I’ve heard a lot of people say, “How could there be a loving God when there is so much pain in the world?” This statement automatically places pain on the opposite side of love and goodness, and instead confines it to a purely bad element. But what if it’s not bad? What if it’s necessary, and maybe even has rays of goodness woven into it?
A child burns his hands on a hot stove, and the pain hurts, but the lesson is immediate, and not likely to be repeated. Through pain we learn about our own physical limits and understand our mortality. An athlete begins to strain his legs through overtraining and feels shin splints. Through his pain he learns that he either needs to cross-train in ways to ease up on his legs, or maybe even that his shoes are too worn for proper support anymore and he needs new gear. A woman feels pain at the slap or yelling from her husband, and she uses her internal pain to give her the strength she has lacked to pack up and start a new life without him. Our country was unified on the pain brought about by 9-11. There are equally as many illogical painful situations…one of the biggest being a child dies, and a parent is left with confusion and pain at why such a thing could happen.
I could make a list of examples of pain for days and never finish because pain is a part of this world; it’s a part of our daily lives. When did we as a society get the notion that such an everyday aspect of life is bad? Just look at our commercials. You feel a headache? Take a pill to make the pain go away. You feel depressed? Take a pill to dull the pain. You feel lady cramps? Take a pill to keep living “normally” (which I generally have zero problem doing…taking pills, that is, not living normally). If you feel any pain whatsoever, take a pill and do something to immediately get rid of the pain. Yes, pain in our society has become synonymous with bad and wrong.
But what if we paused for a second to look at pain objectively. Pain can be a powerful indicator that something needs to be changed or adjusted…like the abused woman or the injured athlete. It can serve as an alert that our bodies need to be evaluated – like an indicator to a cancer or disease that needs attention. It can also be humbling and keep us grateful for what we have. I am experiencing cramps not because God hates me each and every month, but because I have in me the ability to create and nourish a new life. Once emotion can be separated from the pain, it’s easier to step back and see it as a byproduct of the natural world we live in. This is obviously easiest to do with physical pain. I have often told myself during triathlons, “Ok, Amy, the pain and strain you feel right now is just your new norm, and it’s going to be like this for the next 1-2 hours. Just accept that this is your new level of normal, and think about other things other than the pain itself.” One of my favorite movies from my college days, G.I. Jane (I used to want to be her!) quotes this, “Pain is your friend, your ally, it will tell you when you are seriously injured, it will keep you awake and angry, and remind you to finish the job and get the hell home. But you know the best thing about pain? It lets you know you’re not dead yet!”
So if we can’t avoid pain, and shouldn’t just try to cover it up with pills to ignore or get rid of it, then what do we do with it? We can see it not as a symptom to be treated and eliminated, but rather a natural life element. It is not evil, not wrong, it is as natural as a baby’s laugh, or a tree swaying in the wind. It would be impossible to have the world we live in without pain – if our hearts could feel no heartbreak, they could also feel no love and joy. If our bodies could feel no physical pain, we would surely die of neglect and abuse beyond what our bodies can sustain. We would not know when we are thirsty and hungry, or when we need medical attention. Horrific things happen which cause pain, but that is not God or any other intelligent Mind dabbling its fingers for sadistic pleasure. It is instead a byproduct of our natural world. Death comes randomly and without specific choice because we are mortal beings susceptible to injury and disease.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis