(this teaching can also be watched by scrolling to the bottom and clicking play)
Pain is a global and ongoing problem. If I took a poll of each person reading this article and asked you to describe your pain on a level from 0 to 10, with 0 meaning it’s nothing to 10 meaning it’s significant, each of us would have a number because each of us has experienced and are experiencing some level of pain. The pain of divorce, the loss of a child, the loss of a job, the pain of rejection, being misunderstood or even physical pain.
What would Jesus say about pain?
I don’t know what it is that you’re facing. I don’t know what kind of pain you’re dealing with. But, I want you to be mindful of how you deal with it.
I love what Tim Fargo, an American author and writer, says, “Don’t let pain define you; let it refine you.” The problem of pain is not a new one. It goes on. And it has happened from the beginning of time. And it’ll happen until we are swept into the arms of Jesus.
The question that I’d like for us to tackle from the Scripture is, “What would Jesus say about pain?” And this is not an esoteric, abstract question. Jesus actually had to answer that question.
Luke 13:1-5 says, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ ”
These Jews were questioning Jesus about the topic of pain. They wanted to hear His input. Governor Pilate took an opportunity with the Galileans because Galileans were known for being very reactionary. They would push the envelope because they were located far from Rome and they felt as if they had more liberties. Pilate seized an opportunity to put some muscle to the Galileans and show them that they couldn’t get away with whatever they thought they could.
And so, while some Galileans were making sacrifices to God and worshiping, Pilate had some soldiers come in and kill them. And so it was said that the blood of their sacrifice was mingled with their own blood.
When these Jews put the question to Jesus, “Jesus, what do you think about this?” Jesus gave them this answer that seemed as if He weren’t paying attention, but He was. He says to them, “If you also don’t repent, you too will perish.” And instead of just answering their question with just that statement, He gave them another painful example and said, “What about the 18 innocent workers when the tower of Siloam fell and killed them?” And then Jesus gave the same answer—unless you repent, you too will all perish.
The text shows us that there were some tension points around the topic of pain. There are three strong tensions in the text that we can’t avoid. And Jesus was giving us the answer to the question. A very probing, troublesome question: Jesus, what do you have to say about pain? What are you going to say to me about my pain?
We can’t ignore or sweep these tensions under the rug because Jesus answered the question about pain by bringing out the reality that these tensions exist. And then He taught us how to view the tension points.
Let me take you to the text again. Jesus said, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” He was saying an answer to the question:
Pain, complex or simple? His answer revealed that pain is a complex phenomenon.
There are lots of questions that we have.
Why did this happen to me?
What did I do to deserve this?
How could a loving God cause me to suffer in this way?
If God exists, why is there so much pain?
These are questions that surface in every generation, and they are mind-bending and complex questions. To avoid the complexity of all of the nuances of the question, Jesus was telling us that the Jews just simplified things to say the only reason you are experiencing pain is that you brought it on yourself through your sin.
The Jews wanted to simplify it by making it just a theological proposition and say your sin brought on your pain, and that’s not true. And neither is that good because what they’re saying, in essence, is this, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. And if something happens to you that’s bad, obviously, you must be bad, but that’s not true. The converse is equally true, good things happen to bad people.
What Jesus was trying to help the Jewish people understand is that their theological viewpoint on pain was too simple. It was faulty, flawed and had a lot of holes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the Jewish people alone that have that kind of simplistic view. I’ve met many Christ-followers who also reduce pain and point to the person who’s experiencing pain and say, it’s your fault, you must have sinned.
American Christians have an inadequate view of human suffering. In other words, we have no theology of pain. We have no theology that helps us grapple with difficulty. We don’t understand how pain originates.
The Bible teaches four different reasons or principles behind pain.
One of which is that we live in a physical world that functions based on consistent natural laws like the law of gravity. I don’t care how much I love the Lord or how much I pray in other tongues as the Spirit of God gives me utterance, if I jump out of a sixth-story building, I’m going to come falling down at the speed of gravity. Will I experience pain? You better believe it.
A second reason for pain is the fact that we have human freedom. God loves me so much He gives me a choice. I can go up to someone and punch them or hurt them. And I can’t say the devil made me do it.
A third reason for pain is satan’s assault on us.
A fourth reason for pain is God’s laws. We can bring pain on ourselves because we’re disobedient to God’s laws. But I don’t want to get you distracted with all of the philosophical surroundings as to the reasons for pain.
Jesus was pointing to the fact that pain is complex and don’t let simplicity bring you to a place where you have a flawed view. According to Jesus’ view on pain, and the complexity of it, it’s almost like wearing a seatbelt. When driving in your car, the seatbelt doesn’t prevent you from an accident, the seatbelt just limits the impact of the accident.
Jesus was helping the Jewish questioners build a theological framework so they could have a perspective of human suffering. And that the perspective should be eternal.
Pain: Is it philosophical or pastoral?
Some people and nations are so well off that they have time and the luxury to think, talk, debate and argue about the philosophical musing surrounding pain. They could measure and assess pain. They could give credence to pain and tell you what Plato and Socrates said about pain.
