One of the toughest questions in life is the question of “Why pain?” Why do the people I love struggle so? Why do we have to go through hard times? Where is God in the midst of the pain?
Sometimes, I’ve had so much pain in my life, I’ve just wanted to howl at the moon. The pain has felt overwhelming – there were just no answers. Each new day felt as miserable as the one before it.
In times of prolonged emotional pain, I got depressed. When I was an adolescent, the pain and the depression lasted for years.
It’s normal in times like these for people get mad at God and reject him. They give up. How can God both be good and so seemingly impotent or uncaring? It doesn’t make sense. Some people cope with pain like that by descending into neurosis.
The Boomer generation, in response to the pain they endured, sought to buffer their children from pain. I’ve watched my friends join the legions of helicopter parents swooping in to protect their kids from the pain of bad grades or poor performance.
Then the pendulum swung the other direction as their children didn’t know how to deal with pain. It became normal to retreat into victim status. Never having experienced healthy levels of pain, they struggled with what to do with their pain. Henri Nouwen’s notion that, “the first step toward healing is often a step toward our pain” seems counter-intuitive. Easier to hide from the pain.
But there’s the problem – we need pain to grow. Growth requires more failure than success. Look at all the falls you take as you learn to walk or ride a bike. How do you grow when you’ve been rescued from failure? How do you learn resilience without resistance? How does a muscle grow without the cells being torn down and rebuilt?
C.S. Lewis on Pain
Extreme pain seems unfair – how are we to understand it? Theologians attempt to solve this philosophical Rubik’s cube with convoluted explanations, but hurt has a logic all it’s own. C.S. Lewis wrote the definitive book on the subject, The Problem of Pain (get it for free here). Here are a few quotes:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden.”
“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.”
“The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”
“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”
“When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and…the love of God more than all.”
“Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.”
The book of Job
The book of Job
is a magisterial treatment of the subject of pain from God’s perspective. Job loses everything in life and his suffering is unbearable. He says, “my groans pour out like water.”
Initially, Job’s friends are wonderful. They sit with Job in his pain for a week in silence. If you’re going to engage in a conversation about pain with a person who is coping with it, the best response is not words, but empathy.
But then they turn to words. When they do begin speaking, Job’s friends miss it badly. Their explanations and advice just rub salt in the wound. How many times have you been going through a season of pain and anything your friends or family tried to do to comfort you fell woefully short?
Pain has a language all it’s own. It isolates us from the things that bring color to life. It robs us of the ability to laugh. We’re alone with our thoughts and the thoughts just lead us further into dark places.
Your pain is unique to you. But sometimes it’s necessary and God has a redemptive purpose behind it. Here are four:
1) To show us the consequences of evil. Actions have consequences. God has established spiritual principles that lead to joyful living. Choose not follow them and you’ll suffer the consequences.
2) To lead us out of self-reliance and into a place of dependence. And from there, to a place of intimacy with him. Most of us have to exhaust our own resources in order to begin looking around for other resources.
3) To make us better channels for God’s power. God knows that if we mistake his power for our own, our egos will begin to puff up. As pride appears, we will become poor stewards of his power.
4) To equip us to better train others. As we experience what those we train will experience, we can help them to understand the consequences of their actions and to choose their behavior more carefully.
Why else would God allow us to experience pain? How has God used pain in your life?