Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pain and Christ

My apologies to any of you who regularly look at my blog. I have not been able to post anything for a couple of weeks. My wife was diagnosed with a growth on one of her ovaries and we had to put her in for an almost immediate surgery. God was merciful and answered our prayers yes. The mass removed was not cancerous and she has been recovering very smoothly. My time staying with her in the hospital though was a constant reminder of the degree of human pain and suffering. Julia’s pain was happily easily controlled and she was able to go on Acetaminophen after the second day in the hospital. This was not the case for many of the other patients there. There were many people who were crying out in severe pain from time to time. Others moaned quietly. I saw people coming and going in the lobby who were dealing cheerfully with their illnesses and others who seemed surrounded by a black cloud of despair. While many of the conditions were invisible to the eye, there were those whose conditions had caused grotesque deformities of one type or another. All of this just reminded me of the vast degree of pain and suffering in the world.

I have to admit that I’m a little reluctant to talk about human suffering because one always has the apprehension that whatever one says about it will be put to the test with additional suffering for oneself. No one likes suffering. And indeed, I think there is merit in reducing people’s suffering. I don’t think that it is inherently holy or beneficial to suffer under all circumstances.

It is nonetheless true that God does sometimes use suffering in order to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. He sometimes uses suffering to get through to us. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts at us in our pain. This has certainly often been true in my own life. When I have been in pain, I have definitely been more diligent in seeking the Lord than during times when I have been too comfortable to remember Him. Since then I have attempted to make it my goal to seek the Lord constantly in the hope that additional pain will be less necessary. Pain also sometimes comes about because of sin. In fact, really in a sense all suffering comes about because of sin, but in different ways. Sometimes we sin because we’ve done something that causes the pain that we ultimately suffer. If someone eats too much, they then gain weight and then suffer the health problems associated with overindulging. (This tends to be my problem.) However, not all suffering is caused directly by our personal sin. The book of Job clearly has as a major theme that not all suffering is actually caused by the sin of the individual who suffers.

Human sin in general is what has allowed suffering to enter the world. It is because of the sin of Adam and of all who sinned after that God has had to bring death and pain into the world. God is so holy and human sin is such an affront and an abomination to God that the whole of all the terrible human pain and suffering that is experienced by the whole of mankind is not enough to satisfy the just desserts of sin. Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ upon the cross—the atonement by a perfect and infinitely valuable victim—was able to counterbalance the well-deserved wrath of God for human sinfulness. Since apart from Christ all human beings literally deserve to suffer eternally in hell, we cannot ever say with complete honesty that human beings do not deserve the horrible suffering that they experience here in this life, since that suffering is far less than they will experience eternally if they reject the grace of God. But this does not belittle the cost of suffering or the horror of it. Instead, it should serve to magnify the amazing quality of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace. The amazing thing is not how terrible the suffering caused by human sin is, but rather that we serve a God who was willing to suffer in our place and who feels and understands our pain because He too became human, lived among us, and suffered in the ways that we suffer. He did this even though He deserved only glory, laud and adoration and not pain and suffering.

The sad thing about human suffering is not merely that it occurs, but that in some people it seems to drive them further away from God rather than driving them to God. Certainly suffering should drive us to Christ for He is the only person who can ultimately dry our tears, heal our hurts and take away our pain. While human physicians can seek to mitigate pain and to extend our feeble lives for a few years or possibly decades, they cannot prevent death and they cannot ultimately prevent all pain and suffering. Because we live in a sinful world, a fallen world, we suffer. But Christ has lived, died, risen, and lives so that we do not need to suffer forever, so that when He comes, we can be resurrected and live and reign with Him. And between the time of the death of the body and the resurrection of the body we can be with Him in spirit, and with Him there is no pain because He is life and healing itself. One who suffered for us and indeed suffers with us will one day make an end to all of the suffering of those who put their faith and trust in Him. It is a mystery that sometimes we receive the partial fruits of that healing in this life when God intervenes to help us get well or to eliminate the source of pain, and yet sometimes we will not experience it until we go to be with the Lord. Yet either way, whether by foretaste or in the final consummation, it is Christ who takes away our pain and who makes us whole, and it is only because of Christ that the pain and sufferings of life are bearable and can be faced with courage.


T A Blankenship said...

I am praying for you and your wife. A great article on pain.
Hospitals do have a way of helping us see the suffering around us.

Guillermo Machado said...

Brilliant and profound, like usual, Professor McConnell! I am so thankful that God healed your wife and took away her pain as well as yours. But it is critical to acknowledge, as you wisely detail, the origins of our suffering and to understand and accept that without Christ, there shall never be an end to our suffering. Likewise, it is equally important to acknowledge that with Him, though our suffering may seem great in this life, it is but a mere temporary hardship, "a vapor." Through Christ all true suffering will end and never come again! Blessed are those who have accepted the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and who continue to seek His good ways! He does not fail us...ever. God with us!

David M. Smith said...

Professor McConnell,

Glad to hear Julia is doing well.

How are you old friend?

I am very impressed with some of your pieces I just read. Your clear thinking is certainly fresh air to me.