The Gift of Pain

I recently read an article that spoke of a doctor named, Dr. Paul Brand. This doctor is a missionary surgeon who heads a rehabilitation branch of America’s only leprosarium. He said, “If I had one gift which I could give to people with leprosy, it would be the gift of pain.” In this article, he said that, “After years of working with leprosy patients, I learned to exult in the sensation of cutting a finger, turning an ankle, or stepping into a too-hot bath.” He went on to say, “Thank God for pain!” Dr. Brand believes that pain itself, the hurt of pain, is a gift. But what does he mean?

Doctors once believed the disease of leprosy caused the ulcers on hands and feet and face which eventually led to rotting flesh and the gradual loss of limbs. Mainly through Dr. Brand’s research, it has been established that in ninety-nine percent of the cases, leprosy only numbs the extremities. The decay of flesh occurs because the warning system of pain is absent. How does the decay happen though?

Visitors to rural villages in Africa and Asia have sometimes observed a horrible sight, a person with leprosy standing by the heavy iron cooking pot watching the potatoes. As they are done, without flinching he thrusts his arm deep into the scolding water and recovers the cooked potatoes. Dr. Brand found that abusive acts such as this were the chief cause of body deterioration. The potato-watching leprosy victim had felt no pain, but his skin blistered, his cells were destroyed and laid open to infection. Leprosy had not destroyed the tissue; it had merely removed the warning sensors that alerted him to danger. To a person with leprosy, the sensation of sticking their arm into scalding hot water was no different that picking up a stone or putting their hand in their pocket. They simply have no warning system for pain. It was this reality that caused Dr. Brand to see physical pain as a gift to the body, for without it, horrible consequences occur.

Just a physical pain is an early warning system to the brain, other types of pain can be warnings to the soul. As theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “Pain is a megaphone of God which, sometimes murmuring, sometimes shouting, reminds us that something is wrong.” Lewis went on to say that, “Pain reminds us that the entire human condition is out of whack. We, on earth, are a rebel fortress, and every sting and every ache reminds us.” Pain, seen in that light, is a gift from God that reminds us we are built from something more, for eternity. If we see pain from this perspective, in some sense, we, too, can declare, “Thank God for pain.”

Pain, suffering, trial, heartache, etc., does many things, but there are three things I have learned that allow me to see pain as a gift:

First, pain reminds me over and over that this world is not my home. As the Apostle Paul said, “For my light and momentary afflictions are producing for me an eternal weight of glory.” Every heartache and trial must be seen through that lens. Every time I grieve, I simply remember that my trial, when embraced by faith, is working and producing something of eternal significance. That reality allows me to endure the difficulties I experience in this life.

Second, pain keeps me desperate for Jesus! I often say that God does not want to “be a part” of our lives, He wants and deserves to “be” our entire life. Suffering has a way of keeping Jesus right at the center of our lives. When things are going well, we have a tendency to forget the Lord and begin living for ourselves. Pain is one of God’s ways of getting and keeping our attention.

Finally, pain and suffering make me more like Christ. The Apostle Peter said, “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.” When we suffer, we are never more like Christ. If He was perfect, and He suffered, why would we expect anything different? Our suffering connects us to Christ, but our suffering is not the end. As the Scripture says, “We who share in His suffering will also share in His glory.” What a glorious promise that is for Christians.

Dear Christian, pain is a gift from God. It reminds us we are not meant to live here forever, it keeps us desperate for Jesus, and it makes us more like our Savior. One day, our faith will be made sight. Until then, we walk by faith knowing that no tear we ever shed will be wasted, and one day, every tear will be wiped away. Press on!

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