Introduction: Why is there so much pain in our world—physical, emotional, spiritual? What possible good comes from our hurts? We say to a friend who has lost their loved one: “I know how you feel.” But we really don’t. We don’t understand the physical ripping that happens with that kind of loss.
The Purpose of Pain: Why do we have to live on the one planet where cars go hurtling off roads and into trees? Why is it here in our world where broken bodies are identified at the morgue? Why HERE . . . and why US?
Is there a divine purpose to pain? In the Christian film, Shadowlands, C. S. Lewis spoke to audiences across England about pain, and said: “It is because God loves us that He makes us the gift of suffering. Pain is God’s megaphone to rock a deaf world. We are like blocks of stone out of which the Sculptor carves the form of man. And the blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect.” But those glib words were before Lewis himself felt the blows, felt the hollow pain, almost overwhelming, of losing his own wife, Joy.
Did God send our pain? If so, if there’s some lesson He wants us to learn through cancer or excruciating arthritis or through the tumult of relentless emotional pain, frankly, we think we’re willing to learn the lesson without the pain. “Just TELL us!” we plead. “Stop the punishment. I’ll do whatever You want me to do. Just make it stop hurting!” Many of us have prayed, “Jesus, please make us wise without the accompanying hurt!”
Sometimes long-term, unremitting, unblinking pain is part of someone’s human existence. We all know someone who hasn’t had relief in decades. Year after year, doctor after doctor, prescription after prescription . . . it just keeps on coming. Some of these people are the most courageous, brave men and women we’ve ever encountered. They admit their trials, but end by saying, “I still praise God.” Others confess that they honestly don’t think they can go on. How much longer can they face a life filled with such pain? Why can’t they just die and be done with it?
Bible Illustrations: God’s Word tells us that lifelong pain isn’t a 21st-century phenomenon.
• In Matthew 9 is the story of a woman who’d suffered from a bleeding disorder for twelve years. Nothing had worked – medicines, doctor’s visits, oddball, phony cures – for twelve YEARS.
• In John 5 is the experience of a crippled man who’d been ill for thirty-eight years. And to make his life experience more painful, he’d been at the edge of the Pool of Siloam, which was alleged to have healing powers. But because he was lame, he couldn’t ever be the first one in the water for the miracle moment. Imagine being so close to the hope of a cure . . . and yet his pain and handicap had filled his life for nearly four decades.
Two Bible Realities: we can’t successfully comprehend all of the deep theology of why suffering exists and go into a detailed exploration of the Greek and Hebrew passages that describe human hurting. But two things that are at the same time simple—and biblically profound.
1. God isn’t the Author of pain. The world He created was a world without pain, a paradise where the word suffering wasn’t in the dictionary. The New Earth will be a pain-free paradise. The experience of relentless, unending pain was not designed by heaven; it invaded our lives from another agency.
Jesus clearly explains in John 10:10 that there is a thief out there in the darkness. Someone who wants to kill and to destroy and to bring pain. But then He adds this: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
No, our pain doesn’t come from God. True, pain can turn out to be a blessing; it can even be a lifesaver. But it isn’t heaven’s invention.
Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Brand shares out of his own childhood a poignant story of pain. Living as a small boy in India, the son of a medical missionary doctor, he was sent at the age of nine to England with his sister Connie. For six long years this young child went to school many thousands of miles away from his parents. Letters from India took months to arrive by steamship.
In 1929, his parents announced that they were coming home for a one-year sabbatical. Teenaged Paul looked forward deliriously to the reunion. He could hardly wait. However, just weeks before the big day, a telegram arrived. Father was dead. Malaria and blackwater fever had cut him down at the age of 44. And to lose his dad so soon before he was to have seen him again had to be heartbreaking for this young man. Talk about pain—an unrelenting, never-going-away throbbing of the heart, of endless nights staring out of the bedroom window missing your dad.
Dr. Brand writes about the foolish things people said to him:
• “Your father was a wonderful man, too good for this world.” But what about the rest of us—does that mean we’re not good enough?
• “God needed him in heaven more than we need him on earth.” No! I haven’t seen Dad in six years. I need my dad!
• “His work was finished here.” That can’t be true! The church is barely beginning, and the medical work is growing. Who will care for the hill people now? And what about my mother?
• “It’s for the best.” How can it POSSIBLY be best?
For a while this struggling teenager thought that maybe it was his own fault. Perhaps God was punishing him. Guilt began to consume him. Brand then concludes: “This is not a book of theology. Yet I have seen so much harm caused by guilt over this one issue that I would be remiss if I did not mention it as a pain intensifier. Hundreds of patients I have treated—Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian—have tormented themselves with questions of guilt and punishment. What have I done wrong? Why me? What is God trying to tell me? Why do I deserve this fate?”
Brand and Yancey go on to assert that human pain and suffering are NOT sent as a punishment. “If God IS using human suffering, He certainly has picked an obscure way to communicate His displeasure. The most basic fact about punishment is that it only works if the person knows the reason for it. It does absolute harm, NOT good, to punish a child unless the child understands why he or she is being punished. Yet most patients I have treated feel mainly confused, not chastened, by suffering.”
2. Clear Communication: In the Bible, those who received divine punishment generally knew why! Those who rejected Noah’s invitations were fully aware of why they were about to drown in the flood. The disobedient Egyptians knew why they were suffering under the weight of those ten plagues in Exodus. Prophets told of upcoming hardships because of apostasy. Jesus warned about dire consequences to those who laugh off God’s invitations. But in the book of Job, the classic suffering story of all time, Job was NOT being punished. God Himself said Job was blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.
Conclusion: It is easy today to blithely say, “I feel your pain.” But the reality is that God doesfeel our suffering. He is not the Author of our anguish, but He is present with us as we struggle and hold on to our faith. In the book of Daniel, where the three brave young men were tossed into the fiery furnace, that wasn’t God’s fire. He didn’t light it or stoke the flames. But in that terrible moment, He was there with His three children.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.