62. Why So Much Pain?

by May 27, 20242024

I was reading a book the other day written by a highly respected, mature, and wise Christian educator and author. Using Psalm 23 as his text, he was speaking of God’s character, and how his followers could trust Him. From his discussion of this Psalm, he concluded that, “this world is a perfectly safe place for you to be.” What?!  Did I read that correctly? He couldn’t possibly have written that. But, as I read it again, there it was, clear as day, “this world is a perfectly safe place for you to be.” How can this be, when everywhere I look there is danger, evil, hatred, deception, disease, death? This world is anything but a safe place to live! Now, I know this man is not given to fantasy, nor is he unaware of the tragedies and suffering that inflict their pain on ordinary people every day. So, what does he mean by his statement? Is there an understanding of his assertion that makes some sense?

Why is there so much pain? This is an age-old question that has most often been addressed by thoughtful, philosophical musings and discussions. In the abstract, many different answers can be found to this question. But if you’ve been hammered by some serious pain, the abstract and its subsequent platitudes are not helpful. So, is there a more concrete answer to your life-altering pain? Well, if you’re looking for something that will make sense of what happened to you, my response would be – perhaps. If you’re looking for an answer that will eliminate all traces of your pain, my response would be – probably not. Unfortunately, there are no easy and simple answers for much of the pain we experience in this life. So, does that mean I have no hope? Should I just resign myself to the fact that I will never understand or be able to reconcile the painful events in my life to the hopes I had envisioned for me or my loved ones? Is pain just indiscriminate and senseless?

With so much uncertainty surrounding the problem of pain, and given its unrelenting impact, we cannot ignore it or pretend it doesn’t affect us. It does. We also want to avoid becoming bitter or disillusioned. What we need is a clear view of reality in our life’s circumstances and an eternal perspective of life itself. So, the question is, “how can we have a realistic view of pain that can be reconciled with our faith”, a view that will enable us to accept the reality of suffering without distorting our view of God and His ways? Our greatest resource for guidance through painful events in our lives is our relationship with God and His word. Since His word is ‘living and active’, it has the capability to interact powerfully with our circumstances. So, what does God say about our world and our pain? To explore this, let’s consider these three statements: We live in a broken world in need of restoring, God is greater than our afflictions, There is purpose in our pain.

A Broken World

In Romans 8:20-23, the apostle Paul says that, from the effects of sin, God’s wonderful creation was subjected to futility, is in bondage to corruption, and has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now. That is quite a vivid description of the brokenness of our world. He goes on to say that not only is the creation groaning eagerly for restoration, but we too groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. It is in this context that we are forced to work through pain and suffering. To quote the late pastor, teacher, and author Tim Keller, “Suffering takes away the love, joys, and comforts that we rely on to give life meaning. How can we maintain our peace and joy when that happens? We can do that only if we locate our meaning in that which can’t be touched by death or suffering…… that which suffering cannot destroy. What is it that suffering or pain cannot destroy? It is God himself.” Knowing this also gives us a meaningful understanding of the statement we discussed earlier: “this world is a perfectly safe place for you to be.” We are safe in a damaged and defective world when we find our meaning and purpose in the indestructible God of heaven. He cannot be undermined, and neither can we if we place our hope in Him and see all of life as something that lies within His sovereign goodness.

God is Greater Than Any Trouble We Face

In Romans 8, in addition to the painful groanings of the creation and of God’s people, Paul talks about hope. He talks about the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. In this hope is the assurance of the restoration of our world that is tied to the restoration of human beings, where we become “fully human” once again. That is, we are once again living in the fullness of God and experiencing the reality of His sufficiency, and living in harmony with the creation God charged us to care for. About this hope, Paul goes on to say that we hope for what we do not see. He expounds on this in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are not seen are eternal” (ESV). So, with an eternal view of God and our pain, we can see that what God has for us is so far greater than any current suffering, that He calls it light and momentary in comparison to God’s glory. This does not make light of our pain. Rather, it makes great our God and His glory in the midst of it. When the Lord is our shepherd, we need fear nothing upon entering our darkest valley, because He is with us. (Psalm 23:1,4)

The Purpose in Our Pain

“Christianity teaches us that suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Keller) God’s Word has much to say about pain being meaningful in our lives. When pain seems random and without purpose we feel hopeless or angry. But none of the pain we experience is without purpose.

The psalmist tells us that the path to real knowledge of God and His ways goes directly through trouble and affliction (Psalm 119:71). We are far more likely to earnestly seek Him when we can find no solace in our circumstances. And God tells us that if we seek Him whole-heartedly we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13).

The life of the apostle Paul was full of pain, trials, and tribulations. Through these, he experienced the truth about our human weakness. But rather than avoid this, Paul learned to embrace it. He came to the place where he truly preferred weakness, for he found that it is in this condition that the power of Christ rested upon him. This led him to say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV). We know from scripture that suffering produces endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5). Through suffering God uses us to be a comfort for others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Ultimately, we find that our faith is made complete and mature through pain and trials (James 1:2-4).

Jesus told us that in this world we would have troubles. But He also told us that in Him is peace, and to take heart because He has overcome the world. Peace is not the absence of pain or sorrow; it is learning to rest in God’s goodness. Through the Old Testament prophet Nahum, God told us that He is good and a stronghold (a place of refuge) in the day of trouble (Nahum 1:7). Let’s be encouraged as we read the future promise of God found in Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  AMEN!