We do anything to avoid pain, though we can never escape physical and emotional pain in this life. Millions of dollars are spent by hurting people on pain killers, antidepressants or various forms of illegal drugs. Some try to escape emotional pain with alcohol.
I was introduced to one of the strongest and most addictive painkillers in the industry, oxycodone, a few days prior to my colorectal surgery in 2014. Though I knew of the side effects, I was willing to do anything to minimize the excruciating physical pain I was in. When my wife was having our first child, she was offered epidural, a drug used by two-thirds of laboring mothers which blocks the nerve impulses from the lower spinal segments, minimizing the pain experienced in labor. She gladly took it.
According to Scripture, God is not the originator of suffering, nor does He take pleasure in death (Ezekiel 33:11). The Bible does teach, however, that He is all-powerful and all-knowing, and that nothing happens without His permission (Job 38:11). In fact, Scripture implies that God is intentional about allowing His children to experience pain. After sin came into the world, He said to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). To Adam, He said, “…in pain you shall eat of it [the ground] all the days of your life” (vs. 17).
If pain is so unpleasant and God is so good, why would he allow His children to experience it? As a parent, I’m always looking for ways to help my children avoid pain. I fasten their seatbelts to minimize the damage in case of a car accident, I give them medicine when they’re sick to help them feel better, I give them advice about their choice of friends to minimize emotional pain, and the list goes on. And yet God, even if He’s not the cause of our pain, far from preventing it, seems to use (allow?) pain and suffering for reasons that often leave us perplexed at best, or in many cases angry and hardened. Why does He allow pain?
I’m not suggesting that I’ll have a completely satisfactory answer to this question, but I’ll try my best to explain things as I see it. Though very unpleasant, pain in and of itself is actually not entirely negative. Let’s imagine a person incapable of feeling physical pain, for example. The ancient skin disease called leprosy is a fitting illustration. Did you know that leprosy actually did not kill people, but it led to death because this dreaded infectious disease permanently damaged sensory nerves, leaving the victims in a state where they are incapable of registering pain.
Pain is what tells us that something is wrong. Let’s imagine a world of sin, selfishness and evil, without pain or guilt. Would that be in our best interest. Whether the pain we experience is related to our poor choices, or simply because we live in a world of sin and are innocent casualties in this war we call the great controversy, pain is a very real reminder that sin is deadly and disobeying God is not worth. And besides reminding us that this world is not our final destination, it detaches us from the temporal and connects us to the eternal. What keeps me pressing forward in the midst of all the pain in this life is the fact that in Revelation 21:1-4, God promises “a new heaven and a new earth” in which “every tear” will be wiped away and “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…”
Be of good courage. God has a wonderful future in store for us.