A recently published article tells the story of Steven Pete. Steven and his brother were both born with a rare genetic disorder called congenital analgesia. While Steven has the sense of touch, he is unable to experience anything that could be considered pain.
It is tempting to be envious of Steven. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a life free from hurt? A life where you wouldn’t have to hesitate to try something that might result in discomfort, or worse? Such a person wouldn’t have to fear the consequences of their actions, right?
As Steven states in the article, this is hardly the case. In reality, everything he does is covered with the fear that he might do severe harm to himself without noticing it. He tells the story of the time he broke his leg at a roller-skating party, and didn’t realize it until he saw people pointing at him and his blood-soaked pants where the broken bone had actually come out of the skin. Much of his childhood was spent at home or in hospitals recuperating from injuries that he never felt.
Now, as an adult, Steven has to be very careful in choosing physical activities, and lives in constant fear of internal injuries, like an appendicitis, which might not be diagnosed until it is too late. (His brother, sadly, took his own life, rather than having to deal with the growing list of complications resulting from his condition.)
As much as we dislike physical pain, the truth is that it serves a very important function. Pain alerts us to the fact that something is not right – it tells us that what we’re doing is dangerous, and that if we continue to do it, greater damage might occur. Pain alerts us to our condition and tells us if we ought to seek assistance if it becomes too strong or lasts for an extended period of time. We ignore these warning signs at our peril.
The same truth applies to our spiritual lives. When we feel pain because of broken relationships with friends and family, we are reminded that this is not how God intended life to be. When we feel isolated or alone, it encourages us to seek out God, who the Bible tells us is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).
Does this mean that God intended there to be pain in this world? No. Pain is the result of sin entering the world, the by-product of a fallen humanity. Because of sin, we are separated from God, and it is for this reason that pain exists. But even as God can make take us, the sinful creatures that we are, and redeem us for His purposes, so also can He use pain to alert us when we wander from His plan for our lives, and call us back to Himself. And just as a good doctor can diagnose and fix something that is causing us physical pain, so God can reach down and heal us, equipping us for His service.
It is important to remember that God did not protect His son from pain. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. He expressed great sorrow for the people living in Jerusalem, saying that he wanted to “gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” and lamenting that they had instead chosen to reject the message God had given them from the prophets. And while the physical suffering Jesus experienced on the cross far exceeds any pain most of us will ever experience, it was the separation from His Father that occurred when taking on our sins that caused Jesus the most agony. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The good news is that pain doesn’t have to have the final word. When we feel disgraced, frustrated, alone, or hurt, we can always turn to God, who offers us a peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). And while we will never be able to escape pain entirely in this world, we can rest in the understanding that God is using our trials to mold us into the men and women He wants us to be, and that there is a promise of a coming life where such pain is a distant memory.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains,” says Christian writer C. S. Lewis. “It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” May our ears always be open to God’s call, however and wherever it comes to us, and may we always be ready to share it with others in pain, too.