Does Pain Have a Purpose?

First off, I’d just like to say that this is my first blog post ever! For those of you who know me, you know that I’m not a big fan of making public statements about, well, most things which is why until now I’ve avoided such things as blogs.  For those of you who REALLY know me, you know that there are certain topics that I could talk about forever and for THAT reason, I’m excited to take this opportunity to discuss one of my favorite things: pain.  Now before anyone starts to worry that I’m a masochist, let me explain myself.

This semester in Lighthouse, we’re talking about what it means to be made in the image of God.  I was discussing this topic with someone at the beginning of the semester and the question was ‘If God loved us enough to make us in His image, why must we feel pain?’  I’ve heard the question before and I’ve come to realize that as an attempt to answer it, we sometimes end up discussing a completely different question: Who is to blame for pain and suffering?  Perhaps the original question is more important.  What is pain’s purpose?  How should we treat it?  Aristotle believed that “The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.”  I have a shirt from the Marine Corps that says “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  I also can’t help but think of The Princess Bride when Westley declares “Life is pain, highness!  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”  Is pain to be avoided, honored, or passively endured?

A couple years ago, I read a book called The Gift of Pain that forever changed my perception of pain.  It was written by a British surgeon, Dr. Paul Brand, who worked with leprosy colonies in India during the 40’s.  He found that leprosy is not a flesh disease, as thought at the time, but rather a nerve disease that causes patients to lose their ability to feel pain.  Without that ability, leprosy patients hurt themselves without realizing it, didn’t take care of their injury, and eventually got infections that caused the deformities that have for so long defined leprosy.  Later in his life, Dr. Brand came to the United States to continue his research.  He explains in his book how disappointed he was to find a culture that resents and avoids pain instead of giving it the respect and attention that it deserves.  According to Brand, we put so much energy into avoiding pain that we forget to listen to its message and end up causing damage that could have been prevented.

So pain is a gift from God.  It is not an enemy but rather a “loyal scout announcing the enemy.”  Even after reading that book, though, I had some serious questions.  For example, what do we do with pain that is associated with social injustices?  What about hunger and poverty?  It seems wrong to say that those pains are also from God.  I don’t yet have the answers to these questions, but I now realize that though I may not understand it, pain is a part of God’s plan.  Perhaps, like Dr. Brand explained, we’re asking the wrong questions.  Perhaps instead of asking ‘Why?’ we should ask ‘What is wrong with this world that these pains and injustices exist and what can I do to heal those wounds?’