I remember the writings of Rev. George MacDonald, who influenced many famous authors, including C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Elizabeth Yates and Mark Twain. Rev MacDonald once wrote “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like His.” Much like Twain, when I first read that, it struck me as rather nihilistic and negative. Was he saying that God wants people to suffer? Was he suggesting that Jesus needs humans to suffer like He did? I found these ideas both, upsetting and contradictory to the God that I know. In time, I came to a different understanding of pain, however.
In my meditations, I wondered about the reason for pain. I mean… God doesn’t make junk, right? “Everything has a purpose unto Heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) So… what is the purpose of pain? Simply- it’s purpose is to warn us that something is not right. Like an early warning system- sensations of pain give us information- like when our appendix is about to burst- or when we have accidentally cut ourselves with a knife. Without that warning system- we would be regularly hurting ourselves and causing terrible damage to our bodies. One of the people that Jesus frequently ministered to in his earthly ministry were the lepers. A common notion of leprosy is that it is an infectious, ‘flesh-consuming’ disease. The truth is that leprosy, or ‘Hansen’s Disease” does not create ‘bad flesh’ that just rots away by itself, and in MOST cases is not even contagious. What the disease DOES cause is the in-ability to feel pain. As the disease cuts off blood flow to key parts of the body, the nerve endings in those areas die. With no nerve endings , the ability to sense danger also dies. Leprous people live a virtually pain-free existence. Many of us would do anything to live a pain-free life. Yet, the absence of pain is the greatest enemy of the leper. Again and again, they wound, cut and burn themselves in the simplest of activities… and they don’t feel a thing.
As we look around in our world- we are often humbled by the many TERRIBLE things that are happening… people who commit such AWFUL crimes against humanity… against their own families! It becomes nearly impossible for us to even BEGIN to imagine how, or why, these things can happen! How is it possible for people to do SUCH terrible things. It is a most frightening thing to realize that we have ‘emotional lepers’ living among us… those who are INDEED unable to experience the pain of remorse… or regret… or sympathy. In my ministry, even in our fair village- I meet many people who have ‘lost feeling’ to their heart. In those times- I find that I do pray for pain… not so that they would suffer… but so that they could understand how they are hurting themselves and so many others around them.
The purpose of pain is to remind us of our boundaries… and life is all about the ways that we CONSTANTLY cross those boundaries. We HURT because we live. THAT is what MacDonald meant. This life is all about amazing, fantastic, bliss-filled joy… but it is about pain… which is the ‘boundaries’ of our bliss. The purpose of Jesus coming to feel our joy and our pain, ISN’T so that we would never have to have pain again. Instead, Jesus came to help us find how to utilize.. how to SHAPE our pain into something purposeful. Jesus didn’t come to take away our pain! Our pain is the cost of living! Jesus came and suffered our pain WITH US- so that we could find Him. With Him in our lives, even while we suffer the pains of this life now- we are given the promise of life hereafter… a life WITHOUT pain… a PERFECTION of existence… the ORIGINAL LIFE THAT GOD HAD BUILT FOR US… without sin.. or pain… or problem. Jesus came to help us find PURPOSE in our pain, rather than leaving us to meaningless agony.
John 16:21 says, "A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world" Pain is an awful problem in our world… both the persistence of it’s sting- and the frightening absence in our hearts. I give thanks to our Jesus for His willingness to give himself… to suffer OUR pain… so we could discover the painless life of His eternity. I pray for all of your sufferings- and I give thanks to our Lord, who continues to suffer with you… both now and forever… until forever comes for us all. Amen?