God is here. He is kind, and He is strong. I believe this with every neuron in my brain, I feel it with each beat of my heart, and the functioning of every cell in my body depends upon it. Nothing will shake my faith.
My belief in God has not shielded me from pain. I lost my dad when I was still learning the alphabet. It was too early to learn about suffering. One of my few childhood memories is of my mother weeping as my relatives led her through the door of our house after my dad’s death. As I grew, my dad was not available to guide me along the way and give me wisdom for hard choices. Nor was he there to help me understand why, when I became a dad, a good God gave me a son with multiple health issues including autism.
The existence of suffering and the existence of an all-powerful, good, loving God would seem to be mutually exclusive realities. If you have one, you can’t have the other. Or so some would have you believe. I disagree.
Comparing Scars Is Unproductive
We all have a story that includes pain. Our entry into the world brought joy but not without agony. For some people, horrendous misery has filled every day since their birth. Others have suffered little. Whether or not my pain is big to you matters little. Pain is always torturous to the one enduring it.
Most people don’t like revealing their scars anyway because they are ugly reminders of events we choose to forget. I’ve told you about some of mine to show you I am not speaking in theoretical terms when I speak of pain. Though you and I have not experienced the same hurts, I can empathize with your suffering. Maybe you can empathize with mine.
The existence of pain raises a lot of questions. Is there a God? Where did pain come from? Why do I hurt so much? Will I ever stop hurting?
We could spend our time here debating what pain’s existence says about God. Or we can find the means to face it for now while we anticipate its departure. The second option is more beneficial.
Does Anyone Have Some Pain Medicine?
Because pain is a universal experience, different world religions have developed systems to help explain it. Hindus deal with pain by ignoring it. I’m not here, so I can’t feel pain. It’s only an illusion.
Telling me my pain is all in my head doesn’t do much to help me deal with it. It just gives me a headache. Neither does telling me I deserve all my pain because I did something in a past life to earn my present circumstance. Karma makes life pretty convenient for others. It excuses them from any responsibility to help alleviate my suffering.
Buddhists take a different route. They say suffering comes from desire. So if I don’t want anything, it won’t hurt when I don’t get it. While that philosophy might help with my disappointment over not getting the birthday present I wanted, it does little to help me deal with real pain.
Islam teaches that all suffering serves one of two purposes. Either it tests the pain recipient to see if they will be faithful, or it punishes them for some infraction to bring them to repentance. The appeal of this approach is that there is no arbitrary pain. It comes for a reason. Your pain is directed at you personally, and it can benefit you. The flaw is it sees Allah as the source of all suffering.
Though your discomfort is for your benefit, according to Islam, I am still responsible for helping to alleviate your suffering. I can strengthen you in the midst of your test. I can point you, the punished, back to the right path so you can reduce your suffering. I do not have permission to sit idly by while you are hurting.
Of all the world’s religions, Christianity has the best answer for the questions pain raises. It tells us where pain came from – humanity’s rebellion against God (Gen. 3:17-19). It tells us that though some of my anguish is the result of my poor decisions, not all of it is. Some of my tears come from the free-will of others including spiritual entities. When I cry out, “I don’t deserve this,” God would often agree. Or at least He would agree I don’t deserve it more than anyone else does (Luke 13:4-5). It’s impossible for life to be trouble-free in a sin-cursed world.
God Hurts Too
Christianity does more than help us understand our grief. Christianity gives the solution for it. We can find that solution in something that happened in the past, something that will happen in the future, and something that is occurring right now.
We instinctively avoid misery, but when God created us, He did so knowing we would break His heart. That’s right. God feels pain too. He could have prevented His own anguish, but whatever it is we provide for Him was sufficient motivation for Him to create us and redeem us even though both afflicted Him with sorrow.
Severe suffering requires severe suffering for healing to occur. A heart attack often requires heart surgery. To alleviate the suffering of cancer requires the horror of chemotherapy. In sin’s case, the suffering was so intense, its cure required sacrificial suffering.
God didn’t cause our pain, but He entered into our pain to cause its extinction. God became a human child through the same arduous process you endured at your birth. Joseph and Mary named the God-baby, Jesus (Matt. 1:21; Phil. 2:6-8).
Pain filled Jesus’ life. He watched Joseph, His human dad die. Jesus got weary, hungry, thirsty, and sleepy. He experienced betrayal, the envy of others, rejection from those He loved, being misunderstood, and ingratitude. His undeserved pain did not make Him bitter. Through Jesus’ example and His words, He taught people to love God and their enemies.
After living a selfless life of service, Jesus’ enemies put long spikes through His hands and feet, connecting Him to a cross. His back, already ripped to shreds by merciless torture, sent excruciating pain through His fully human body as it scraped against splintered wood. Amazingly, Jesus continued to heal others’ pain while He was enduring His own. He offered forgiveness, hope, and provision to those around Him even though they admitted their guilt (Luke 23:41). And then Jesus did the one thing that showed His humanity more than any other. He died.
