God’s Gift of Pain Another way of seeing what the Saviour went through
When we discuss amongst ourselves the subject of pain, it seems nobody really wants to talk about it, except complaining how bad it has been or how unpleasant pain is. Despite the obvious protective value of millions of warning sensors, the pain network is the most unappreciated bodily system. It attracts abuse and bad feelings. I’ve never read a poem or hymn dedicated to pain.
We, as Christians who believe in a loving Creator God, don’t really know how to interpret pain or how to deal with the problem of pain. If we are honest with ourselves, deep down we secretly may even confess that it was God’s one mistake, creating pain. Could He not have worked out a better way or a device for us to cope with pain? Now, I’m convinced that pain gets a bad press.
In a close-up, under a microscope, we see the pain network in a totally different light. Why does the human body need pain? When I’m hurting, what is my body telling me? Pain serves some useful biological purposes, which bear the hallmark of the Divine Creator Genius.
Consider our skin, a flexible and tough organ stretching over the body frame as an advance guard to protect us against the dangers of the outside world. Millions upon millions of pain sensors dot the surface of the skin, scattered in a precise order in harmony with the body’s specific needs. Every part of the body has unique sensitivity to both pain and pressure, depending on its function.
The face, in particular in the area of the lips and nose, is acutely sensitive to both. The eye has certain rigid requirements of structure; it is exposed on the surface. An eye must be transparent for obvious reasons, which severely limit the blood supply. Blood vessels would block the eye’s vision. Any intrusion causes danger, since a blood-starved eye cannot easily repair itself.
Therefore a well-designed pain sensor system makes the eye incredibly sensitive to the slightest pressure or pain. Have you ever wondered why you blink? Blinking functions like your car’s windscreen-wipers, washing away the dirt. It is the pain that causes you to blink. To prove my point, try not to blink for a while. Your eyes will start to sting and you must blink to alleviate the pain.
The fingertips are unusual, however. Their constant use requires them to be sensitive to pressure and temperature, but they are somewhat pain-resistant. It’s just like a loom-tuner in the weaving mill, who can feel the slightest difference between two identical pieces of cloth woven side by side on two different looms. He can make the necessary adjustments to the loom so that both pieces of cloth feel exactly the same in quality.
Medical libraries contain hundreds of massive volumes of books written about the amazing facts of the body’s pain network. Pain reveals God’s marvelous design, and it serves our bodies well. Thank God for the gift of pain! Without pain, our lives are in grave danger and devoid of many basic pleasures.
A team of medical engineers received millions of dollars in grants for the sole purpose of designing an artificial pain system. People with diseases such as leprosy and severe forms of diabetes were in great danger of losing fingers, toes or entire limbs, simply because their warning system of feeling pain had been silenced. Perhaps they could design a substitute system that would alert them to the worst dangers. This team of three professors in Electronic Engineering, a Bio-engineer and several Bio-chemists developed a kind of artificial nerve system that could be worn on the finger like a glove. When subjected to pressure, the artificial nerve would set off a warning signal.
The team was confronted with a daunting task. The more they studied the nerve system in the body, the more complex their task became. The nerve cells change their perception of pain to meet the body’s need. The pressure of inflammation, for example, on a infected finger becomes ten times more sensitive to pain. That’s why a swollen throbbing finger feels awkward and in the way. The body is telling you to give it time to heal.
Unable to be copied
Nerve cells “turn up” the volume amplifying bumps, scrapes and bruises that otherwise would go unnoticed. In no way could these scientists duplicate this feat with the current available technology. They came away appreciating the remarkable engineering of the body’s pain network, including several hundred million sensors that function maintenance-free throughout a person’s lifetime.
After five years – thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars – they abandoned the project. A warning system suitable just for one hand was exorbitantly expensive, subject to frequent mechanical failure and hopelessly inadequate to interpret the profusion of sensations.
A system sometimes called “God’s great mistake” was far too complex for even the most sophisticated technology to mimic. With today’s computer technology available, there is not a computer powerful enough to process the trillions of signals to the brain in a speed faster than the speed of light. By definition pain is unpleasant. It forces you to withdraw your fingers from a stove; yet this quality saves us from destruction. Unless the warning signal demands a response, we might not heed it. Pain will “whisper” to us subconsciously in the early stages of damage; we feel uncomfortable and restless in our sleep. Pain will “speak” to us as danger increases; a hand grows tender and sore after a long time raking leaves in the garden. Pain will “shout” at us when the danger becomes severe; blisters and tissue damage force us to stop raking leaves.