But in developing countries, they don’t have that luxury to spend time with philosophical musings and intense debates about the reasons around pain because they need shelter. They need food. They need equal economic opportunities. They need water to drink. And so they don’t have that luxury. When they think about pain, they’re not gravitating toward the philosophical side alone as these Jews were. They were asking Jesus a philosophical question, “Jesus, what are your thoughts about pain?”
They needed a pastoral view of pain. And Jesus took a pastoral perspective to provide them with answers.
I want you to see that it’s a different dynamic when you think about pain. Suppose you are a professor of oncology, versus someone who just discovered you have three months left to live because you have a rare form of cancer. In that case, the issue makes it very real as to where you stand on this side of the equation—is pain philosophical or is it pastoral?
I want you to see Jesus’ approach. Philosophical is when you’re thinking about the analytical and intellectual answers. Pastoral is when you’re thinking about how you can lessen someone’s pain because of compassion, empathy and care. Jesus took the pastoral approach because He called the questioners to repentance.
Repentance is one of the greatest acts of comfort.
Repentance makes you aligned with God so you can have free access to God’s heart in terms of His care for you. There is no greater feeling of comfort than when you know that the God of the universe is at peace with you. Repentance is one of the most comforting things you can do.
When Jesus called the Jewish leaders to repent, it wasn’t an act of chastising them, rather it was an act of comfort. In fact, in Matthew 11:28-30, Scripture reads, “If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yolk I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you’ll find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.”
The Jews, cited the philosophical side of the problem of pain but did not recognize the pastoral side. Jesus addressed the pastoral side of pain by calling for wide-scale repentance. The treatment of the topic in specific settings requires you to address both. Intellectual clarity doesn’t always penetrate a veil of tears and comfort doesn’t always penetrate a closed mind. So we need answers in both areas, but Jesus realized right then they needed a pastoral approach.
Why is it that the devil oftentimes uses tragedy to raise the question of the legitimacy of God? Why is it that the devil frequently strikes by questioning is there a loving God? Why can’t we flip the switch and recognize that God loves us so much and turn to Him during this time?
There is a tension, philosophical or pastoral, but there’s a third tension in the text, and that is
Pain: Is it purposeful or purposeless?
When Jesus answered the questioners by saying, “Do you think these Galileans are worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no, but unless you repent, you too will all perish.” What Jesus was saying is, that there’s a definite purpose in pain.
Let me show you a few of them.
Pain alerts, it’s a wake-up call. It not only alerts you to the need for you to become purposeful with your life, it also corrects you and helps to facilitate change.
Pain adjusts your direction, behavior and your thinking.
Pain shocks your carelessness and makes you want to pay attention to what’s going on. And so when you hear of the sudden loss of a child or even the fragmentation of a nation, it shocks you and says, wait a second. I have to be more careful of my life. I can’t make foolish decisions any longer.
Paul weighs into the conversation in Romans 8:28 when he gives us this perspective, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Paul says, here’s what you have to think about, God is always at work in a purposeful way.
We have a responsibility towards God. It’s not just to enjoy the life that He gives us and enjoy the creation that He gave us; it’s to enjoy Him. Do you love God? And the answer has to be that your love for God is demonstrated in your willingness to be obedient to God, and in your willingness to submit your life to him.
Paul was pointing out this very point: Pain is purposeful. And if you love God, God’s going to use your pain. Not only to alert you but also to correct and mature you.
Pain matures us in many ways. One way it helps us to grow is in empathy. It helps to enable us to grow in compassion. It causes there to be this maturity in our heart, a heightening, and increase of empathy towards others. If you’re experiencing pain, don’t waste it.
Why complain? Why bellyache? Why go around talking to 20 different people, all about your pain and not recognizing there’s a benefit to it.
Now, one of the benefits, which seems a bit strange, but is still nonetheless a benefit of pain, is that pain unites us. Psychologists call it a social glue. It connects us in a deep and meaningful way. When people around us are hurting, we sit with them. We cry with them. Sometimes we sit there and put up with their questions and their contemplations, and sometimes they’re ridiculous thoughts. And, as they go through that particular season of their life, they’ll thank us. And somehow, we are endeared to them. Some of the closest times that I’ve grown with others are during painful times when I would just sit there and listen.
Sometimes, just sitting with someone and being in their presence is the most helpful thing you can do. The ministry of presence can be an overwhelming one.
You may say, well, what do I say to them? All you may need to say is I can’t imagine the amount of pain you’re going through. All you may need to say to them is I feel for you. You may just need to say that even in the midst of this, God is going to show Himself strong on your behalf. All you may need to tell the person who’s hurting is the way you handle yourself during your pain is so exemplary, I want to commend you. It is amazing how these answers can help us connect in a deep and meaningful way.
I wanted to show you answers that Jesus gave to the question, what would Jesus say about pain? He would say that there are tensions we must wrestle with; is it complex or simple, is it philosophical or pastoral, is it purposeful or purposeless? And those answers are there.
If you’re experiencing pain right now, pray this prayer:
Father, I pray that you would wrap your arms around me right now so that I could feel the strength of your presence. I pray that you would give me the right perspective so that I would know that even in my pain, You have not abandoned me. Jesus, walk in my home, my business, and my relationships and bring peace and comfort. In the name of Jesus, amen.