Last week I discussed the general idea that God has a purpose for our pain. This discussion was intended to help people dealing with chronic physical pain but has seemed to extend to those who are suffering in any capacity. One of the great things about the Bible is its depth of application and breadth of relevancy. What applies to a person with severe knee pain may also apply to a person struggling with depression or grieving the loss of a loved one. Whatever the kind of suffering, it is insufficient for the sufferer to simply “trust” that God has a purpose for it. God wants suffering people to be certain of His specific purpose for their pain because uncertainty about God’s purpose leads to uncertainty about God’s goodness.
In the midst of his suffering, the apostle Paul clung tightly to a simple truth – “I need what this pain is producing in me.” In 2 Corinthians 4:4-12 he said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
God’s purpose for pain is to weaken our will and whet our thirst so that we seek what we really need. Physical thirst is an alarm telling your brain what your body already knows. In the same way, suffering produces a spiritual thirst which is God’s way of making you notice a need that’s been there all along. People with high opinions of themselves never think they need suffering. They doubt God’s goodness because they see themselves as essentially good and not in need of God’s purposeful pain. Such people flee from suffering through distraction. Consumption for the sake of distraction is a common response. People find comfort in mood-altering chemicals, shopping, sexual-sin and much more because they cannot accept the fact that their pain has a personal and positive purpose. Such an approach is unfortunate because it ignores the real problem and creates additional ones connected to their sinful response to suffering.
The Bible also teaches that God’s subordinate purpose for pain is to simultaneously produce good works while preventing pride in that production. Because God’s first purpose is to wake us up by weakening us, He carefully measures out the positive fruits of pain in such a way that we do not become boastful but much good will come in God’s time. To sum it all up, in every way, both in our relationship with Him and our relationships with others, God uses pain to teach us how to love.