The Theology of Pain

In his treatise on spiritual matters in the classic eighth chapter of Romans Paul plainly posits in verse 22 that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”  It was so because of the universal consequences ultimately of sin and it is only bearable because of the hope that believers possess that in spite of the “sufferings of this present time” (v.18) the defiling, disabling, damning consequences of sin will one day, due to the grace of God, be swallowed up by the “glory which shall be revealed in us.” (v. 18)

Stop momentarily with me to rehearse in your own mind the pain that you have heard of or personally dealt with just this past week: Surgeries due to cancer or other serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases; untimely deaths of people caught up in natural or unnatural calamities, fires threatening the homes of thousands; draughts, the marches for freedom of a long enslaved people, the physical impairments because of the nagging, numbing, nerve wracking pain that people go to bed with every night, wrestle with through the night and wake up to before the dawn of day, pain in their life and limbs that medicine can only briefly mask and only death will eventually deliver from.  It is, at times, simply overwhelming– the fact of the universality of pain that “the whole creation” is groaning with 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Consider the causes of pain which are:

  1. Suffering:  physical, mental (depression, paranoia, dementia); emotional (fear, phobias) and spiritual (“O wretched man that I am!”).
  2. Separation: (death, divorce, disease, distance)
  3. Sorrow: (from earth’s earliest day: “…I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children….” and “…in sorrow shalt thou eat of it (the ground) all the days of thy life.” (God to Eve and then to Adam when sin entered through their disobedience into the world.)  (Gen. 3:16,17)

Hear some of the cries of sorrow caused by sin:

“Hear my cry O God…From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed….” (Ps.61:1,2)

“My soul is among lions:  and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows….” (Ps. 57:4)

“Give ear to my prayer, O God…attend unto me…I mourn in my complaint and make a noise; because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked…my heart is sore pained within me and the terrors of death are fallen upon me…” (Ps. 55:1-4)

“O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.  For Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thy hand presseth me sore.  There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.” (Ps. 38:1-3)

  1.  Strife: personal, marital, workplace and family strife such as between Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brethren; Absalom and David and on and on and on.
  2.  Sin: “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin:  and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15)

Pierre Auguste Renoir, a famous French Painter, was said to have suffered with crippling arthritis which left his hands twisted and cramped.  He was once asked by a friend why and how he continued to paint in such debilitating pain that caused him to grasp a brush with only the tips of his fingers.  The artist replied, “The pain passes, the beauty lasts.”  The pain of suffering will only and ever fully pass when this old world passes; the glory which shall be revealed in God’s eternal purposes through grace will last.  But there is, at present, the pain of suffering.

But, wait, there is also at present, the comfort of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send after his death, resurrection and ascension back to heaven.  He is with us and in us and He comforts in all of our affliction. (John 14:15-18).  So, there is the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Then, there is the comfort of the Holy Scriptures.  David knew this comfort when he wrote, “Unless Thy law had been my delights, I should have perished in mine affliction.” (Ps. 119:92) What believer has not been renewed in spirit by fleeing to such passages as “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” (Ps.23) and “The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms,” (Deut.33:27) and a myriad of other passages?

There is also the comfort of the holy saints.  “Wherefore, comfort one another with these words,” Paul exhorted in I Thess.4:18 after reminding first century saints that in lieu of the light of Christ’s coming for His Church and later with His church we “sorrow” but not as those who have no hope!  Believers can and should and must comfort one another with the hope and help of God’s eternal promises.

Finally, there is the comfort of God’s holy Son! He after all gave to his followers in the upper room while in the shadows of Calvary those immortal words of comfort: “Let not your hearts be troubled….” (John 14:1ff.)

Finally, a word about the consequences of pain.  There are several, but to mention a few, we might consider that pain affords the sufferers the opportunity of learning. Again, hear David when he said “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes,” and “Before I was afflicted I went astray:  but now I have kept Thy word.” (Ps. 119:71,67)

Also, having suffered pain, we should be more apt to be given to listening.  James says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear….” (James 1:19).  This exhortation followed his admonitions on enduring temptations.  We can and should through pain become better listeners, giving more attention to what God is saying and to what others who are suffering the awful presence of penetrating pain are saying.

And, finally, because of pain we can become more loving.  Loving means caring for the needs of others.  Its by-products are giving, sharing, communicating, praying, encouraging and listening.  If you are in tune with God, you with be in touch with God’s offspring.  And having suffered pain you will be more adept at loving purposefully, practically and perfectly those fellow souls and soldiers who are also suffering pain.

Martha Snell Nicholson was bed-ridden with devasting pain for most of her life; but through it she allowed God’s grace to produce “beauty that lasts.”  Listen to her words:

“Pain knocked upon my door and said that she had come to stay;
And though I would not welcome her, but bade her go away,
She entered in.  Like my own shade, she followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword, no moment was I free.
And then one day another knocked, most gently at my door.
I cried, ‘No, Pain is living here, there is not room for more.’
And then I heard His tender voice, ‘Tis I, be not afraid.’
And from the day He entered in, the difference it has made!
For though He did not bid her leave, (My strange unwelcome guest)
He taught me how to live with her, Oh, I had never guessed
That we could dwell so sweetly here, My Lord and Pain and I,
Within this fragile house of clay, while years slip slowly by.”

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