As hard as it is for Americans in this generation to understand, pain actually serves a good purpose. When one rightly looks at the condition of pain, they will learn that pain is actually our friend. Our society’s view of pain causes pain to be avoided at all cost. We see pain as a sign of weakness. We see pain as an evil.
It bothers me when I hear someone say, “I think I might get a headache. I am going to take some medicine.” Why not wait until the headache really starts? Why immediately reach for pain relief? Now, I understand if you have migraines and you have an aura; the quicker you get the medicine in your system, the better. I am not talking about that. What I am referring to is those so afraid of pain that they run for relief at the mere hint that pain might occur.
Paul Brand, MD. co-authored a book with Philip Yancey a few years ago called Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has to deal with chronic pain. Dr. Brand worked in leprosaria around the world. He describes what life without pain would be like. You see, the damage done to the extremities to those with leprosy is not caused by the disease but the damage is a result of what leprosy does. To put it simply, leprosy kills nerve endings. That means one does not feel pain where the nerves have died.
If one is walking down the dirty road (most cases occur in third-world countries where hygiene is rather poor) and cuts their foot, they do not know they have cut the foot; therefore, they do not properly care for the cut. They do not clean the cut or bandage the cut because they do not feel the pain that a cut would usually cause. Without proper care of the wound, germs enter and nasty stuff like gangrene sets in. That is where the damage comes from. All because the person has lost the sense of pain.
When God created the human body, He built in a defense system that was designed to protect us from hurting ourselves. God has designed pain to protect us. He has designed pain as a warning system that keeps us from doing further harm. If you were to break your fibula but did not have any pain, what would you do? Since you felt no pain, you would probably continue to walk/run on it. The extra stress on the fracture would cause more damage. However, God designed pain so when a bone broke, we would know it and take care of the damage.
Can you imagine a doctor having to diagnose an appendix that is about to rupture without the patient experiencing any pain? What clue would the doctor have? Would the patient even bother seeing the doctor if he/she did not have severe pain in the abdomen? Probably not. Since they did not have pain, they would not seek medical attention and the appendix would rupture. That could be deadly.
Pain helps us know to stop doing certain activities. If every time you do something, you have a sharp, shooting pain; you would soon not do it. God allows pain to teach us when we have overdone physical limits. Pain also works in discipline.
If you see a crawler heading towards an electrical outlet, you pick the child up and redirect the baby. The baby keeps heading back towards the outlet time and time again. You say “NO!!” You redirect. It does not change the baby’s behavior. [I can hear you of the younger generation gasping. Why does he not just use baby safety things so the baby can’t get hurt? I am sorry, but I grew up in a generation where we wanted to teach our children how to live and was more concerned with the outcome than with keeping the child away from pain.] So when the baby heads towards the plug again, you say, “NO!” but this time you add a swat to the seat of education. The child looks stunned. The baby starts towards the outlet again. Whack! Another blow to the bottom. I am not talking abuse, but I am talking loving correction. After a few attempts (depending on the child) to get to the outlet and feeling a little pain on the bottom; the baby starts to figure things out. The baby may think, “If I head towards that thing on the wall, there is a pain down south. I don’t think I will do that anymore.” The child learns from the pain. (I understand I will receive some criticism for this illustration but that is OK. The truth of the matter is, it works.)
If discipline does not carry some pain, it is a rather useless discipline. If your child hates a certain game and you tell the child if they do so-an-so you will take the game away; where is the motivation? However, your child loves this particular game. You explain if he does not do his chores, he will lose the game for a week. The pain of not having what he wants will be a good motivator and teacher.
How does all this tie into the spiritual. If we stop blaming pain and treating pain like our enemy, we can learn lessons from pain. Psalm 119:71 uses the word “afflicted.” That word carries with it several meaning from “being put down” to “being humbled” to “afflicted” to “burdened” to “depressed.” All of these things are types of pain we all endure way too often. These include both physical burdens and emotional burdens. God says these things are designed to teach us to depend on Him.
Paul writes I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13). Would we understand our utter weakness if we were not afflicted? Would we understand we can only survive if we depend on Him if we did not know we have weaknesses? If Paul had not suffered whatever his thorn in the flesh was, would he have known the power of the strength of the Lord?
II Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Not only did the infirmities cause Paul to depend on Christ, he came to see them as blessings because the result was enjoying the power of Christ. When we learn to see pain as our friend, we learn to depend on God and we also learn to ask, “What is this pain sent to teach?”
Those who know me know most of my life has been filled with physical pain. There was a stretch of 23 years that I was literally doubled-up in pain every single day. Every day when I look in the mirror in the morning, I see a scar that runs across my abdomen. It is roughly an inch deep and a little over an inch wide. It reminds me that I am not supposed to be here (according to man). It reminds me that the only way I can get out of bed each day is through the strength of the Lord. It reminds me to depend on Him. It reminds me to turn to Him and seek His strength.
When you have a pain, before you run to stop the pain, you might want to ask what is that pain supposed to teach you.