What Good is Pain?

First pain is not good, but the effects of pain can be.  It is the art of God to use what is intended for evil and make good come of it.  One good side effect of pain is that it points us to God.  Often the existence of pain in the world is used as an argument against the existence of God.  If God is good and powerful, why doesn’t he eliminate pain?  This argument betrays something that all of us feel inside.  When a tsunami occurs in Japan or a tornado in the Midwest we sense that the world should not be like this.  It tells us that something is wrong.  Pain can only be evil is there is a standard of good and evil to measure it against.  By arguing that pain is unjust we unconsciously assume that a standard of justice external to this natural world exists.  If God doesn’t exist then neither does an absolute standard of justice.  Tornados are simply what happens when the right currents of air mix in the atmosphere and the grief people feel at losing someone they love no more than a conditioned a bio-chemical response.  Storms happen and we have no more right to peaceful lives than tornados do to destroy towns.  Pain screams to us in a voice that we can’t ignore that a problem truly exists and sets us looking for a solution.

It is for this reason that I could never be an atheist.  If they are correct then this is a dismal world and one might as well commit suicide as go on living.  There would be no difference.  I would rather believe a delusion than live in such a cold reality.  But I don’t think it is a delusion.  Rather our sense of injustice at pain reminds us that there was a time when all was not like this and pain did not exist.  As C.S. Lewis says about pain, “it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  Like the pain we feel when we put our hand on a hot stove, pain grabs our attention in a way that is impossible to ignore and tells us that something is wrong.  Our job is to find out what went wrong.

Two opposite dangers exist when looking at this subject.  One is to minimize the painfulness of pain.  Something is seriously wrong with this world and we shouldn’t try to cover it up.  Plus, when we minimize the painfulness of pain we make God’s redemption seem like a small thing.  The result of minimizing pain is a kind of Disneyland Christianity where everyone is happy and the all monsters are only plastic mannequins.  Too much contemporary “Christian” art reflects this.

The other danger is becoming masochists, desiring pain for its own ends.  It ignores that God is at work right now redeeming the world and that ultimately he will use every pain for his glory.  The result is Christians who are always melancholy and depressed and do nothing but dwell on their pain, always focused on the crucifixion and never the resurrection.  Neither is healthy spiritually.  We must living in the tension of having an acute awareness of the pain which exists in the world and an acute awareness of God’s redemptive power.

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Satan Inflicting Boils on Job by William Blake

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