Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Purpose of Pain

A few weeks ago my pastor gave a message on suffering. Our congregation includes a number of people from outer countries, so one of his opening sentences was, “If you’ve lived here for just a few years, one of the philosophies you have likely encountered is that all suffering is bad. That is a distinctly American view.”
It’s true. Americans believe that pain is bad and must be done away with as soon as possible. And, if all possible, if I suffer, someone must pay.
However, pain is not always bad. (Insert gasp here.) Sometimes pain is a warning that what we are about to do is not a good thing. Putting your hand over an open flame starts to feel warm. Keeping it there will means your skin will get hotter until it will burn. The uncomfortable feeling warns you to move your hand. Similarly, discomfort in relationships and situations often warns us to move.
Maybe something that was right, no longer is. When children grow and their clothes are too small they can cause pain. When a situation changes and no longer fits, it too, can cause pain. We need reexamine our environment occasionally to be sure we haven’t become immune to the “pain," to see if perhaps we shouldn't make some changes. 
When others make decisions we don't agree with, or that are bad for them or for us, it can cause us pain, sometimes gut-wrenching, horrible agony. We have to decide whether to stay or go. 
Sometimes pain is a result of our own bad decisions. It can be something as simple as reaching for the salt instead of sugar, making the cookies taste awful. Or perhaps we drink and drive, leaving someone injured, or worse. Now that's agony. 
Only in America, I think, do we tend to automatically shy away from discomfort before checking to see if there is a good reason for its existence. We would rather look for someone to blame than figure out what we should change. And in the end, we lose more than we gain.
Suffering is awful. Especially when it's not your fault. It's not fair, but it's not necessarily all bad.
God says: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." (Isaiah 43:2) And He can bring something good from it. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1;2-4)
The next time you hurt, instead of asking God to take it away, ask God to show you why it hurts, and what you can do about it. You might be surprised. 

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