“Pain – the gift nobody longs for, still it comes.” The lyrics recorded by singer Greg Long years ago stir up questions. Gift? Pain – a gift? Is that possible? Dr. Paul Brand says it is. He regards physical pain as one of the human body’s most remarkable design features. He even wrote a book about it called The Gift of Pain: Why We Hurt and What We Can Do About It. After witnessing the devastating effects of having no pain sensation, he says if he could choose one gift for his leprosy patients, it would be the gift of pain. Hmmm, a rather odd gift not many would welcome.
If that’s not confounding enough, not only is pain a gift, but it is a privilege! That’s right. Jesus said, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Phil. 1:29). So what is it about pain and suffering that make it a privilege? Can there be purpose in pain? Absolutely! My next blog will address that very thing.
A lot of people I know are currently dealing with pain. My dear friend Susan has dealt with it for over a decade! Due to neurological, muscular, and mobility issues, she is barely able to move around. She lives alone in a house with numerous steps. There’s no telling how many times she has fallen down her basement steps as she has difficulty with numbness in her feet. One Christmas my husband spent the day in the ER after rescuing her from having passed out on the kitchen floor. Then there’s my prayer partner Jean who has been dealing with sciatic pain in her hip. Some days are exceedingly difficult for her to walk her dog. Another friend has ongoing arthritic knee pain. She would rather sit than do anything that requires exertion, and she’s in her 40’s!
The age old question of why does God permit trouble and tribulation cannot be easily answered. Here are a few reasons my friend Sharon and I came up with years ago:
To silence the devil
To glorify God
To make us more like Jesus
To strengthen our faith
To purify our lives
To bring about reward
To teach us patience
To make us sympathetic
To separate us from the world
To make and keep us humble
To teach us to pray
To expand our praise
Do any of them resonate with you? These are some good reasons for sure. Sharon made me a colorful list that I posted on my refrigerator when I was going through my cancer journey. I especially liked the one “to glorify God” and “expand our praise.” My cancer experience was a testimony to both.
God may not necessarily be at the root of our tribulation, but He may allow it. There is a difference. Our free will and His control are prominent factors. We must exercise faith and trust to accept that God will not allow anything to come into our lives outside of His will. God is not accountable to us. However, there is nothing wrong with asking why – as long as we don’t get the idea that God owes us an answer. “For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal” (Job 5:18). If the Lord told us why things happen as they do, would that ease our pain? We need to trust that whatever comes our way, God will bring us through it.
Pain’s blessing is that it offers us a chance to grow through character and faith as well as expose our weaknesses. Pain has the potential to prepare us for a greater work. I once read a quote from P. T. Forsyth, a British theologian. It has stuck with me ever since: “It is a greater thing to pray for pain’s conversion than its removal.” Hard and deep. But isn’t that in essence what Paul did – convert his thorn in the flesh into something he could use to bring greater glory to God? “For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Sympathy and compassion are two words for which we are very familiar, but they have one major difference: sympathy expresses sorrow from the vantage point of looking from the outside in, while compassion expresses sorrow looking from the inside out. Which do you think God expresses? If you said compassion, then you are correct. The word compassion in Latin means “with suffering.” “For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness” (Lam. 3:32). The way God views our sorrow from the inside out (compassion) is by entering into our pain. Let that sink in. He walks beside us, cries with us, holds our hand, understands our emotions, and intimately knows our heartaches. He captures the depth of our despair, the height of our fear, and the breadth of our concerns because He experiences it right along with us. Talk about a compassionate God . . . You can find comfort knowing that you are not alone. You can literally share your pain with the One who has chosen to enter into your pain with you. Wow! How does that make you feel? The issue then becomes we must be willing to release our pain into His capable hands so that we may receive the fullness of His blessings.