Pain is often something that causes people to doubt God’s existence – or at least his goodness. We live in a world of seemingly unnecessary pain, sickness, death, and brokenness, so how could an all-powerful and good God really exist? Many religions offer varying answers to that question, but in my view the Christian worldview offers by far the most sufficient and coherent answer. The answer requires a bit of a backstory to be given, but the answer will be worth the read for those who are currently in the midst of pain, or who simply want to know the answer.
As with everything inside of time, it all began in the beginning. Genesis 1-2 gives an account of creation and after each day of the creation God said, “It is good.” Thus all things were made good – no sickness, no pain, no tears, and no death. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God on what seems to have been a regular basis and there was no separation between them. However, God gave Adam and Eve only one command: Do not eat from a certain tree. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned against God for the first time and ate from the tree of which God commanded them not to eat (Genesis 3:6). After they sinned, God cursed the earth (Gen. 3:14-19) and introduced within Creation pain, relational strife, nature’s unrest, death, and more. Following his pronouncement, God separated himself from humans because He is perfectly just, which means that sin cannot remain in his presence without being punished, and he is mercy compelled him to separate himself from us. That is the bad news, but without bad news there can be no good news.
The good news, commonly referred to as the gospel, is that in God separated us from his presence before his perfect justice was demonstrated to us so that his mercy could be shown through Jesus, who paid the sin debt – death – for anyone who would believe in him and submit their lives to his rule and reign. Not only did Jesus claim the authority to forgive sins – he rose from the dead in fulfillment of his own prophecy (Luke 18:31-33) to prove that his claims were true. God did this so that his perfect love and mercy could be shown to everyone who believes in Jesus (John 3:16) while his perfect justice would be shown to those who refused to believe in Jesus and in doing so chose to pay their own debt to God. When Christ returns all of Creation will be reunited in perfect unity in him (Ephesians 1:10) and those who have believed in him and submitted their lives to him will live with God in the same closeness that Adam and Eve enjoyed. For them there will be no more pain, sorrow, tears, or death forevermore (Revelation 21:2-4)! However, until he returns all of Creation groans in anticipation of his coming, as it exists apart from God and under the curse that was pronounced in Genesis 3 (Romans 8:22). Unfortunately, until Jesus returns we humans are not exempt from the pain and hardships that are experienced in a world marred by sin and separation from God. So where is God during our suffering and why does he allow it to continue?
“Some people would say that [her inability to feel pain] is a good thing. But no, it’s not. Pain is there for a reason. It let’s your body know that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.”
There is much to be said to offer a complete answer to that question, so I aim to address only two aspects of the full answer: Why does God allow pain in the world and what is his response to our pain until Jesus returns and reunites all things? To answer the first, I think it’s helpful to consider a medical disorder known as CIPA. While Ashlyn Blocker was in kindergarten, NBC published an article about her life with CIPA. The article told of problems that arose from Ashlyn’s disorder. For instance, when her baby teeth were forming and she was learning to chew, she would often chew her tongue and lips into a bloody mess without realizing that there was a problem because she could not feel the pain of the lacerations. Similarly, when she was three years old Ashlyn placed her hand on a scalding hot pressure washer and did not it hand away because she did not feel the pain caused by the engine. Concerning her child’s disorder, Tara Blocker said, “Some people would say that [her inability to feel pain] is a good thing. But no, it’s not. Pain is there for a reason. It let’s your body know that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.” Perhaps one of the primary reasons that God allows pain to exist in the world is because it alerts us to the fact that something is wrong, namely that we live in a fallen world that is separated from his presence, and it reminds us that we should yearn for an eternity with Him when all things will be made restored and there will be no more death, no more crying, no more pain. Yes, our current pain hurts, but if it is properly understood it should send us running into the arms our Heavenly Father in a way that will secure that our eternity will be spent with Him.
So what is God’s role in our current pain? First, it’s important to remember that God is no stranger to the pain we feel. He doesn’t watch from afar with a sort of calloused coldness. No, Jesus lived as a man for 33 years. He felt the full spectrum of physical and emotional pain that we feel: A best friend died causing Jesus to weep (John 11), his family was not initially supportive of his ministry (Mark 3:21), he was homeless (Luke 9:58), and he even was betrayed to death on a cross by someone closest to him (Matthew 26:21). Jesus, who is God in the flesh, has surely felt the pain we feel which explains how he can be our sympathetic high priest and not one who watches with no understanding (Hebrews 4:15). However, in our pain God comforts us through his Spirit and through other people (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). That reason, along with several other reasons I discussed when I wrote in Can You Really be a Christian Without Going to Church?, is why it is so important for the Christian to be involved in the local Church and to be intimately known by other members of the body. In the church, which is made up of people who have experienced all types of pain and healing, we can be encouraged and supported by other Christians who have felt the pain we endure. All the while, God works in his mysterious ways to bring about our healing.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, our pain is for our good. It reminds us that things are not as they should be and that we should live in eager anticipation for an eternity with God in thanksgiving to him for paying our debt in Jesus’ death, so that we would not have to spend eternity separated from him in an even more complete manner than we currently experience. While we eagerly await his return, we must also understand that his delay is not without merit. In his mercy, he delays his return in an effort to give more of us an opportunity to believe in him. Upon Jesus’ return, eternal and unchanging just judgment will be pronounced on all who have not believed and it is not his wish that any should perish, so he patiently bears with the evil and suffering in this present world to giving more opportunity to those who have not yet believed to do so (2 Peter 3:9). Our God is merciful and good. He uses pain to draw us near to him so that we might one day experience eternal life with Him – no more pain, nor sorrow, nor tears, nor death because the former things will have passed away.
God uses pain to draw us near to him so that we might one day experience eternal life with Him – no more pain, nor sorrow, nor tears, nor death because the former things will have passed away.