very best that the servant of God can do is to offer some potential explanations, and then point the sufferer to the One who knows all things and is called by the name “The God of All Comfort” (II Cor. 1:3). To lean upon the breast of omniscient El Shaddai may rob pain of her victory but only begins to strip the cloak of darkness from off her shoulders.

Questions

Obviously, it is because there is so much mystery about pain that there are so many questions. The fable of the blind men describing the elephant reflects our problem. We each find a new wrinkle, a new wart, a new texture and we wonder “what” and “why.” One touches the elephant’s leg and says that it’s like a tree; another reaches for it’s trunk and says that it’s like a snake; a third touches it’s ear and simply doesn’t know what to think.

Why do two people, alike in many ways and with the same disease, suffer differently?

Why do the “innocent” suffer at all?

Why is child birth painful and difficult to some and not to others? The Hebrew women were exceptionally spared from difficult deliveries (Ex. 1:19).

Why do certain parts of our bodies feel no pain, like the inner eye and the brain?

What was accomplished by the slaughter of John the Baptist, Stephen and James?

Why do some diseases produce no pain-until it is too late?

Why could the princess feel the pea beneath her mattress when no one else could?

How and why is pain transferable?

Why did the football player play the whole game with a broken hand and not feel the pain-until after his team had won?

Why does some pain feel so good?

How could the mother, thrown from the wrecked car, with a broken leg and split-open head, race to the car to rescue her daughter without feeling the pain?

Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer (Ps. 73:3)?

Why did Israel have to despair until the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Gen. 15:16)?

Why is pain serviceable to God today, yet one day will pass away (Rev. 21:4)?

What harm would there be if the Lord removed my pain?

Why did Jacob suffer throughout most of his life when Solomon did not (Gen. 47:9)?

Why are there so many kinds of pain: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual?

Doesn’t the “meaningless” suffering of people mock the justice and the love God?

Isn’t pain God’s one big mistake?

Why do some people apparently suffer, but without the “hurt”?

Why do I agonize with several hurts all at once while others seem to suffer one at time?

Why do animals suffer? Is their pain the same kind as our own?

What is the relationship of pain to death? Death is certainly easier to explain!

Is my suffering worth the pain?

Has the Lord forsaken the suffering one?

Does God Himself suffer?

Why is trouble painful to one person but not painful to another?

Why doesn’t God or the Bible answer my questions?

Your Questions are Not New

God’s Word is the most complete book that man has ever possessed, for it came from a mind much greater than that of any human author. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:21). We are therefore not surprised to find that many of our questions are recorded in the Bible; but where are the answers?

The sixth chapter of the Book of Judges is painted in the same dark colors of sin, oppression and judgment that we find throughout that book. The children of Israel had chosen sin over righteousness, and the Lord had justly delivered them into the hands of Midian for seven long years of chastisement. The Israelites were forced to live in mountain caves and animal dens. The land and the people had been ravished with their sheep and cattle stolen and their crops destroyed. “Israel was greatly impoverished” (6:6).

When farmer Gideon, in fear of his life, was trying to thresh some wheat to feed his family, the angel of the Lord appeared to him with the encouragement: “The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (6:12). Gideon replied, “Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of…” (6:13)? This is still an appropriate question.

The psalmist Asaph echoed the hearts of millions with his question, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies” (Ps. 77:7-9)? Yes, our questions are there in the Bible.

David prayed in anguish: “Lord, where are thy former loving-kindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth” (Ps. 89:49)?

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet cried out, “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” (Jere. 12:1).

As Joseph, the Hebrew governor of Egypt, tested his brothers for the humility and love that they had lacked earlier, he put them into a very precarious situation; a position of possible judgment and prison. As their hearts grew weary under the pressure, “they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?” (Gen. 42:28).

Scriptures abound in questions and even in accusing and threatening statements: Job 12:6; 21:7; Ps. 44:9-10; Eccl. 7:15; 9:2; Isa. 63:15; Hab. 1:2; Rom. 9:14, etc.

Even the Lord Jesus in the midst of His passion had a question for the Father: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

Although the doctrine of Bible inspiration allows for the recording of sin, it appears that these questions are not necessarily sin in themselves. Certainly, in the last illustration we must remember that “Christ did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Pet. 2:22).

What might turn these honest questions into transgression? Perhaps it is simply the attitude of the questioning heart.

