What do we make of pain? Why does it exist?
These are hard questions.
We all experience pain in our lives. Sometimes it is physical like when we break an arm or get sick. Sometimes it is internal like when we lose a loved one or experience heartache. Whether pain is real or not is certainly not up for debate.
“If God is good, why does he allow pain?” For the sake of time I will not delve into the depths of this dilemma of pain. If you would like to go deeper into the subject I suggest you read C. S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”.
What I want to address today is not, “why is there pain”, but how do we respond to it?
Richy and Jessica Clark were expecting twins. They were joyful, excited, nervous, and could not wait to hold their two newborns in their arms. The pregnancy had complications, the twins were born premature, and days later they passed away. Enter pain.
Our natural response as humans is to protect ourselves from as much pain as possible. If we sense the possibility of it ahead of us we will change course. If we start to experience it, we will harden ourselves to its effects (as best we can), and block out as much emotion as possible until enough time has passed for the pain to subside. Physical pain seems to work in our favor sometimes. It tells us what not to do. If you touch a hot stove top and burn your hand, you will know not to touch it again. Burns are bad for the body. Pain is the way that message is received. We don’t want to repeat the unpleasantness of pain so we avoid that action in the future.
Internal pain is not so easy to avoid. We were made to love and be loved. To really love is to be vulnerable. If you have a child you will have to be vulnerable to love the child on the level he/she really needs. It’s an interesting thing to realize that the amount of love you let in to your heart seems to have an equal amount of possible pain that could take place. Does that mean we love less? Of course not.
Jessica and Richy loved their twin boys with all of their heart. They did not hold back. When the boys died, the pain came rushing in like a tidal wave. Their hearts were completely open. Their defenses were down; the gates were open. There was nothing there to stop the onslaught.
It would be nearly impossible to put yourselves in their shoes without experiencing it for yourself, but I’m sure you can imagine some of the questions that might start to flood in: “God, why did this happen? If you are good, why did you allow this? Why us, God?” Richy and Jessica were traveling the country, leading worship services, and calling people to prayer. They were changing the course of a nation and leading it to experience God. If anyone didn’t “deserve” this, it was them, right? “Then why?” they would have had every “right” to feel this way, but something incredible happened instead.
So what did they do? Close the gates? Put up the walls, and make them stronger this time? Build a defense that prevents this next time? No. They remained open. They did not let themselves focus on the questions they couldn’t answer, but on one truth: God is good and He loves us. But it hurts – He’s still good and he loves us. Yes, grief began, but so did something else. God was there. His love and goodness began to flow in. Eventually the pain was washed away and love filled the void. It did not happen overnight. It was a process. The pain had gone deep. Deeper than they realized it could go, but as deep as the pain went, the love went deeper.
Here’s one way to look at this. Because of their response to the immense pain they suffered, they were able to experience a level of healing that was greater than the pain. Remember, the pain was very great: The healing had to be greater. The love had to be deeper. They let God come in and be “God the Healer” and “God the Redeemer”. They experienced a side of his love and a revelation of his goodness that most might never experience. In a sense, they are blessed. They know God and his love at depths now that reach far past pain.
Richy and Jessica are now pastors and are helping people to traverse this unpredictable life and experience a loving God. Because of what they have been through, they can now give something greater and deeper to those they are pastoring. It is really quite beautiful. It is what redemption looks like. It’s like when you break a bone and it heals back stronger than before. It is a beautiful mystery.
If you are going through pain, you have a unique opportunity to receive love at a deeper level. It is hard, and risky, but open up and let God in. Never lose sight of His goodness, even if you are still learning what that means. Stay open. Stay vulnerable. Love deeply. It is far more powerful than any alternative.