Pain

Posted: January 17, 2008 in difficulty
Tags: , , , ,

clouds1.jpg        Pain Gain

By Randy Hasper

If you are acquainted with pain, trouble, and loss you are in good company.  So are most people. Even  great spiritual heroes like Moses, Esther, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa — all ached and burned with pain and disappointment. Pain is the norm.

The jab and ache of pain, our whole species knows it well. We open the morning newspaper to kidnapped children, disease, terrorism, and war. We live in families aching with accidents, disabilities, conflicts,  illnesses and stigmatized issues.

We humans know “ouch!” So does God. Think about it. Perhaps we need to formulate an ouch theology.  

Apparently, God already has one.  When God created us, he obviously hard wired us to respond to pain. The hand jerking back from the thorn,  that ability to feel pain is God’s brilliant biological safety gear. Fragile bodies warn of harm through the nerves. Pain is protective and preventative. It keeps the hand from the fire. Safety pain was built into the creation.  But it is also built into God. God has experienced pain.

The prophet Isaiah, exploring the profound connection between God and pain wrote, “In all their distress, [Israel]  he [God] was distressed.” (Isaiah 63:9) This is an amazing claim. God, chose to feel distress. God entered in, by his own choice, to “all” the distress of his people. “All” of it says Isaiah. His people were distressed for centuries. They still are. God feels it.

Scripture records God as having feelings. It records anger, love, compassion, and jealousy. Each of these emotions contains some psychological pain. The painful feelings are in God and from God.   Yet we hear people say, “You can’t trust your feelings.” Actually we can trust them to tell us a lot about what is going on with us. It’s true that our feelings can lead us into bad choices. And yet, so can our thoughts lead us the wrong way. This hasn’t caused most of us to abandon thinking. We should not stigmatize our strongest feelings. They are a gift, a divine richness.

The life of Jesus is most eloquent of God’s willingness to feel. Matthew records the events of the crucifixion writing, “Again and again they struck him [Jesus] on the head with a staff.” (Matthew 15:19) This is our experience too. “Again and again,” life serves up the stunning “again and again.” Pain stutters, and God allows the terrible repetition. Allows? For Christ, we are told that He even intended it. It fit his purpose. “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

We would rather not hear this. His will to crush? A crushing we don’t want, for Christ, our friends, our selves, our children, no one. And yet, a crushing we will have. This is recorded in the Bible. “In this world you will have trouble,” claimed Jesus.  It is affirmed in our experience. One of my close friends, an excellent  musician, is experiencing hearing loss. Another has MS. Another a bipolar disorder. Another has a painfully failed marriage.

We sometimes want to pull away from such difficult experiences. We manage our lives to insulate ourselves from pain. We touch but we don’t embrace such trying times in others. We all jerk back at some point, from of our world’s pain – the AIDS sufferers, the mentally ill, those who have divorced, the addicts, this dispossessed, the poor, the socially stigmatized.  It is not easy for a human to readily or willingly put out a hand to chronic suffering. We recoil. The jerk-back response rules. We may even mildly despise the suffering one. “The poor thing,” we sympathize, “not realizing the “thing” may be more enriched than us, in our sanitized encapsulated insulation.

We work hard to sanitize our responses to people with “issues.” We may ask God to heal them.  Nothing wrong with that. We may tell people, “I hope you are feeling better.”  Shared hope is excellent, and yet, when the “stricken” ones don’t heal, haven’t  healed, can’t change, then what? At times, do our ongoing prayers and our euphemisms of wishful health become screens that we construct to distance ourselves from the suffering person, polite ways of putting our hands over our noses, of holding off their unpleasant reality?

If so we should bravely ask ourselves, why are we praying? To avoid reality? To avoid empathy?  Are we praying and yet not calling them, emailing, visiting them? Are we praying for healing and not accepting the reality of a loss?  If so, then we must mature in response. We must enter more deeply into the person’s experience. At some point we must accept the condition and refocus on supporting them.  Acceptance is crucial. It can even lessen  pain.  We must move with our friend, seeing more than a “sick” person, engage the rest of the experience. We must get beyond looking at the wheel chair, the walker, the diagnosis, the label. We must see the rest of the person.

Surely God doesn’t move closer or further from us depending on if he heals us or changes us or not. Even when he doesn’t heal or change, he doesn’t jerk back. His silence doesn’t mean he pulls himself away. We may be most comfortable with recovery, but in this world God obvious sees it differently.  God looks the most brutal distress of the world in the eye and doesn’t blink. Instead, God steps into our pain. God’s face is seen in the sick person’s face, in the distressed face. His eyes are present in the hurt child’s fearful eyes. He is close to the  grimace of the lonely. Christ must have grimaced on the cross. It is not a sin to grimace.

 The apostle Paul felt overwhelmed. And he felt no shame in writing it down, penning his darkest moments as if writing in his private journal, “we despaired even of life.” 2 Corinthians 1:8  And what posture did God take toward this admission of despair? Paul himself says God was allowing the suffering so that he, Paul, would look to God for deliverance. It is true. God hovered over Paul’s worst moments – to help. Psalm 22:24 records just such a hover, declaring, “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

I believe that God always crosses the skin barrier to participate in, to make himself known in our experiences. David writes,” When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19  Note that the psalmist does not write, “When anxiety was  great within me, you filled me with conviction of sin.” No, we don’t see God condemning. Instead we see God tending to the anxiety attack, consoling the person, helping. How did God do this? Not by removing the source of anxiety, but by bringing consolation in the thick of it.

The Bible is a catalogue of God’s gentleness with our emotions. God is the father of gentleness. His gentleness is the essence of his love, and he wants us to become like him in this. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3.

“Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine,” wrote William Blake. And God is the master clothier.  God knows your “ouch.”

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