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Monday, April 30, 2012

Is Pain Inherently Evil?

I want to take a few minutes to look at the question of pain. I have two reasons for choosing this topic today. The first is that many people outside the Christian worldview say that pain is incompatible with the loving God of Christianity. The second reason is that this view is also a very popular view within Christianity. The problem of pain causes many to avoid Christianity and others to walk away from it. I want to address both of those in this post.

I Experienced The Absence of Pain
First, let's look at what "pain" actually is. For right now, I'm only going to focus on physical pain. I was at the dentist last week ("heads up" to the squeemish- This part is important for understanding the post, but if you just can't handle it, this part is over at the end of the next paragraph). I had to get some work done that would involve a decent amount of pain. Since I didn't want to experience that, the hygienist offered to numb my lower jaw. I was all too delighted at the offer...until she said that she would administer it the "traditional way": a shot. I don't like shots and have a lower tolerance for them in my mouth (been there, done that). I was weighing my options. Then the hygienist stuck a couple cotton swabs in my mouth. These had a surface numbing agent that removed the sense of feeling from the nerves around where she would stick the needle to administer the real stuff. Needless to say, I didn't feel the stick of the needle, soon lost all control of my muscles in my lower lips and was drooling everywhere since I couldn't feel anything...the slurred speech was quite entertaining too.

Unfortunately, that wasn't enough, but when the hygienist administered more, she didn't even hesitate to stick the needle back in. I didn't have a clue, because my sense of touch was history. After leaving the office, it took nearly 5 hours to get all feeling and control back. During that time though, I had to be careful to not accidentally bite my lip (I did anyway). I noticed that I could also touch my chin without my chin being able to feel my hand. I could have done major damage to this area of my body yet not have felt any pain whatsoever.

What is Pain?
This whole experience got me thinking about the issue of pain. Is it possible that pain could actually be good? Let's first look at what pain is in the physical sense. We all learned about the five senses in elementary school. One of those is touch. We all know that we can touch many things lightly without any experience of pain at all. We also know that if we apply more pressure the sense becomes more pronounced. We know too that if there is enough pressure that pain is experienced.

This "threshold of pain" can be very different for different people. It can also be very different for different parts of the body. It seems that pain is an indicator that damage is about to be or is being caused to the part of the body in contact with the offending object.

Is Pain Evil?
This is the reason that I say that pain is a good thing. Pain indicates when damage is being done to the body or is about to take place. It is a warning system of sorts. Without pain, our bodies would be a combination of one large walking scab and/or bruise with exposed internal tissue and bone. It is quite difficult to say that pain is inherently evil when it helps preserve the appearance and health of the human body.

But is it compatible with the loving God of Christianity? 
Christianity holds that God created the human body. This includes the nervous system that is responsible for the sense of touch and the experience of pain. This great sense allows for humans to experience creation in ways that would not be possible without the sense of touch. If we cannot experience pain, the ability to experience everything else that the sense of touch allows vanishes too. God created the sense of touch with, at least, a dual purpose: to experience creation in a way the other sense can't, and protect the health of the human body. Here are at least two reasons that pain is compatible with the God of Christianity.

A third purpose for the sense of touch (specifically pain) can also be concluded. Many people wonder why they must endure pain on an on-going basis. This is where I like to point out a very profound truth about Christianity: Its not about you. This truth alone not only covers physical pain, but emotional pain as well. Christianity also teaches that man is to rely on God and learn more about him- have a personal relationship with him. We all know that times of suffering is some of the best time to become closer to our friends. We bond more tightly and intimately when we suffer. Our weaknesses often highlight the strengths of our friends, family, and spouses. Without pain, our weaknesses would not be visible, and we would not have the opportunity to get to know those in our lives at such a level. In Christianity, the same is with God. God is personal and desires for us to know him more. Without pain, we have no immediate reason to rely upon him or have the opportunity to know him more.

The more that we understand God, the more we understand our state in relation to God. We see his moral perfection and compare it to our moral imperfection. We see that there is no way for us to possibly measure up. Christianity teaches that God wants to spend eternity with us, but how can a just and loving God desire to spend eternity with anyone less than morally perfect? That is the beauty of the heart of Christianity. Jesus Christ- the morally perfect God- took on human nature and chose to take what we deserved for our moral imperfection so that we could live with God for eternity.

This leads me to the fourth reason that pain is not inherently evil. The only way for us to be able to spend eternity with God is for someone to be willing to endure the pain of the punishment for our immorality. If we are to say that pain is inherently evil, then we must affirm that a good end justifies evil means. God's moral nature holds that no ends can ever justify an inherently evil mean. The fact that Jesus suffered pain tells us that pain, itself, is not inherently evil. We can affirm the evil of what was done to Jesus by way of its being perpetrated by moral beings against a moral being, without appealing to pain being evil. Jesus' pain was a good thing, and if we have at least one example that pain is good, we cannot possibly consider it to be inherently evil.

The problem of pain is an issue that we all must face throughout our lives. It is difficult to see a loved one in pain; it is difficult to be in pain ourselves. We are constantly tempted to think that God is indifferent or just does not exist because of our suffering. But if we realize that the pain is for so many benefits to us physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, we can begin to understand why we must endure it. That doesn't make the pain go away, but it at least ascribes purpose to it, and in many cases, just knowing that something great will come, will help us endure the pain with more understanding and anticipation. It is your choice, will you look at pain as an evil that nothing good can possibly come from it, or will you embrace it as a means to come closer to your Creator and enjoy him eternally (later without the pain, by the way)?

"I think suffering’s like an ice cold splash in the face to the non-believer, asking them, 'What’s going to happen to you on the other side of your tombstone? What are you going to do about the cause, the claims of Christ?' I don’t think we, as natural people, would consider such things, were it not for suffering, to wake us up out of our spiritual stupor." — Joni Eareckson Tada

1 comment:

  1. As someone who has lived with chronic pain for over 20 years, I appreciate this blog. I came to realize exactly what you have said here, that life isn't about God giving me a pain-free life, but of cementing his relationship with me and using suffering to mold me into a more Christ-like person. I may not like the pain, but I like how it has helped my spiritual growth and deepened my relationship with the Lord.


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