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Posts Tagged ‘the problem of pain’

Some things in this life are hard to understand, aren’t they? Often when we hear of some tragic event, we can feel so helpless and dismayed. We may be able to be there for those involved, provide practical support and pray for them, but still those big questions can remain.

This whole matter of life’s hard-to-understand questions was brought home to me recently, as I helped our granddaughter with a uni essay. This involved reading C S Lewis’s The Problem of Pain and grappling with how the idea of a good, all-powerful God could be reconciled with the reality of all the pain and suffering in our world. What a challenge for an eighteen-year-old—and what a challenge for me too, to help formulate a reasoned defence of Lewis’s Christian position!

During this time too, I heard a tragic story about a young mother who had just passed away from cancer not long after the birth of her second child. The mother was so ill that the baby was delivered early—and the grieving father is now left with two young sons to rear, one a premature newborn. It is hard to get our heads around such awful events, isn’t it?

As our granddaughter and I persevered with her essay, however, we came to some basic conclusions at least. We do not claim to be clear, logical thinkers—and we would not want to give any pat answers either. But we decided that God chose, from a position of strength and authority as the Creator of the universe, to give us free will—the ability to choose how we act. In one sense, it could perhaps be said God’s options then became limited, yet God is not intrinsically limited. God is still good and all-powerful, even though we may not be able to see that clearly at times.

Yet we also felt that, while our wrong choices may account for much of the world’s suffering, this does not seem to be the case with the young mother’s death mentioned above. Nor does it account for those large-scale natural disasters in our world, although it could be argued some are the result of man’s not caring for the earth’s God-given resources. We remembered too how sometimes God has judged the world in this way, such as in the days of Noah (Genesis 6). And we wondered too if, at times, God may allow suffering—sometimes suffering teaches us things we might never otherwise learn and refines our faith. Yet right now, through it all, God also longs to comfort and strengthen us in our troubles—God does not leave us to struggle on alone.

It is all so complex, isn’t it? Truly, we know only in part—but one day, we will know fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). And one day too as Christians, we have the wonderful hope of eternal life, where there will be no more pain and suffering at all.

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4

One day, those big questions will be answered—or perhaps then they will not matter anymore. But until that day, let’s keep on trusting and walking with our loving, good, all-powerful God.

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It’s probably safe to say that most of us try to avoid pain as much as we can. It’s not pleasant. It can restrict our activities. It can dull our enjoyment of life. And … well, it just hurts!

This week, a friend sent me a beautiful card. Inside, she had written how she hoped I would soon be rid of the severe lower back and leg pain I have had for several weeks and urged me to let her know if there was any way she could help me. I was moved by her kind words – and I knew she meant them. My friend is always very sensitive to the needs of others, often reaching out to help them in all sorts of ways.

One reason she does this, I suspect, is that she herself knows what pain is like. In recent years, she has experienced the death of two close family members. She is often in physical and emotional pain herself. And right now another family member has severe ongoing health issues. Naturally speaking, she would be the last person one would expect to have the physical and emotional resources to care so sacrificially for others. Yet from God’s perspective, she has exactly what it takes. To me, she epitomises Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

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.

Unlike my friend, I have not been faced with such terribly sad events and debilitating illnesses in my life. Yes, I have had back trouble and bad sciatica before, but these have eventually passed. Yet this time, the pain seems more severe and less like wanting to go away quickly. I am on medication. I use hot packs on my back. I do exercises and see my physio. I pray for healing and others do too. But still the pain persists.

So … what am I learning through it all? What good is God bringing out of this for me and hopefully others? I believe it has given me a small glimpse at least into what life must be like for those who suffer all the time from chronic physical pain. My heart now goes out to them so much more. I can see how this could colour their whole experience of life and cause them to feel somewhat alienated and removed from those around them. And I can appreciate much more what an effort it must be for them to participate in the normal, everyday activities we often take for granted.

It is too late now for me to empathise with my father, who himself suffered from extremely severe and chronic sciatica for as long as I can remember. And I believe I understand now at least one of the reasons he was often so short-tempered and withdrawn, unable to enjoy life to the full. But I can do better with others – it is not too late for that.

What lessons have you learnt through the hard things of life? Is God using your pain to bring comfort to others?

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