Pain is not always evil.

If I did not experience discomfort right now, for example, then leaning against the car door, as I am, would eventually bruise my side. Discomfort, mild though it is, tells me to move.

If there were no sin, pain of a sort would still exist for the human animal. We enjoy eating partly because we get hungry, a kind of pain. We drink, because we are thirsty. Similarly, the growing pains of learning a new skill make mastery enjoyable. If you could take a pill to learn a language, you would miss important growth in the process. Learning is not just about “not sinning,” but about gaining virtues, and an innocent man may not be “grown up,” just guiltless.

Of course, some pain in this fallen world is gratuitous, above and beyond God’s plan, and the result of sin. God did not design a world where my beloved aunt would die of painful breast cancer. 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.

This makes responding to my pain complicated. Sometimes I wish that pain would go away, but find that it is good for me. Other times I endure what God would free me from if I would ask Him.

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky demonstrates the balance. The criminal in the book tries to redeem humanity and himself by causing pain, but he cannot produce redemptive suffering–only crime. It is God’s work, not his, to bring the suffering he needs. It is his job to embrace this suffering.

Remember: any 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, this is not a trivial task. Part of turning to God during pain 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.

“Praise the Lord anyway” is a method that sometimes helps, but it often only makes us want to throw up after we force it from our lips. God knows and wants to hear our honest prayers, as any reading of the prayers in the Psalms will show.

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.

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!

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