Experiencing pain is hard, but the result of avoiding pain is much harder. The pain I speak of is necessary pain. This is the discomfort involved in confronting that within us which is both the result of what we have done to others and the result of what has been done to us. It is the pain that precedes repentance and it is the pain that precedes healing Allowing ourselves to experience both kinds are unavoidable if we hope to live an authentic Christian life.
But avoid them we do.
Iíve never known a true masochist, an individual who consciously derives pleasure from pain. Most of us are all about avoiding it. God does not begrudge us that desire in and of itself. The myriad aches we today experience as human beings were not part of the original plan. Adam and Eve knew no pain in Eden until the moment they choose to disobey the only demand their Creator gave them, to not eat of the Tree of Good and Evil. Pain was, and is, the necessary consequence of our rebellion against a just God. We need not have experienced it as a race had we had remained obedient to the One who deserved no disobedience from us. That we do know pain in this life is the greatest evidence that the biblical account of the Fall is true.
God takes no pleasure in misery for its own sake. If He did He would be a cosmic sadist and the God of the cross could not possibly be that. He looks at the afflictions of humankind as the necessary result of transgression against him, but he does not enjoy it. If He did Jesus would never have been sent to us.
So all of the sons and daughters of Adam must know pain in this world. It is part of a just curse upon a fallen race. However, for the blood-bought son or daughter of God, pain has a particular role to play. This role is two-fold, to show us our need for healing and to show us our need for Godly sorrow over what we have done to cause others to need healing. Without this kind of pain we would forever remain wounded and wounding. Without it we would not know something is terribly wrong in our souls.
Physically it is better to feel the agony of a second-degree burn than the numbness of a third-degree burn. Why? Because the pain of the former indicates that the affected nerves and tissues are still capable of healing, the lack of feeling in the latter means that both nerve and tissue have been completely destroyed. Pain is natureís (and by extension Godís) way of sounding the alarm that something is not as it should or could be. It tells us we need to do something about a problem.
Whether that problem stems from what we have done, or what has been done to us, pain is often what brings it to our attention. But we have an option when such a feeling begins to make itself known. We can choose the path of avoidance.
Every mood-altering substance, action or possession known to human beings is potentially an enabler for such avoidance. Alcohol, sex and money are respective examples of each. Drunkenness, promiscuity and compulsive shopping are all pain-avoiders. All seem to promise an easy alternative to experiencing the hurt that is endemic to our existence. This is a cruel illusion. Most of those who do not know God will, to one degree or another, take this route. It is, for them, a dead-end. The pain they avoid is exchanged for greater pain latter on, compounded by the sinful activityís destructive effects on their bodies and souls.
Those who know God can choose this route as well; and I daresay that every Christian has chosen to detour down it at some point. We are not immune to the siren-call of avoidant behavior either. But in the power of the Spirit living within us we can choose to go another way. We can embrace our pain and ask God to use our experience of that pain to change us for the better. When we do this in sincerity He will honor our willingness to trust Him and the pain we then enter into and endure will be profoundly redemptive. It will result in the purification and growth of our hearts and prepare us for the Godly joys God wants all his children to know, the greatest of which is a deeper intimacy with Him.
When pain seems unavoidable it probably is. Our best reaction is to accept it after asking our Lord to use it to bring about His loving plan for our lives. Learning to react to pain in this way is one of the most important lessons of the Christian life.
It is not easily accepted, and we should not expect it to be so, but once we have learned this lesson we will ultimately be taken beyond the hurt we experience to a place of blessing that will make that hurt pale by comparison.
Then the pain will have been worth it beyond what we ever could have imagined.
Copyright 2007 by Shea Oakley
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