The Possibility of Pain, by John Mark Reynolds


Pain is not always evil. If I did not experience discomfort right now, leaning against the car door, I would eventually bruise my side. Discomfort, mild though it is, tells me to move, and that is good.

So, even if there were no sin, a certain sort of pain would still exist. We enjoy eating in part because we get hungry, a kind of pain. We drink because we are thirsty. Similarly, the growing pains of learning a new skill are part of what make mastery enjoyable. If you could take a pill to learn a language, you would miss important, desirable growth. Because learning is not just about avoiding sin or ignorance. It is also about gaining virtues. A merely innocent man (someone who is not bad) may nevertheless not be grown up, if he fails to endure good pain.




Pain is not always evil.



Of course, in this fallen world, some pain is gratuitous, above and beyond God’s plan, the result of sin. God did not design a world where my beloved aunt would die of painful breast cancer. In this world, her suffering can be redemptive, but all such pain will pass away in paradise.

Now, most hard experiences we have are a blend of these two: wholesome pains and gratuitous ones. That makes responding to pain complicated. Sometimes I wish that my pain would go away, only to find that it is good for me. Other times I foolishly endure pain that God would free me from if I only asked.

But remember: all suffering, even gratuitous pain, can be transformed into something hopeful when I use it to turn my thoughts to God. As C.S. Lewis found in the depths of his despair over the death of his wife, turning to God in our pain is not a trivial task. It may begin with anger at God and with the hurt we feel He has allowed. Emotions sweep over us, and each must be acknowledged. We cannot hide or pretend our suffering is not suffering.

Some people tell us to, “Praise the Lord anyway,” when we are in the depths of despair. That method sometimes helps, but often it just makes us want to throw up after forcing the praise out. In times like that, remember the Psalms. They show that God knows and wants to hear our honest prayers.




All suffering, even gratuitous pain, can be transformed into something hopeful when I use it to turn my thoughts to God.



You see, acknowledging a passion or feeling does not mean acting on it. We report to God how we feel, but that tells us nothing about what should be done. I feel thirsty, but it might be best for me if I do not drink, because other tasks are being done at the moment. My longing for water (or in my case Diet Coke) will have to continue for a time. I may feel angry at God, but that does not mean I will set myself against him. He is able to transform both it and me when I offer it to him honestly.

In that way, pain can always be an opportunity for growth.

That is good news, but it is not the end of good news. Pain presents the possibility of growth and a deeper relationship with God, but oh how I long for the day when the only scars in sight are the ones in the hand of my Savior.