My empathy is virtually impotent. We can weep together, but we still weep. Jesus’ empathy comes with power. Though He weeps with us (John 11:35; Heb. 4:15), that’s not all He does. Jesus died, but then He rose from the dead (Matt. 28:6). And no matter how severe your pain, He can raise you (John 11:43-44; 1 Cor. 15:54-55).
Jesus’ actions make Christianity different from the rest of the world’s religions. Only in Christianity, we find God becoming one of us. He fixed our pain by feeling it. He’s not the kind of doctor who gives instructions, prescribes a pill, and goes on with life. He’s the Savior who took our self-inflicted sickness on Himself. That’s love. And because we didn’t deserve it, that’s grace.
The End Of Pain
When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, He gave us a glimpse of the life we have in store. Jesus’ death dealt with the cause of pain. Jesus’ resurrection sealed pain’s end. Did you catch that? Pain will end.
Jesus didn’t leave earth to escape the pain. Jesus never ran from pain, His own or anyone else’s. He boldly confronted it whether it was embarrassment over a lack of wine at a wedding (John 2:3) or shame caused by the rejection of five suitors (John 4:17-18).
Escape is one method we use to handle pain. Alcohol. Illegal drugs. Shopping. Anything to distract us from the sting and dull its impact. The pain always comes back. Jesus offers a permanent solution.
Jesus left earth to prepare for pain’s end. He’s coming back to the place and people that created His pain so He can heal them both (Isaiah 65:17-19). He’ll be taking us with Him into the clouds and on to Heaven. When we see God, He won’t ignore our pain, discount our pain, or excuse our pain. He will take it away.
“The Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
He won’t scold us for being upset over such trivial matters. That would inflict more pain. He acknowledges the legitimacy of our grieving (1 Thess. 4:13). Crying is okay; God gets it. If there is any scolding, it will be based on the fact that we allowed our agony to blind us to His goodness (Matt. 8:26).
He won’t compare our pain to someone else’s, not even His own. Our scars will be gone, but He will carry His forever (John 20:27-28; Rev. 5:6). Jesus doesn’t keep the symbols of His suffering to belittle us for weeping over ours. The scarred hands will forever remind us of His love as they tightly hold us in His embrace.
Jesus entered into our pain and destroyed its cause. That’s His past work. One day, He will immunize us against sin and pain. We tasted them. It was a bitter experience. We won’t ever want to taste them again. He will mature our palettes. That’s His future work.
An awareness that suffering faces extinction gives us hope for the future, but it doesn’t alleviate our present pain. God gives us the resources we need for that as well. He gives us His presence, His wisdom, and each other.
Comfort For Your Pain
You are not alone. The greatest pain enhancer is loneliness. Crying is painful; crying alone is torturous. God is there. You are never alone. Sometimes the pain you feel prevents you from feeling His presence. Jesus understands that too (Matt. 27:46). That’s where faith comes in. He is there. The presence of your pain doesn’t signify the absence of God.
But if God is there, and He could prevent all your suffering, why doesn’t He? Think about what would happen if you rescued your children from all harm, if you insulated them from suffering. The heart of a parent compels him to keep his child safe and to take upon himself any pain his child must bear. But our desire to see our children mature prevents us from hovering over them with an umbrella. Without pain, they would never learn compassion. They would continue doing self-destructive behaviors if we plucked them out of the pit they dug every time (Prov. 19:19). Pain also has the effect of opening our ears to listen and softening our stubbornness. The presence of pain causes some to doubt God’s existence. It causes others to run into His arms where they find comfort and strength.
God doesn’t stop all pain, but He puts limits on it. Like any good father, He protects us from the dangers that would destroy us, holds us in the midst of purposeful pain, and laughs with us when the grimace is gone. Our relationship grows deeper as we experience life together. That experience teaches us about one of our pain sources.
I’m going to say it. It’s going to hurt. You better hold your breath. You are the cause of some of your pain. Don’t blame it all on God, and don’t ask Him to take it away unless you’re willing to make some changes. What are you going to do to alleviate your pain? Some of the means you use to escape your pain only deepen it when you return. How intense does the pain have to get until you realize the pain change brings is worth the relief it provides?
You can’t stop all of your pain, but you can stop some of it. God gave you a free will. Exercise some wisdom, and direct your free will to submit to the authority of God. You can’t eat your cake and have it too. If you want the freedom to live life however you want to, then you must be willing to deal with the pain some of your choices will bring. Just make sure your choices don’t bring you unending pain.
