Thursday, October 16, 2008

What is Pain?

It's kind of funny actually. I was driving to the church and my finger brushed against another finger that had a hangnail causing a little pain to shoot through my finger. From that little action came a whole slew of thoughts about pain.

I've never really thought about pain. I know what pain is, or maybe I should say I know what pain feels like because when it came right down to it I really didn't have a definition of pain. Not only did I not have a definition but I didn't have a reason for its existence.

So here are my thoughts on pain.

First off, pain isn't just physical. It is interesting that we use the words "pain" and "hurt" in more than just a physical sense. People suffer from not just physical pain but emotional pain, mental pain and spiritual pain as well. So when we talk about pain we have to be able to come up with a definition that is all inclusive.

At first I thought that we could define pain as irritation or discomfort but soon realized that just because something is uncomfortable it doesn't mean it is painful. Pain does irritate and it does cause discomfort but you can have one without the other. So my definition has to go deeper then just discomfort and irritation.

I then came up with this definition. Pain is anguish. I looked up the word anguish in the Webster's Dictionary and this is what it said "extreme pain, distress, or anxiety." According to Webster's anguish is extreme. Not all pain is extreme. For instance, my hangnail was not extreme pain, but it was "painful."

That doesn't seem to accurately describe pain either. So I looked up the word pain itself and this is what it said. "localized physical suffering...acute mental or emotional distress or suffering." There it was. Pain is suffering. Suffering can take place in various degrees. Suffering does not have to be extreme like anguish.

So I have a definition, but why does it exist? Many people use suffering (pain) as a reason for why God does not exist. Could there be a false understanding of what pain and suffering is?

So what purpose does pain serve. For starters, pain is an indicator that something is wrong. Physical pain indicates that something is wrong with the body. Emotional pain indicates something is wrong with an aspect of life. Spiritual pain indicates some is wrong spiritually. If we didn't have pain we wouldn't know anything is wrong!!

I read Philip Yancy's book Where Is God When It Hurts? when I was in college. One thing I specifically remember from the book is it addressing of leprosy. Leprosy is actually a disease where a person cannot feel. It is a disabling of the nervous system. As a result of this people who cut themselves, burn themselves, or hurt their body in some way may not realize that they have an injury because they feel no pain. As a result the injury can get infected or grow abnormally which led to the conclusion in Biblical times that it was a disease that caused the flesh to rot.

Pain serves an important purpose in our lives. It is a warning system that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. Granted there are times when nothing can be fixed such as an aged person who is coming to the end of their life, but most pain is connected with fixable problems whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.

Pain and suffering serve a purpose in this world. They are integrate parts. The Buddha and Mahavira of Jainism saw pain as being the problem of the world. Each developed a system that would hopefully help humans escape. The problem is they didn't realize that pain and suffering were really symptoms of a much deeper problem.

There are people who view life as these two Hindi men did. They believe that there is no escape from pain. As a result they learn to embrace it and even revel in it. You can identify these people easily for when you get into a conversation all they really talk about is their pain.

We need to see the truth about pain and suffering. They are necessary parts of life. They are indicators that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with. We can't allow pain to run and rule our lives. Pain and suffering do not equate life. They are merely tools.

If you are suffering right now it is an indicator that something is wrong. Not everything that causes pain can be fixed, but I believe that most causes can be. Those which cannot be fixed must not be allowed to rule our lives. Paul had a thorn in his side. He plead with God to take it away. God refused. His answer to Paul "Isn't my grace sufficient enough?" Those pains and sufferings that cannot be removed here will be removed in the future. For right now, God's grace is sufficient.

Examine your pain. Is there something fixable that is causing it? Then work on fixing it!!!! Be careful though. It is easy to say "My cause of pain is not fixable" just so you don't have to deal with it. Any cause of pain that is fixable but not dealt with becomes a god. Don't believe me? Just ask yourself, what do I devote most of my time and attention to? Put pain in it's proper place.

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