By Russ Nash, guest author.
In October of 2020, something I had dreaded and expected for many years came to pass. Two discs in my lower spine herniated and trapped nerves leading to my legs. This was not the first time I had suffered a disc herniation, but this time the nerve pain was so intense I could not even stand. After diagnostic procedures and consulting with a neurosurgeon, I went into the hospital on 10/30/2020 for a spinal fusion surgery. With the previous herniations my surgeons had only removed protruding discs and relieved pain. After having that done twice, I now had to have the discs removed and screws and rods put in place to fuse my spine together. The relief when I awoke from surgery (and no longer had the nerve pain) was great. The recovery was tough and painful, but worth it. However, unknown at the time, the trauma caused an issue with my nervous system which slowly developed and revealed itself over the coming months. My feet and legs swelled, my skin started to dry up and turn dark blue, I could not move my ankles and the non-stop pain got worse and worse. On top of all this, my feet and lower legs are now so hypersensitive that even a gentle touch sends intense pain signals. Finally, after almost 8 months, I have a name for my new condition: ‘Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.’ So, I basically swapped one pain (which was curable) for another (which is not).
Pain and suffering can be a controversial subject both among believers and non-believers. I’ve heard non-believers comment that if God is indeed a loving God, who has our best interests at heart, then how can He allow anything bad to happen to anyone? I’ve even heard believers make similar comments, not understanding why God has allowed something negative to happen to themselves or to a loved one. The truth is we will suffer; we will face trials and the removal of them is not promised.
This is not exactly the greatest news, but there is more! So, what does Scripture tell us about the Christian life and about pain and suffering?
It tells us that we will suffer:
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
It tells us that we should take on the same mind as Christ and, therefore, expect hardships:
“Forasmuch then as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”
(1st Peter 4:1)
It tells us that God will comfort us and through that comfort teach us to comfort others:
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
(2nd Corinthians 1:3-4)
It also tells us that, through faith, we are able to endure:
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”
(2nd Corinthians 4:8-9)
We must be clear, being a Christian does not give us a free pass to bypass all pain and suffering, quite the opposite. As Christians, we will suffer because Christ suffered. Faith will, if allowed to become our focus, comfort us and allow us to endure.
God reveals to us, through His word, that there is purpose in pain and suffering:
“And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’”
Christ Himself endured pain and suffering that God’s glory might be revealed, because of Christ’s suffering we now have a direct path to God and redemption from sin. In the book of Job, God uses Job’s endurance of suffering as an example to Satan:
“And the LORD said unto Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and eschews evil? and still he holds fast his integrity, although you moved Me against him, to destroy him without cause.’”
Pain surely tests our faith. When I think back over the trials that I have endured I find that it is exactly faith which is the key. Endurance comes from faith, it comes from our willingness to sit back and say “Ok Lord, I don’t know what your plan is here, but I trust You!” It comes from looking back into the past and remembering the times where the Lord has helped me and where I have seen His hand at work.
I remember a number of years ago, having just had my second back surgery, being in my fourth month away from work because my physician’s assistant would not release me. Mandy and I sat, worrying about our financial situation and how we were going to continue to cover our bills. Several days later I checked our bank account and noticed a large deposit (containing almost the exact amount that we needed to cover everything) from a source that we had forgotten all about. That deposit was made on the very same day that Mandy and I had sat in our own sorrow and worry, despairing. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a hefty check will always arrive for a financial need, but I am saying that God’s comfort is always there and available. We just need the faith to take it.
From Scripture we can see that there can be several reasons for pain and suffering. David suffered the loss of his child as a result of his sin with Bethsheba. The blind man suffered blindness so that God’s glory could be revealed through his healing, how many have been uplifted and followed a path of faith in God due to this miracle and others like it? Suffering can be something that herds us away from a wrong path to a right path, like the prodigal son.
We cannot always know the purpose in pain and suffering. In some cases, the purpose might not be revealed to us until we have passed beyond this world. My father once described God’s plan to me as a beautiful woven tapestry, we are standing behind it and can only see a small piece of the back with threads hanging out and looking a mess. The Lord sees the front side in its beautiful entirety. We must trust the Lord’s plan and His purpose for us. That’s why it’s called faith! With faith and trust comes comfort, peace, and the ability to endure.
We can all take comfort in the words of Revelation, giving us a glimpse of what to expect when we are finally with God:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
As for myself? I do not know the purpose of what is currently happening in my life. But I can look back and see where previous pain and suffering has filled many purposes from leading me from a wrong path to a right path to teaching me to trust in God and in His purpose for my life. I can also trust that these patterns will continue. Faith is the key!