What Scripture Has To Say About Pain
By Luke Lancaster
Suffering is hard to endure. We think, “Why me, God? Why?” and long for answers to help alleviate our pain. I personally felt the weight of these questions like this during multiple trials in my life. Bear with me as I list a few. When I injured my shoulder in 2011 and was unable to do many normal things for many years; when I developed varicocele in 2014 and had to wear unattractive, baggy clothing for years; when I incurred an anal fissure in 2015 and felt terrible pain when walking and going #2 for years; when I developed terrible headaches in 2012 that limited my ability to look at electronics for years, etc. Although others have gone through much, much worse than I have, still, I needed to be comforted in these afflictions. To help, various Scriptures came to the rescue. They strengthened me when I was going through these crosses.
#1. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Yet, to grow the good branches out, the bad ones need to be pruned. Such a pruning does not feel good in the moment, for the dead parts are physically cut off. It is necessary, though, for the nutrients of the vine to go to the good parts of each branch. Compare this now to Christians. Our attachments to worldly things are dead branches that need to be pruned off. My desire to watch YouTube instead of reading Scripture, for example, is an attachment. To get me to read Scripture more, God has to prune my desire to watch YouTube. Such a pruning involves suffering, though. To give some examples, when I injured my shoulder, it detached me from baseball. I couldn't throw anymore. When I had an anal fissure, it detached me from sports. I couldn't walk. When I developed a varicocele, it detached me from vanity. I couldn't wear clothes that fit. When I was hit with headaches, it detached me from electronics. They only gave me worse headaches. The list could go on and on. This Scripture made these things clear to me and put me at peace.
#2. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Cor 12:7).
St. Paul could have easily been a prideful man. He was the greatest missionary of early Christianity, he converted thousands of people, and he even experienced private revelations of Jesus. So, when Paul suffered an ambiguous “thorn in the flesh,” Paul interpreted his suffering as God’s desire to humble him. For, as Pope Francis said, we develop humility by going through humbling circumstances. This Scripture really struck me, for it meant that my sufferings were God’s desire to humble me. But why care about humility? Well, consider what St. Augustine said were the three things needed to grow in the spiritual life. 1. Humility; 2. Humility; and 3. Humility. If humility was that important, then it seemed to me that God should continue to let me suffer.
#3. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn in the flesh], that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
St. Paul prayed for his sufferings to leave him, like I did, but they did not leave him. Why? Because God was using his suffering as a chisel to his pride. It humbled Paul and made him depend on God more. Think about it, we tend to pray a lot more when we suffer. Prayer implies that we are not God, and this humbles us to the ground. So, Paul boasted in his weaknesses, knowing that God’s power made him spiritually humble. God’s strength is better than our prideful strength, and we only tap into God's strength through prayer. What a truth!
#4. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” (Rom. 5:3-4).
Suffering develops character. This again emphasized to me that my pains had a greater purpose than what it seemed. It was shaping me, like Michaelangelo shaping a chunk of rock into the David.
#5. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24)
St. Paul suffered profoundly. According to 2 Cor. 11:24-25, Paul was, on multiple occasions, whipped viciously, beaten with rods, stoned to death (and miraculously survived), shipwrecked at sea, etc. Yet Paul claimed in Col. 1:24 that his sufferings had deep meaning. They were spiritually joined to Christ’s terrible crucifixion. Since Christ’s sufferings created the effect of redemption for mankind, then Paul’s sufferings also had the same effect. Paul filled up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions, meaning that Paul’s participation in Christ’s afflictions was what was lacking. This means that, although Christ’s sufferings are objectively complete, mystically, they need our sufferings to subjectively convert people. It is our sufferings that apply Christ’s complete redemption onto others. This is an invisible reality, but it strengthened me in the conviction that there was meaning behind my pains.
#6. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).
There is meaning behind the suffering! It is preparing us for heaven by sanctifying us of our faults. Since nothing unclean enters heaven (Rev. 21:27), our sufferings help eradicate our uncleanness. Not only that, but each suffering patiently endured will be rewarded with an eternal weight of glory in Heaven. Such a comparison is not even possible to comprehend, for the scales are so opposite to one another that it isn’t even a comparison.
#7. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom. 8:28).
If all things worked together for good, then my sufferings worked together for a greater good. Even if I could not fully understand that greater good, I trusted that there was a greater good.
Hopefully this article encourages you or a loved one to know that suffering is not pointless. There is deep spiritual meaning behind it. It forms our character, shaves off our earthly attachments, humbles us, and produces glory in Heaven! With that much spiritual good, it should give us pause when we want to complain.