Ashlyn Blocker had a normal childhood in a small Georgia town with one exception; she literally felt no pain. She has a rare genetic disease called CIPA, which stands for cognitive insensitivity to pain and anhidrosis (Very Well Health). Cuts and bruises on the playground never led to tears and visits to the doctor for annual shots were never a burden. This may seem like a perfect scenario for a kid, but after closer investigation, it’s a heartbreaking disease that’s caused Ashlyn’s family much distress. She’s accidentally bit through her tongue, pulled the flesh off one of her fingers, and nearly always has a black eye or bruised lip. Some with this same disease have even died from their appendix bursting or internal infections that have gone untreated (NBC). Pain has a purpose.
Just as God set up our bodies to alert us when something harmful is happening, He’s also done the same with our souls. CS Lewis said, “Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, he speaks in our conscience, but he shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (CS Lewis). Pain is evidence something is wrong and needs to be attended to. For years we have numbed the pain in our souls with drugs and alcohol, afflicting ourselves with a spiritual form of CIPA, but now that the drugs have been removed, we must deal with these soul afflictions.
Just as physical pain is there to make us aware of something that will harm us, pain in our soul is there to make us aware of sin, which will kill us if left unnoticed. Without physical pain we will injure our bodies, as with the latter in our souls. Just as you pull your hand back instantly from a stovetop or a fighter taps out before his opponent breaks his arm, we feel spiritual pain when we are around something contrary to God’s perfection. Pain is our reaction to living in a fallen world. We were made for eternal ecstasy in perfection with God, therefore, when we encounter sin our souls will let us know something is wrong. Some of this pain will be self-inflicted, sometimes it will be God doing surgery on our hearts to cut out what is bad, and other times it’s simply because we live in a fallen world, of no fault of our own. Pain will not go away completely until we are in Heaven where sin is entirely eradicated. The hope of this series of articles isn’t to explain every single bit of pain you experience, but instead to change your perspective and help you navigate the pain, no matter what the cause is. Rather than filling our bodies with pain pills to cover the cancer that torments us, we are surrendering to the Master Surgeon’s scalpel to get the root cause for complete healing.
Pain Is On The Way
When many first become Christians, they have the false impression that everything will now go well for them in every aspect of life. They believe all suffering will be eliminated and their lives will consist of rainbows, roses, and pots of gold. The Bible does have some promises of prosperity, but Jesus also promises we will suffer. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). Peter echoes this, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12). As does Paul, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). I heard someone once say we are either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to go into a trial. God does not promise you an easy life on this side of eternity, but He does promise He will be with you through it all and He will be enough regardless of your circumstances.
In the articles I have addressed self-inflicted pain from personal sin that needs to be repented of, pain inflicted by others in our past where we need to extend forgiveness, demonic affliction we can cast out and persecution due to you being a Jesus follower. In this series of articles I will focus mainly on general pain from living in a fallen world, hopefully giving you a fresh perspective on your suffering, and filling you with hope to persevere. First, let’s look at two types of pain.
1 - Internal Pain
For the first year of sobriety, the only time I felt okay in my own skin was when I was alone with God, in church, or when I was talking about Jesus. One of my mentors used to say, “I feel like a turd in a punchbowl at a formal dinner party.” This is a slightly graphic analogy, but it is a quite accurate depiction of my past internal state. The opiate withdrawals vanished after a little over a week, the benzodiazepine withdrawals remained for what seemed like months, but the awkwardness remained. If you are through with the withdrawal process, you’ve made it through the worst and it only gets better from here. Even after these initial feelings of awkwardness weaken and eventually vanish, the emotional lives of x-addicts often take time to even out.
It feels like you are in a tiny boat in the middle of an uncontrollable sea. Some days the sea is calm, the sun is out, the temperature just right, and extraterrestrial peace fills your soul, but other days, the hurricane seas bring confusion and even terror. Jesus’ earliest followers can relate, “Then he [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown’ (Matthew 8:23-25)!” They followed Jesus right into a storm.
What happened next should encourage us, “He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (verse 26). Over time the chemicals in your brain will balance themselves out and these highs and lows will be less intense.
Whether it be from past sin against us, lingering chemical effects from years in active addiction, or some other internal issue, we are likely to experience internal pain as we follow Jesus. It may feel like a dog fight, but as we cling to Jesus in our desperation, He promises to calm the stormy seas of our souls.
2 - External Pain
You will also face seasons of external pain. I am no exception. Losing my best friend, finding my dad on his bedroom floor after a fatal heart attack, and hearing the news of countless friends overdosing without resuscitation, have been dreadfully painful. I once went through a year of constant itching that kept me up all night, which turned out to be a severe case of eczema. One of the worst, and most sanctifying, pains I’ve experienced is wrestling through the speech impediment. I’m not sure exactly what you’re going through or will go through. Your list may make mine look JV or you may be thinking, “I’m glad I’m not in his shoes.” Whatever your case may be, we need to know that on this side of eternity we will face many trials and before they blindside us, we need to get a strong grasp on the theology of suffering. How can you persevere through these seasons? What do you do when someone breaks your heart or you lose a loved one? How should you respond when the doctor’s report isn’t what we hoped for? Why is there an entire series of articles on pain from a ministry that speaks so much about joy? What is our hope amidst these difficult times?
In the next blog we will begin taking a look at four benefits of suffering that will hopefully enable us to persevere and “count it all joy” as we suffer well.
What kind of suffering and hard seasons have you dealt with in the past? How did you deal with those circumstances? How did that way of dealing with it play out?
What are the hardest things happening in your life right now, both internally and externally? How are you currently dealing with these pain points?
What is your theology of suffering? How are you prepared to suffer well in the future?