“Pain, Pain Go Away” Part 2

The human tendency is to run as far away from pain as possible. That’s right, isn’t it? As I’ve been thinking about this topic, I have realized that our sinful condition has put us in a much more complex predicament than the simple knee-jerk reaction of avoiding pain in our lives. In fact, the reality is that sometimes we actually pursue pain. We deliberately inflict pain. Instead of protecting ourselves from it, we seek it out. Let’s look at a few real life examples of this behavior:

– Adrenaline junkies often put themselves in harms way – many times landing themselves in the hospital – all for the “rush” that comes with toying with danger. (See the movie “Jackass” for vivid illustration of this point.) A mixture of excitement and fear propels outlandish behavior where pain is usually part of the expected outcome.

– Religious rituals that invoke painful practices are common worldwide. Some African tribes inflict pain on young boys as a rite of passage into manhood, while others believe that a woman who loses a family member should cut off a finger to appease the gods who took the persons life. And then there more mainstream ascetic practices like crawling up the steps (on your knees) of the St. Lateran church in Rome reciting prayers with the belief that atonement will follow. Or remember how Martin Luther used to sleep on the cold stone floor of his cell in the Augustian monastery in Erfurt, believing that if he mortified the flesh, he would be in some way making payment for his sins? Some religions even encourage the flogging of ones own flesh for similar reasons.

-And then there’s the more subtle administration of pain to oneself in the form of various addictions, often done in an attempt to quell emotional pain. In trying to escape from internal misery, one may turn to other behaviors that produce a different kind of pain. This could range from drug addiction to anorexia to cutting.

So what are we to make of this apparent paradox? Do we run towards, or away from pain?

Well, Scripture does shed light on our human plight and gives us some explanation as to the presence of pain as well as our varied reactions to it. Interestingly, we only need to read into the third chapter of Genesis to come across the entrance of evil and suffering into the world. The sin of Adam and Eve does not remain in the garden. Indeed, its effects taint the scope of all creation as well as every person in the human race. A lush, plentiful, thorn-free existence quickly turned bleak, with hatred, anger, harsh toiling of the ground and painful childbirth to replace it. Not only are we infected with original sin upon birth, but we enter a world that is also groaning under the weight of sin. As a result, we make Herculean attempts to make sense out of life apart from God and his original intention for our lives.

So how do we understand our different reactions to original sin as well as a fallen creation? First of all, because our Creator originally made Adam and Eve to live a Utopian existence in perfect fellowship with him, it seems that we typically resist the pain that we all experience in life. Whether physical or emotional, something within us knows that pain is unwanted, that it is a perversion of what should have been. We recoil at abuse, at untimely deaths, at distortions of what once was beautiful but is now corrupted. We can sniff out abnormal and unnatural from a mile away because the law of God is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Our conscience bears witness that there is something fundamentally wrong with the pain, sin and the fallenness of our human existence.

On the other hand, our sinful hearts can also have a distorted response to pain and evil. The image of God stamped on our soul may allow us to see the undesireability of sin, but the depraved man within us often pursues, desires and even delights in pain. We use it for our own perverted pleasure, for relief, for austerity, for penance, for escape. We “not only invent evil and…practice such things that deserve death, but we also approve of those who practice the same” (Romans 1:30, 32). And all of this has happened because we have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (v. 25). We turn to pain to numb us, entertain us, pleasure us or save us.

So how did the incarnated Son of God address the pain of this world when he “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)? To be sure, he experienced many of the earthly discomforts, temptations, and losses that we do while he walked this earth. And not only that, he submitted himself to be flogged, beaten and cruelly nailed to a cross. The Bible says that “he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). What do we learn from Christ’s response to pain?

First of all, Christ never seems to disguise pain or attempt to get his followers to see it as anything else but what it is: a direct result of sin. He does not seem to glorify suffering for sufferings sake. Even Peter asks his readers “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are treated harshly, you endure it with patience?” (1 Peter 2:20). And secondly, Christ always seems to refer to pain as something that is to be endured for the sake of something greater. Hebrews 12:2 says, “[Jesus], the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Notice that the value of his suffering is derived from the greater eternal good that is accomplished as its result. The believer even experiences direct benefits from our Lord’s suffering because “by his wounds we are healed” (1 Peter 1:24b). The pain and suffering endured by Christ brings about the redemption of his people. He enters our fallen world, and conquers death through his affliction.

What does this mean practically for the Christian? How do we make sense of the pain in our world – whether self-inflicted or through circumstance? In my last blog on this subject, we will look at the role that suffering can play in the life of the believer.

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