Pain is an unavoidable part of life. Christians and non-Christians alike endure pain on a daily basis. Whether through circumstances, consequences, or external influences, the reality of pain is inescapable regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other human characteristic. Why, then, do Christians (and by Christian I mean someone truly bearing his Cross, and not only attending services and potlucks each Sunday) see pain as a positive aspect of life? What could lead a group of individuals whose endgame culminates in a painless, eternal world to value pain in an afflicted, temporary one? Who would choose to follow a man who famously said “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and why? If, as many world religions promise, there is no guarantee of eliminated or even reduced pain in Christianity, why choose it?
The simple reason is wisdom. While unavoidable, pain is also the most instructive part of life. It teaches in a way that transcends mere acquisition and application of knowledge. Pain instills lessons which penetrate to the core of one’s being in ways that cannot be easily forgotten. A parent scolds his child not to grab a hot pan, but a thousand verbal exhortations will never compare to a single curious touch; ever after the child will know to approach items of unknown temperature with caution. One does not learn by sitting alone in his room reading about the deeds of others, but rather by doing and experiencing the world himself. Only through the endurance of trials do we gain insight into our limits, our capabilities, and our inner selves. Just like the child with a pan, a man can be told by his friends that he has a caustic personality, that his manner is offensive, or that his work ethic is lacking, but until he undergoes and accepts the pain of loneliness, the realization of the distance people maintain from him, or the real reason he is constantly passed over for promotion, he will never learn and grow from his realization. He might venture to become kinder, mind his decorum around others, and truly shoulder his fair share of the work, and then, having experienced and learned from his pain might he grow a little wiser.
Unfortunately, not all pain in the human experience is as transitory or immediate as a hot pan or as identifiable as one’s personality quirks. Constant verbal degradation from one’s superiors may lead to an oppressive work environment, social detachment, and depression. Singularly traumatizing events such as the death of a loved one, betrayal by a close friend, or abuse at the hands of a supposedly trusted guardian leave us jaded, sad, and confused, with questions to which no one knows the answers. If pain is instructive, and we believe in an all-powerful Savior who has promised relief from torment, how do we reconcile some of the deepest, most devastating moments of life with our Savior’s pledge?
First, relief comes from understanding that we live in a fallen world from which we ultimately have an escape. Physical exercise is arduous during the exertion but exhilarating at the end, and the results leave us with an unparalleled sense of satisfaction. Surgery to remove a malignant growth or to repair damaged tissue is physically painful, but knowing it will result in eventual relief is sufficient reason to undergo the process. Just so, we must remember that, as Christians, we have an end in sight, which is Heaven. Any pain we faithfully endure in this life will be more than compensated in the next. Any one who claims to be a Christian and yet has a fear of death must seriously reexamine his faith, for as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” While we live, we have the promises of Christ, but when our physical bodies at last expire, we will gain life in abundance within the gates of Heaven. Take comfort, Christian! Though the dark veil of this world makes eternity hard to see, we can constantly pray and encourage one another to remember that this too shall pass, no matter how permanent it may seem.
Second, relief comes from asking for God’s help. Christ, as our intercessor, took upon Himself our fallen nature and replaced it with His own. When God looks at us, He sees a member of His family whom He would unhesitatingly wish to help. However, just as parents make their children work to earn privileges and rewards, so does God expect us to learn life lessons His way. More often than not, the pain we are currently experiencing is teaching us the insight we will shortly need to accomplish a task for our Lord. In other words, if we are hurting and ask the Lord to relieve us of it, He will do us one better. Rather than simply snap His fingers and remove from us any trouble, He will teach us – for the asking – the nature of our pain, the value of its endurance, and the application of its purpose. You may have heard of this as “patience,” sometimes called the lemon of the Fruits of the Spirit, and the least marketable aspect of Christianity. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but for many it is “good enough.” God doesn’t want good enough children – He wants extraordinary children, and He “disciplines those He loves” (Hebrews 12:6). Discipline may be painful, but for it we are better, wiser, and stronger.
Remember, in the end, it will be all right; if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.