Pain & Suffering

Some time ago I read a novel where one character who had gone through a tremendously difficult time in her life said to another character who was facing a tremendous challenge, “Pain in life is mandatory…suffering is optional.”  Her point was that even though her counterpart was experiencing a difficulty (pain) what she did with that painful situation was entirely up to her and would largely determine whether it would be a good thing in her life or be an incredible scar.

I wondered at the time if the author was a Christian!  There are some very parallel themes in the Bible.  Jesus told us that in this life we would have suffering or difficulty {John 16:33}.  He also indicated to his disciples that people, especially religious people, would treat  those who follow Him poorly. {Mt. 1017-20; 23:33-34}  Yet in John 16:33 we are told that we should be encouraged because Jesus has overcome the world and in John 16:20, Jesus promises, ‘Your grief will turn to joy.”

My observation is that if we live long enough we will experience pain.  In fact no matter how long one lives, he/she will experience pain.  The normal low-level pain, a cut, even a broken bone or an accident are things most of us expect.  It’s the big, deep difficulties that cut us deeply or affect our lives that most of us have trouble with.  What does the gospel have to say about these significant painful events?

Unlike the character in the novel, I don’t think the gospel says that we should just buck up and decide that we’re going to get through something and have it result in good.  With some of the painful experiences I know people have dealt with, that would trivialize the pain these events have precipitated in their lives.

I think that what we are called to remember as followers of the One who was raised from the dead, is the bigness of God.  Faith invites us to trust that the One who could turn the tortured death of an innocent man whose friends all betrayed Him into forgiveness for humankind, promises that kind of resurrection power not only at the grave, but also in our lives now.  When James writes, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing,” {James 1:2-4} he is appealing to us to trust in God.  Pain is indeed mandatory, but God….

That is what gives me hope and I pray it encourages you as well.

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