How pain points us to God

Every day, each one of faces pain in our life. There is emotional and spiritual pain, for sure, but there is also physical pain. In my case, the pain is a sore back and joints that bark at me more or less each day, reminding me that my body is aging more each day and that my hope lies in more than this earthly body.

Among the people I know, I see people who I know love and trust God deal with varying degrees of pain. My struggles with my back pale in comparison and I am almost embarrassed to mention my own complaints. It is one thing to live a joyful life in God when you are feeling terrific, but what does it say about God when we are hurting?

Do we hurt because of the Fall? Does God use pain for a reason in our lives? In his review of Pain and Its Transformations, Phillip Yancey explores the wonder of pain in our bodies:

Every square millimeter of the body has a different sensitivity to pain, so that a speck of dirt may cause excruciating pain in the vulnerable eye whereas it would go unreported on the tough extremities. Internal organs such as the bowels and kidneys have no receptors that warn against cutting or burning—dangers they normally do not face—but show exquisite sensitivity to distention.

When organs such as the heart detect danger but lack receptors, they borrow other pain cells (“referred pain”), which is why heart attack victims often report pain in the shoulder or arm. The pain system automatically ramps up hypersensitivity to protect an injured part (explaining why a sore thumb always seems in the way) and turns down the volume in the face of emergencies (soldiers often report no pain from a wound in the course of battle, only afterwards).

Pain serves us subliminally as well: sensors make us blink several times a minute to lubricate our eyes and shift our legs and buttocks to prevent pressure sores. Pain is the most effective language the body can use to draw attention to something important.

In his upcoming book “Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ,” John Piper seeks to provide a biblical perspective on God’s sovereign and righteous governance over even the sinful acts of men. History’s greatest sins do not thwart God’s purposes to save his people and glorify his Son; they fulfill them. And being grounded in this hope is the key to “Christ-exalting strength in calamity and Christ-exalting courage in conflict.” One of those spectacular sins he examines is the Fall of Man. In a recent post, Piper looks at that in relation to pain in our lives. He explains:

If there was pain before the Fall, it was only good. That is implied, I presume, in God’s calling his unfallen creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and in God’s promising that in new world there will be no crying “nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4). However, not many would use the word “pain” for something that is only good. It doesn’t appear that the Bible uses it that way either.

But pain in this fallen world is clearly bad and good.

Could God subject the creation to futility (Romans 8:20) in such a way that the physiological changes he brings about are designed so that there is something punitive and something profitable in them all? Could he intend that even in the physiology of judgment there is a witness to mercy?

Yancey, in his review, makes the definitive statement: “For the Christian pain represents, at various times and from various angles, a design feature worthy of praise and gratitude, an affliction to be overcome, a potential vale of soul-making, and a spur to hope in a painless future.”

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