God’s Purpose in Pain
When we are unbroken–that is, not conscious of our brokenness–we can believe the lie that we don’t need God. If things seem under control and are going well, people have the tendency to suspect that it is because we are making great choices, or that we got lucky somehow, or that we deserve every good thing that comes our way. This thought process is risky, because it deceives us into feeling invincible and far too strong to need a relationship with God.
However, when we are in pain, fear, grief, or any other type of suffering, we cannot escape our own fragility and smallness. We deeply feel our lack, and the awareness of it can either crush our hope, or turn our hearts to the One True Source of Hope. God, in His wisdom, has given us the opportunity to choose how we will respond to our sense of vulnerability. When we feel vulnerable, most of us choose to hide ourselves from Him and other people in many ways. We distance ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and even physically because we fear the possibility of being damaged, or broken beyond repair. However, the truth is that we will live more deeply enriched lives when we choose to be vulnerable to God, who designed us to completely rely on Him.
Think of the garden of Eden. At the time people were created, there were no natural disasters, predators, or dangers of any kind. We were designed naked and helpless, with all that we needed essentially within arms reach. We needed no defenses, no protection, no preparedness. Rather, we were designed to be entirely reliant on the Good Creator, our Father God. He knew that our lives would be most satisfactory to us if we deeply knew and loved Him, and He abundantly provided all we needed.
There isn’t much detail in scripture about the pre-fall garden, but we know that Adam and Eve had purpose, and that was given by God. Their value and meaning were assigned to them by their Creator. In the same way, our value and meaning are assigned to us by our Creator. There is nothing that we can do to diminish, or even increase our value in His eyes. No suffering, no pain, no misery is strong enough to make a dent in our value, which is eternally fixed by Him, by His grace.
Life outside the garden of Eden is full of painful experiences. Consider how the New Testament author, James, describes his perspective on painful trials.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 NIV
Paul, in the book of Romans speaks to the same theme.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 NIV
These New Testament authors have a very different view of painful experiences than we are used to. They suggest that the pain has a purpose, and that it is a purpose designed to benefit and grow the sufferer in deep ways.
So, how does God use pain? In my perspective, pain can function as a spiritual kindness; that is, something through which we may see our need for God, turn to Him, and glorify His name, yielding deep satisfaction and true peace in our hearts. That peace doesn’t diminish the pain of the experience. It still hurts! Sometimes, it hurts so much we fear we may be crushed by it! However, when we are able to find meaning through the suffering, we can rise strong through the pain, learning to yield to our own fragility and nestle into the strong and all-powerful hands that comfort, heal, restore, and forgive.
Furthermore, we can view our present weakness and pain through the lens of our future resurrection, which can give us additional hope.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
We are most satisfied when we are living into our purpose- to glorify God and deeply enjoy Him. If we think that we are stronger or more capable than we actually are, or we don’t turn to God in our brokenness, then we live outside our purpose, and therefore cannot be as satisfied in life as we would be if we chose Him, even through (or perhaps because of) the pain.