Those who choose to use pain as an excuse to ignore God will never see their pain come to an end (Rev. 20:14-15). I’m not happy about that, and neither is God (John 3:17). He didn’t intend our suffering, and He doesn’t want it to continue. His unstoppable plan is to make pain extinct. Belief in a good, loving, powerful God despite the reality of pain will get you to pain’s eventual end (Heb. 11:1).
Jesus’ followers must seem foolish to a world bent on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. At the command of God, we willingly walk into situations we know will cause us pain. We talk to people about Jesus knowing it will bring rejection, fewer opportunities for advancement, and life-threatening danger in some cases (Acts 8:1, 4). We give away money to our churches and those in need instead of using it to increase our comfort in retirement. We give up sleep to talk with a God we cannot see and read a Book whose last page God recorded almost 2000 years ago. We’re not stupid. We don’t like pain, but we like what pain produces.
The Gain From The Pain
Pain produces strength. Yes, you can lose weight without exercise, but you can’t gain muscle mass. “No pain; no gain.” When we submit our pain to the hands of a loving Father, it always produces something positive (Rom. 8:28-29; James 1:2-4). The pain may get so bad that you don’t have the strength to move forward. You’re doing good just to hold your ground. That may be all God is calling you to do (Rev. 2:10).
Earth’s pain and sin’s pleasure are both temporary (Heb. 11:24-25). The pain necessary to accomplish God’s mission is short-lived and small in comparison to the reward we will enjoy for eternity (2 Cor. 4:17; Heb. 11:35). God doesn’t want me too comfortable here. He wants me looking forward to home (Heb. 11:16).
Pain also produces empathy and compassion. That gets us to the third help God has given to get us through the pain. He’s given us each other.
I asked you what you are doing to alleviate your own pain. Now, I ask you a subsequent question. What are you doing to alleviate someone else’s pain? That’s a hard question to ask someone who’s hurting, and it may be repulsive to you. But remember; that’s what Jesus did (Luke 23:34; John 19:26-27; Luke 23:43).
He entered into your pain; now He calls you to enter into someone else’s (2 Cor. 1:4). That may sound counter-intuitive. But if you are willing to try it, I can tell you from personal experience, it helps. When you work to lessen someone else’s pain, the reduction of yours is a side-effect. God rewards your faith and your selflessness with His comfort.
Would God call a hurting person to stifle their tears so they can wipe someone else’s? Surely a sane Father would never allow His children to go through something that could cost them their lives. But what if the willingness to lose a life was necessary to save a life? What if my pain helps to alleviate yours (Gen. 50:19-21)?
Mom and dad stand by helplessly and hopefully as their grown son waves goodbye from the aircraft carrier deck. They raised him with a heart so generous he would without hesitation sacrifice himself to save others. Their pride in their son’s character tempers their pain over their potential loss.
My Son’s Story
I know there are days you wonder if the pain will ever end. You also wonder if whatever the pain accomplishes will be worth it. All I have shared with you seems so theoretical; your pain is so real. Permit me to tell you my son’s real pain story. I pray it will give you hope.
My son had recent heart surgery. The surgery was successful, but it left him in major pain temporarily. The process of his recovery was difficult for him and us.
I learned some things about pain along the way. Youth (he’s 24) has advantages and disadvantages. Healing happens faster for young people because their bodies are strong. But their pain is more intense because their nerves function better.
I never appreciated the capabilities we have for deadening pain until I saw the help they gave my son. He came home with a long list of prescriptions. Most of them were for pain or to help alleviate the side effects the pain medication brought. We had to make a chart of medicines and times to keep track of what he could have and when.
After a week of this at home, he didn’t seem to be making any headway. I was beginning to despair. But then he said some of the best words I’d heard in a while, “I don’t think I need that pain medicine right now. It doesn’t hurt as bad as it did yesterday.” Progress. We eventually retired the chart because his medicinal needs reduced to two pills a day.
Two months have passed since his surgery. He’s been to see four different doctors since then, three of which deal with issues affected by his surgery. All of them have expressed amazement at his recovery. His breathing, appetite, energy-level, and skin color have all improved. Even his posture is better. We used to playfully suggest he should apply to become a zombie for The Walking Dead because his posture was so bad. No longer.
His pain is not completely gone. He mentions it from time to time. It does not inhibit him anymore. People ask him if he is back to normal. They are usually somewhat surprised by his response. “Normal; who wants normal? I went into surgery because ‘normal’ was agony for me. I’m way better than ‘normal.’ I’m extraordinary.”
The pain was severe, but the pain was worth it. Now he has hope for a different, better future. And because his spiritual heart was healed long before his physical heart got its repair, he has hope for a future where pain will only be an ancient memory.
God the Father knows what it’s like to see a son endure pain for a positive effect. The proudest day of the Father’s eternal existence was the day His Son said, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus gave His life for us. He didn’t bring our pain, but He sacrificially entered into it. One day, He will end it.
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