Media Illustration: On an old scratchy album from the late 1960s, entitled Bookends, pop duo Simon and Garfunkel included a quirky couple of minutes: actual recordings of senior citizens in an old folks’ home. Aging men and women reminisce and share their pains. One elderly man asserts right at the end: “And I mean pain. I mean pain strongly.” We don’t know if it was physical pain, or the suffering that comes from being old and alone, but this man’s world contains nothing but hurt.
Pain As a Protection: In Dr. Paul Brand’s book, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, the subtitle is very revealing. “Warning: Life Without Pain Could Really Hurt You.” Dr. Brand, longtime medical practitioner among the leprosy patients of India and the U.S., maintains that pain is often a good thing, a blessing, even a necessary protection. He tells stories of people who “suffered” from something he calls congenital painlessness. “In the 1920s the painless Edward H. Gibson went on vaudeville tour as the Human Pincushion to demonstrate his ‘talent,’ inviting members of the audience to stick pins in him. Indeed, an aura of freakishness hangs over all accounts of this strange malady. A teenager dislocates his shoulders at will to entertain his friends. An eight-year-old girl pulled out all but nine of her teeth and poked both eyes out of their sockets. Another youngster bit his tongue in half while chewing gum.”
The human body is so incredibly designed that the gift of pain is actually there to protect. There are many examples of ways that our Creator has placed within us safety features that today’s most brilliant scientists can only stand back and admire.
Walter Cannon (quoted by Brand): Homeostasis describes the body’s drive to get things back to normal when its applecart is upset. “Step from a sauna into a snow-covered backyard in Alaska, and your body will valiantly strive to keep your temperature steady. The body automatically corrects imbalances in fluids and salts, regulates temperatures and blood pressure, monitors glandular secretions, and mobilizes to repair itself. Working together in community, the body’s cells seek out the most favorable conditions for the whole.”
Oops! In the early 1990s, it made global headlines when a rather famous American vomited on the lap of the Japanese prime minister at a state dinner. But Dr. Brand observes about this particular function of a human body: “Virtually every bodily activity that we view with irritation or disgust—blister, callus, fever, sneeze, cough, vomiting, and, of course, PAIN—is an emblem of the body’s self-protection.”
Seeing the Love of Jesus in Our Pain: Many of us have experienced pain, suffering, even the specter of imminent death. Yes, it’s hard to see and appreciate the design of the Creator in moments of pain. Those hurts seemed so useless, so meaningless! How could it possibly be a benefit to me to go through such times of darkness?
At times like these, we must especially look for Jesus. First, to see Him in the masterpiece design that even our aging bodies represents. There have been times when pain did serve as an early-warning system. No, we probably weren’t as grateful as we should have been at the time—but we’re still here! We can thank our Savior for the way He’s created our human body. With all the bumps and bruises and aches and even melanomas that we encounter on our journey through life, we can join King David in praising God.
Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful.”
Looking For Jesus: In a deeper sense, let’s simply look for Jesus, PERIOD. When there’s pain, when there’s suffering—whether it’s physical or emotional, reach out and glimpse the Savior there in the room with you.
Job Holding On: Talk about a dark room! But for 42 chapters, he just kept hanging on to that loving Hand he couldn’t feel, the Voice he couldn’t hear. Jesus was there. Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. And finally, in the last eight verses of the entire book, He could be seen once again.
C. S. Lewis’ Loss: Lewis always wrote so courageously about hope and trust and the reality of salvation and the goodness of God . . . until his own wife, Joy, was stricken with cancer. It was an up-and-down emotional roller coaster of a ride, as “Jack” Lewis and his brother Warnie and two young boys watched Joy approach death, then briefly seem to revive, and then finally succumb to bone cancer.
This great man of faith found his own experience nearly shattered. Was God there anymore? Biographer Brian Sibley, in Through the Shadowlands, writes: “Shipwrecked by grief, marooned on an island of doubts, Lewis finds his faith questioned, his convictions challenged, his beliefs assailed. ‘Where is God?’ he asks. ‘Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You might as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seems so once . . .’”
Lewis had enjoyed such a rich, vibrant love relationship with Joy. Theirs was a passionate love, an intense bonding heightened by their similar loves—literature and the Christian faith. He wrote later: “It was as if my whole soul had been one tooth and now that tooth was drawn. I was a gap.” Now this lonely man, again a bachelor, had to carry on. He had once described his union with Joy as that of being one ship. And what a storm they’d been through together. But now the starboard engine was gone. “I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor.”
The Distant God: At times when we hurt, God does seem distant and uncaring. We pray and sense no reply. We cry out and the skies are silent. Is there even a God out there? Is human suffering nothing more than the spray of Lucifer’s machine-gun bullets—or is there even a Lucifer? Maybe it’s just the sick random despair of this rotten old world and it’s our turn to hurt.
Stay the Course: Like Job and Paul we have to keep trusting. This hurting man, C. S. Lewis, stayed the course of faith. Yes, he cried out. There were nights where he shook his fist at God. But in the end, he continued to trust. For the last three lonely years of his life, until he died on November 22, 1963—a painful day for other reasons as well—he kept on glimpsing by faith the Jesus who sometimes was so invisible to human eyes. When all was said and done, he found his hope in the Bible’s promises of eternal life. He took strength from James 5:8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”
Children’s Illustration: The final passage of C. S. Lewis’ allegorical series, The Chronicles of Narnia. All through seven books, the children in this timeless adventure have been in the Shadowlands, where there is sorrow and loss and pain. But at the end of The Last Battle, they are with Aslan the great Lion, who represents Jesus, of course.
“Then Aslan turned to them and said: ‘You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.’ Lucy said, ‘We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.’ ‘No fear of that,’ said Aslan. ‘Have you not guessed?’ Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them. . . . ‘The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.’ And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title-page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Conclusion: We can endure pain best if we always remember that another world waits for us. We all will meet our “Joy” again.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.