In a study of the questions themselves there are lessons to be learned. For example, we note that Jesus didn’t question His pain, but only the Father’s relationship to the Son in that pain. And we know that He anticipated all of those events of Calvary. This is an attitude that would help every soul in travail. Good questions, asked in the proper spirit, are honoring to the Lord. And just because we don’t receive answers to our queries right now doesn’t mean that there is no purpose to them or that we will NEVER have our answers.

Christianity and Pain

When a person is not distressed by the problems and questions of pain there is an indication of some kind of handicap. That person may, perhaps, be blind or deaf; he may be suffering from some kind of hardening of the arteries or heart; or there may be a growing mental retardation. If the problems are not physical, then they are certainly spiritual.

Laying close to most beds of suffering can be found a copy of the scriptures. Many a sufferer has picked up that sacred Book and poured himself into it. Despite marked pages and well-worn copies, why have so many come up more confused than when they began?

That Bible student, observing life through the eyes of the Scriptures, must face such questions as these. And when he does so, he has three basic reactions available to him: (1) to reach either a reasonable explanation or solution for each situation; (2) to deny the existence of the problem of pain and suffering; (3) or to find a satisfactory niche somewhere in the Rock of Ages.

It is true that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:14), but to quote this truth for every case is simply a mistake. The Bible, like a well-stocked medicine chest, does have the spiritual medication that our pain needs, but it comes in multiple doses rather than a single massive inoculation or an internal organ transplant. And a snippet of Christianity, a memorized Bible verse, or a well-worded prayer rarely meet the need. Only a well-rounded theology works, and it must be a well-rounded theology received prior to the onset of pain. Neither medically or spiritually is there a quick fix to this problem.

Surprisingly, a belief in God, in itself, does nothing to ease our pain. In fact that increases it. Do not the “devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19)? Isn’t fear a type of pain? To know a few facts about the Lord only complicates the matter. As others have pointed out, the half-hearted believer is forced to think that (1) God is either not good, and thus doesn’t care whether people suffer, or (2) not observant enough to see that they hurt, or (3) not really God Almighty and powerful enough to correct the problem (Peter Kreef, Making Sense Out of Suffering, pg. 8). No, there must be more to our theology than just the fact that there is a God.

The Answer

The answer to the problems of pain must begin in asking the right questions. No one can answer the unanswerable, and no single statement can answer all of the complexities of such a great mystery. Since the Bible gives us no clear-cut explanation for “why” the saints of God’s Word suffered, then perhaps we should start looking for alternatives, and simply rejoice when we find any sort of answer.

Job’s “friends,” in attempting to answer the unanswerable, found themselves in trouble. In fact they got into sin. Their square pegs didn’t fit into the geometrically shaped holes that real pain cut into the life of their neighbor. In his case, as in all of them, the answer to the riddle was found in the “reply” not in the “why.” Perhaps we can’t find all the answers in God’s revelation, but we can find some good responses. The energy of each sufferer should be spent in finding his way through the pain, and not necessarily in conquering or explaining it.

The Book of Job, that great exposition on the subject, teaches us that pain will always be a mystery; sometimes a 100% mystery and sometimes a 10% mystery, but a mystery nevertheless. The Lord didn’t answer Job’s questions, nor did He even tell his great servant about the confrontation between the Adversary and the Almighty (Job 1:7-12; 2:1-6). Perhaps this will be the same with you.

In Luke 13:1-9 we are confronted with Jesus’ description of two recent tragedies. The Roman governor, Pilate, had caused the slaughter of some Galilean men while they were at their sacrifices. Then later eighteen men were crushed to death when a tower in Siloam fell on them. Some people were speculating that these fatalities were caused by the people’s own wickedness. Our Lord said that this was not the case. The dead men were no more wicked than anyone else; “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3,5).

The woman with the bloody discharge (Matt. 9:20) was not given an explanation as to why she suffered for over twelve years and was driven to poverty. In her case, she was simply brought out of it.

Only once, when the disciples demanded an explanation about the man born blind (Jn. 9:2), did Jesus display his divine omniscience in that regard: “that the works of God should be manifest in him” (vs. 3).

These things seem to show us that with only few exceptions the road to dealing with our own personal pain must begin with the understanding that God has not chosen to reveal everything to us. And even if He did deem to make that revelation, then the true Christian would simply have to bow in adoration towards our all-wise and loving Lord. And ultimately, doesn’t this mean that we should bow whether the Lord answers our questions or not?

Go to Chapter Two »