Sunday, March 18, 2007

God and Pain

Why does God allow pain? This is a question that can
never be fully answered by anyone but God. We know
some things that God said about pain from scripture,
and we know something from our personal experience of
pain. We as human beings are limited in our ability to
understand God's reasons for what he does because his
ways are so far above our ways. We can't possibly see
the big picture as God does. When Job asked God about
suffering, God's answered out of the whirlwind "I will
question you, and you shall declare to me... Where
were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell
me if you have understanding....Have you commanded the
morning... and caused the dawn to know its
place?...(Job 38:1-41:34)
Suffering and pain has many sources. There is the
suffering and death that results from natural
disasters. When there is tsunami or hurricane, we ask
why God allows such things to happen. These events are
the results of the laws of physics, laws that God
wrote before the universe began. He knows that the
universe has to be ordered the way it is for it to
function and for life to exist. That sometimes the
result is a rockslide when you are driving Hwy 18 is
very sad, but somehow necessary it the very large
scheme of things. We think in terms of our personal
experience and from the point of view of a very short
lived creature; God sees how everything works together
throughout all of time; and knows how and why those
rocks must fall at that moment.
There is pain inflicted by others. War, violence of
any kind, physical or emotional abuse, hard words all
are acts committed by individuals or societies that
Christians define as sin. God gave us free will. We
can choose to harm or help. When suffering is caused
by a free choice, God did not cause the suffering to
occur. The pain was the result of the actions of
others. Jesus walks with us in our suffering; he
himself was the victim of physical abuse and painful
death at the hands of others.
Pain is a gift. It signals us that something is wrong,
and we need to take action. Without pain I wouldn't
have known that my hand was burning, and taken it off
the hot iron before I was seriously hurt the other
day. It tells us when we have injured ourselves and
need to rest to heal. When we are sick it forces us to
stay in bed so that our bodies' defenses can fight off
infection. There is also pain related to illness that
seems pointless and cruel- the suffering of a cancer
patient, or of chronic conditions. This pain can
destroy us if we let it, or lead us into a deeper
appreciation of what is important in life. We can live
our pain in anger or denial, or bargain with God to
take it away, which leads to more suffering. besides
the bad feelings in us, it pushes away our friends and
family and isolates us just when we need them most. If
we abandon ourselves to Divine Providence, and accept
our reality, which is pain, it offers us the
opportunity to appreciate the small things, and
reflect more deeply on what is important in our lives.
It can cause us to reach out and tell people we love
them. It can help put things in perspective and allow
us to have more compassion for others, more
understanding for other's weaknesses, and allow us to
forgive when we couldn't forgive before. In this way,
it makes us more mature emotionally and spiritually.
People who have lived charmed lives with little pain
or worry to overcome tend to be much more shallow and
intolerant than those who have had to overcome
Pain provides contrast. If we don't know pain, can we
really know joy or gratitude? At Easter, Catholics
pray in thanksgiving for the "necessary sin of Adam",
because without sin and death we wouldn't know how
great God's love for us is; he wouldn't have sent his
Son to suffer pain and die for ring. He sent his
Son, Jesus, to live as one of us, fully human,
experiencing every kind of pain that human being
experience, emotional and physical. What an amazing
thing, that the Lord of the Universe made himself so
small that he knows, from experience, what it is to
suffer as a human being. He shares our pain with us.
As members of the body of Christ, we can unite our
pain with his, and it becomes redemptive.
There is no complete answer to the problem of pain.
What is important is how we live it. The more we
accept our reality, live as well as we can within the
limits of that reality, and have gratitude for the
small things, the experience of pain can be what makes
us fully human and an inspiration to others.


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