The value of pain
So, what happens when you don’t feel pain? As I mentioned before, a leprosy patient does not feel any pain because the nerve endings have died. Severe diabetes and alcoholism can also cause stop people feeling pain.
One day a leprosy patient was allowed to go home on leave for several weeks from the Leprosarium in Valore, India, to spend some time with his family. On his way home, a distance of about 20 km, he got a sharp stone in his sandal which embedded itself in his foot. Because he didn’t feel any pain, this stone worked itself up so that the bones and surrounding area badly got infected. By the time he came back to the Leprosarium, gangrene had already set in, and surgical removal of his foot above the ankle became necessary to save his life.
Listen to your pain! We take an aspirin at the slightest discomfort to silence pain, but in doing so we deal only with the symptoms. We try hard to shut down pain if we can.
The TV ads of pharmaceutical companies praise the virtues of all sorts of painkillers, promising relief. People in the USA consume more than 30.000 tons of aspirin a year, according to the 1997 statistics. North America is only 5% of the world population, but consumes over 50% of all manufactured drugs. One third of these work on the central nerve system. The USA is the most advanced society in the world in terms of suppressing pain. We forget however, that the more we try to shut down pain the more pain will strike back. When we refuse to listen to the pain in our bodies, we invariably destroy ourselves. Pain is a gift from God, but it is a gift nobody wants.
A gift nobody wants
But, we are not alone in our pain and suffering. Isaiah described it very accurately in chapter 53:3. “He was ... a man of sorrow and familiar with suffering ... and by His wounds we are healed.”
Why did Isaiah predict that this world’s ugliness had to be laid on the Christ as the only way to make things right again? In short, how does Jesus’ pain and suffering relate to you and me?
In asking these questions, we enter a realm fraught with misery. How was God able to create the entire cosmos only with the power of His spoken word, while the salvaging of that creation-run-amok took so much longer and involved so much Divine labour and suffering? We cannot get our questions answered, but the fact is that the Son of God takes to Himself the brokenness of life. He reversed the course of everything that contributed to this fractured reality in the first place.
We have to believe that this was the only way. We have to believe that this way alone works, because ours is a world of pain and suffering that needs to be met head-on.
I heard a little story from Arie van der Veer, the minister of the Dutch EO (a Dutch Christian evangelism organisation). A mother brought her daughter to the hospital for surgery. She asked the surgeon if she could stay with her daughter during the operation. The surgeon pointed out to her that it would be a scene not for the faint-hearted and asked if she could handle that. But the mother insisted on being with her daughter. Than the surgeon said to her, “Okay, you can come, but you must be very calm and quiet.” So, the operation proceeded as planned, and afterwards the surgeon asked her what kind of impression this operation had left on her. She confessed that she had felt every move of the scalpel herself. You see, that’s mother love speaking here. Who can imagine the anguish and pain of this mother? It must include the idea that just such anguish is inside the soul of God’s only Son. That very specific pain and grief has been taken on by Jesus.
We suffer because this world derailed long ago. There is something about the nature of our pain and suffering that requires God not to stand back at a distance. He must enter it, be part of it. We read the stories in the newspapers. A car bomb explodes, and the smoke clears. A father sees a piece of his child’s body; another piece over there! Who can describe the agony and anguish the father must suffer? Only God can heal him from the inside. God knows about a grandfather who used to play with his grandchildren in the backyard, but now can no longer raise a spoon to his lips, because of a crippling disease. This humiliates him. But God is there, so He can enter it and reverse it from a position of knowing compassion.
God hates the pain that tears at minds He created in His own image. God hates the cancers that eat away the flesh He so lovingly created. Who goes to a hospital and witnesses a hip-fractured patient grimacing in pain as a therapist forces her to put weight on that broken piece of anatomy and thinks, “Well, that may happen to me one day, but that’s just fine.” We look at what we dislike, what we despise, what we fear, and we go the other way. We pray that nothing like this will happen to us. We may call that even a “natural reaction”, and perhaps it is. But maybe that is also why it took a supernatural reaction from God to save His people. God entered our pain and suffering and triumphed over it. We are not saved by power but by weakness. God understood our pain. He knows our sorrows in minute detail, and understands the sufferings that sin has brought to every last person of this broken world.
And because God in Christ knows that, He has made it possible to one day to wipe away every tear from our eyes. The bread and wine at His table reminds us of that. Because Jesus suffered for us to the very last breath, the day will come when He will say to each one of His own, “My son, My daughter, enter into the glory of My Father’s Kingdom.” And that will be enough for all eternity.