05.14Feeling the Pain
Pain takes on many faces — physical, emotional, spiritual. Each of these faces has implications within our lives. All pain is not alike. One thing about pain is that it seems we are destined to always experience it, so an examination of it seems worthy.
One observation about pain is that it comes in varying degrees of intensity. Sometimes pain is that dull ache that maybe reminds us of our straining through a physical work out a few days ago. Some is intense that announces itself with a thunderous clap such as when we inadvertently slam our knee into our desk corner. Pain is also that first Father’s Day after my father passed from this earth. Pain was, is, and will be. So, how do we deal with pain? How do we confront this intruder into our comfort?
The first time we see the mention of pain in the bible is in the consequences of sin. In Genesis 3:16, God spoke to Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The word translated in this passage as ‘sorrow’ also refers to pain. This is the first instance where we are presented with the reality of pain — and we see its appearance as a consequence of sin.
It is also interesting to note that the last occurrence of pain in the bible is recorded in Revelation 21:4 where we are assured, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” So, we can rest in the knowledge that pain is only a temporal condition and not eternal for at least the children of God.
Interestingly, there is actually an international organization that concerns itself with the study of pain–the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). They define pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage“. There are two types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain occurs for specific reasons. With acute pain, an actual or potentially damaging event triggers special sensory nerve endings located in the skin, muscles and joints. These neural impulses then travel through the dorsal horns of the spinal cord and up to the higher centers of the brain stem and brain. An automatic and rapid course of action to eliminate the event and prevent further injury is decided upon.
Thomas Dormandy in his book, “The Worst of Evils” records that in ancient times, the relief from pain was attributed to a gift from gods. There is little doubt that we spend enormous amounts of money today to relieve pain of all manners, physical and psychologically. One has to wonder to what avail? I recently read a quote that really captured my thoughts on this subject.
“Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness” ~ Robertson Davies
I found this quote enigmatic. What would it mean if happiness is only a by-product? What is it a by-product of may be the more important question. Can I take actions with the intent of causing another to experience happiness? That seems to be a valid assumption based on my experience. Maybe more importantly, can one view pain the same? Is pain a by-product like Davies suggested happiness is? Is it proper to look at pain and happiness in this way? Happiness seems to be a state of mind. Pain seems to be so much more invasive. Why is that? Sometimes, I think I can even have happiness in spite of pain — tired and sore muscles that are responding to physical training are a happy kind of pain, while sore, I can be expectant of increased strength that satisfies me.
Pain speaks to us on so many levels. It might be the most pervasive of all human conditions. If my big toe hurts, I suffer throughout my body for that pain. My entire being is effected because the smallest extremity has announced it’s condition to me. Do I pause to give my toe thought when it is well? Yet, when it hurts, my very being is suffering with it. Does the smile on my face transmit it’s joy to my toe? How do my ankles rejoice?
Is pain within itself a language of the body? Noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis put it this way, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When I feel good, I rejoice and celebrate, I am ecstatic and so very satisfied with myself. When I hurt I draw back within myself initially, sometimes I lash out at the source of my pain. When I cannot find a suitable source to lash out at (or the source is bigger than myself), I lash out at God. Why if he is so mighty and powerful and loving — why would he allow me to suffer? Why is there pain? Isn’t there injustice in His allowing it? C.S. Lewis devoted a book to this issue. There is little I could add that this great apologist has not already offered.
In spite of Lewis’ efforts. I am still troubled by pain. Then something struck me. A comment by another apologist Ravi Zacharias. Ravi recounted the story of a young girl, perhaps it was the story of Hannah. Hannah has a very rare condition Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis, or CIPA. She has literally bitten her fingertips off without feeling anything. She has bitten her tongue and once even bit off her thumb, all while never shedding a tear. Hannah does not feel physical pain. Another young boy named Haaris was afflicted with the same condition. While I cry out to God to end my pain, Haaris’s mother has a different prayer — “I think the day Haaris falls and cries from pain would be the best day of my life.”
So, being without pain in this world would not be good. It seems to have very dire ramifications to be devoid of physical pain. I think the same would be true of emotional or psychological pain. We often read stories of some of the most evil people that seem to have shown signs that they possess a certain immunity to sensing pain in others. Killers who have stories in their childhoold of abusive behavior toward others or sometimes animals. Sometimes these people have been desensitized to this pain due to their being victims of abuse. So it appears that at least some form of immunity to this type of pain has negative consequences as well.
A beautiful quote was offered by Mother Teresa. She said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.” I wonder if that is what God was trying to tell us? As He hung on that cross, so despised and rejected, He demonstrated to us His willingness to suffer pain to to reclaim His relationship with us. Surely, he loved until He could feel hurt no more. There is another anonymous quote that I think God would say to us: “There is one pain I often feel, which you will never know. It is caused by the absence of you.”