On Pain and Suffering

The first thing that we must consider when tackling issues of pain and suffering is the fact that we live in a fallen world. This means that the world in which we now live is not the world that God first intended us to live in. The book of Genesis says that everything God created in this world was good. But it also says that when Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, the world became cursed and the forces of good and evil began to collide, fighting against each other and ushering in the need for a Savior.

We must realize that as Christians we are not exempt from suffering and illness, but in many ways become more susceptible to them. The book of Job is the classic example of how God actually allows Satan to have his way with us when we need spiritual growth.

Suffering, especially during an illness, brings us to a state of realization; a state where we are inwardly examining ourselves, as well as our surroundings, and are reminded that we are but dust. The Early Church Father, St. John Chrysostom said, “It is for our good that we are victims of illness…since the pride stirred up within us finds a cure in this weakness and in these afflictions.” We must let go of our sinful passions in order to grow in Christ, and many times it takes some suffering to shake off these passions.

First Peter 4:1 says, “Since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” Our suffering helps us leave our sin behind. So in one sense, we can actually be sanctified through our sufferings if we allow ourselves to be. It’s not that we are being punished for our sins; otherwise one could be accused of being less of a Christian than someone who is not suffering an illness or trial. God allows us to suffer so that we may rise to higher levels; levels of spiritual enlightenment; levels that are unattainable aside from suffering.

St. Chrysostom also said, “The physician is not only a physician when he orders baths, adequate nourishment, and when he orders the patient to walk through flower gardens, but also when he burns and cuts…” God is our Great Physician and He not only “prescribes” us to walk through gardens, but He also prescribes the cutting and burning. It’s a hard thing to endure, but it is a necessary part of this life. 

To some extent, we should honor the state of suffering! When we are able to do this, we can begin to understand the sovereignty of God much better, and may likely be healed faster. Many scientific studies have shown that a proper and humble attitude can carry your health a long way.

Documents of the early church show how Christians with terminal illnesses and severed limbs could remain in an extremely calm state due to the way they perceived their illness. We also see in the Gospel how Christ says that certain illnesses are actually born to glorify God, especially when a healing takes place. Terminal illnesses can also glorify God by preparing the Christian for the eternal state. Not every Christian will be given the “opportunity” of a preparatory illness, but God works in different ways with different people.

Now, it is certainly the will of God for people to be healed, this is why the Church has taken up the ministry of healing. St. Basil of the 4th century was known for ministering to the afflicted and later began the very first hospital, known then as a Basiliade. This was the beginning of the modern ministry of the hospital as the Church continued to plant them all throughout the world. So we see that hospitals themselves can be a gift from God. But unfortunately, most churches have now backed out of the hospice ministry and have given it over to secular organizations as the result of modern doctrine that opposes the church and state relations.

When examining the Scriptures, we find that physicians do indeed have a noble calling in life and are in many ways ordained by God for their tasks. St. Luke was a physician and was named by St. Paul, in Colossians 4, as “the beloved physician.” Physicians help guide our healing process, although in our modern day many physicians refuse, or are not permitted, to include spiritual help such as prayer as a means to heal.

God desires healing for His people, not just for physical healing, but for spiritual healing, which is His ultimate desire. Not only has God given us physicians and hospitals to help us heal, but He has also given the Church as a means to bring healing as well. In James, chapter 5, God calls the ministers to gather and pray for and anoint the sick with oil. This is why we have what the Prayer Book calls “unction,” where we do just what James 5 calls us to do, pray for and anoint the sick. There are countless stories of God healing through the work of the Church, and this should be of great encouragement to His people. Let us not forget the next time we are ill or suffering, to consider how God wants us to be healed spiritually as well as physically.

“Take care of you life and God will take care of your death.”

– St. Augustine