Many shy away from these hard questions, thinking God may not stand up under scrutiny. And there has been scrutiny. Biblical scholars have written volumes about this subject. But His character and reputation can always handle our questions and examination. Let's dive in and discover why God may not remove pain from our life in response to our prayers. Along the way, we'll also learn how God's presence and promises can change our perception of pain and chronic illness.
After reading my article, 10 Biblical Prayers to Encourage You through Chronic Illness, a reader wrote to me with questions we all need to answer. How does knowing God sympathizes and cares about our pain help if He doesn't deal with it? Why doesn't God take away our pain?
Many shy away from these hard questions, thinking God may not stand up under scrutiny. And there has been scrutiny. Biblical scholars have written volumes about this subject. But His character and reputation can always handle our questions and examination. Let's dive in and discover why God may not remove pain from our life in response to our prayers. Along the way, we'll also learn how God's presence and promises can change our perception of pain and chronic illness. His character and reputation can handle our examination.
The Science of Pain
After a rear-end car collision, my husband's rotator cuff tendon dangled by a mere thread of sinew. The pain was excruciating. At the same time, he also experienced the first episodes of chronic migraine, though he barely sensed it. Doctors repaired and rehabbed his shoulder nine months after the accident until the agony subsided. Only then did he notice the severity of his headache pain, which continues to this day, years after his shoulder healed.
Many factors influence our perception of pain. American Scientific reports, "Psychological factors play a huge role in pain perception. Pain is intimately tied to brain functions that govern behavior and decision making, including expectation, attention and learning" (MIND on Pain: The Psychology of Pain)1
In this article, researchers say our perception of pain often follows our expectations about how much pain a procedure will cause. If we understand a reward will follow pain, we can usually tolerate higher levels of discomfort. A heightened sense of danger can dull us to the presence of pain, at least temporarily. Our mindset, mood, fear, and stress can all act as "volume control[s]" 1 for pain.
God-Given Pain Relief
God created human bodies to release endorphins, hormones created by the pituitary gland in the brain, as a response to enjoyable experiences. He wants us to feel pleasure. These hormones are also released during times of pain or stress to improve our well-being. They serve to block or lessen our sensation of pain. We certainly are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14 ESV).
The Origins of Pain
Some wonder if God created pain. After all, He created the universe, and none of us can escape the pain that blows across this earth, infiltrating every crack and crevice of life. Yet when we examine the record found at the beginning of Genesis, we see His creation was pain-free.
Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! (Genesis 1:31 NLT)
Indeed, God's creation was perfect. He even designed a special location, the Garden of Eden, for His beloved people, Adam and Eve. There they lived in harmony with one another and God. They experienced no shame nor its accompanying pain.
Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25 NLT)
Pain entered the perfect creation when Adam and Eve chose to sin, breaking the one rule God gave. Their sin forever changed human nature. Since then, every person has been born enslaved to sin, controlled by its nature, which is part of our physical and spiritual DNA.
Since then, sin has infected every part of God's creation, from the weeds in the ground to the disruptions of weather. The earth groans under the weight of human sin (Romans 8:20, 22). Our own bodies groan too. Sin corrupts and decays our cells over time, leading to sickness, aging, and physical death. The result is tremendous physical pain.
But our pain extends far beyond the physical realm. Wounds caused by both our own or others' sinful choices wreak havoc on our hearts and minds. The pain of abuse, betrayal, separation, hatred, neglect, scorn, pride, greed, and every other sin overwhelms us.
Could God wave a magic wand and end all this suffering? Yes.
But then He would need to end all of humanity, His most beloved creation. Instead, He formulated a plan to redeem and restore us by turning sin's pain into an instrument that can benefit us.
The Example of Stephen
Stephen, the first martyr to die in the Book of Acts, endured the persecution of an angry mob. He had been dragged before the council of religious leaders to explain his preaching about Christ. After he reminded them of the truth from the Old Testament, God opened Stephen's spiritual eyes to see a vision of Jesus standing with His Father in heaven. When Stephen announced his perception of God to the leaders, they flew into a rage and dragged him outside the city. There they threw stones at him until he died.
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He fell to his knees, shouting, "Lord, don't charge them with this sin!" And with that, he died. (Acts 7:59-60 NLT)
Pause and allow Stephen's final words to sink in.
I'm sure Stephen's body continued to experience the agony of the blows raining upon him. Yet his brain focused on the glory of God's presence. His awareness of the spiritual reality was so great he could echo Jesus' words of forgiveness right before His death on the cross.
How God's Presence Helps Us to Endure
Stephen's example, scientific research, and my own husband's experience after his accident all give clues about how God's presence helps us handle the pain we all must endure in this life. The research about pain corroborates the Bible's teaching about three things that influence the way we perceive pain.
Before He was crucified, Jesus managed the expectations of His disciples as well as our own.
These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NASB)
For reasons that involve His mercy and compassion toward all humans, God has allowed the world to continue to this present day despite inevitable pain. He told us troubles, including illness and suffering, are a natural part of existing as His follower. We should expect them. Jesus also gives us courage and grace to face our struggles with the assurance they will not last forever.
Promise of Reward
Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about suffering. He was beaten and imprisoned multiple times because he preached the gospel. He described a chain of rewards we receive daily as we experience pain. It begins with endurance and ends with an overflow of love.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
Not only can we count on present-day rewards as we suffer chronic pain, but we can also look forward to eternal rewards.
For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT)
Dogged determination to focus on the hope of a reward will likely reduce the amount of attention we give to our physical pain.
When I meditate upon the presence of the Lord through His Word, I cannot help but smile as I experience the reality of His loving thoughts and actions toward me. Even in severe pain from my chronic illness, I find pleasure in His nearness.
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. (Psalm 16:11 NLT)
We can train ourselves to meditate or think deeply with imagery from our imagination on God's Word when we feel overwhelmed by pain. The enjoyment of His presence stimulates the production of pain-reducing endorphins. 10 Biblical Prayers to Encourage You through Chronic Illness will help you find encouragement and pleasure in God's presence.
God Does Deal with Our Pain
God is not some distant deity who keeps a wide berth between Him and His people. No, He is intimately acquainted with our grief. The Bible describes Jesus as "a man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). He exercised His own free will to bear the deadly consequences of our free will. He endured pain, knowing the result would be the redemption of anyone who would trust Him as their Lord and Savior. (To learn more about steps to peace with God through Jesus, you can visit my website at AnnieYorty.com.)
Through Jesus' victorious resurrection, we see the truth Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28-29 NLT)
Even as you suffer pain, ask Him to show you the good He will bring out of it for you and for others.
Fix Your Mind on God
Have you ever watched a marathon? I can barely endure the agony I see on the faces of the runners along the course. Yet they persevere toward the finish line. I suspect that the moment they break the tape at the end of the race, they can't feel the pain as elation dominates their senses.
The Bible compares our life in Christ to a foot race.
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT)
To answer the question of my dear reader, I acknowledge we will experience pain throughout our lives, some more than others. Even as pain attempts to persuade us its physical sensation is the only reality, God uses it to call us to the spiritual awareness of His presence.
Will you fix your mind on God and trust Him to see you through?
Please note: If you would like to download the ten Bible-based prayers, please visit my website and click the link to subscribe. I will be happy to send it to you for free.
Annie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down Syndrome. Please connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.