The cause of pain

by the Very Rev. Archimandrite + Seraphim Papakostas

Where did pain come from? Why do we suffer? Can it be that we were made to suffer? how does it happen that rational man, the most perfect of earth's creatures, suffers more than all the others?

These questions have bothered the minds of the world's wisest man. Their failure to find the cause of pain, the irrelevant and mistaken answers which they give, and their ignorance, of the cause and purpose of the afflictions, increase the pain and multiplies the grief of the soul. We hear these questions so often: Why must I suffer? What evil have I done? Why does God punish me so? How many such complaints are uttered by sufferers. Even worse, nearly everybody considers himself faultless and guiltless. He blames his pain on God. But is the Creator the cause of our pain? God forbid!

God, who is good, is never the cause of evil. Such a blasphemous idea comes only from those who are deeply ignorant, not only of the cause of pain, but also of the true God. What, then, is the cause of pain? We ourselves! Man is the cause of his pain!

Indeed. When man came forth out of the creative hand of God, he was truly happy. From the blessedness of the Creator he drew his sorrowless and peaceful life. Clouds of tribulation never over-shadowed the horizon of his soul. No pain of any kind ever pressed on his heart. No obstacle hindered his relationship with God. His life in the Garden of Eden was like a pleasant day in springtime when the mild temperature, the gentle breezes, the growth of nature, the variety of colours, and the fragrance of flowers, create an inexpressible pleasure.

But suddenly a terrible whirlwind rushed in and overturned and destroyed this pleasure-filled and sorrowless life. An evil spirit found entrance to the soul of the first creatures. By means of deceit he drew them into sin, into revolt against God. This introduced moral evil, until then unknown, to earthly creation. Since then, moral evil, sin, as thought and desire and act, has multiplied and grown and predominated in the soul and life of man-kind.

Wherever moral evil rushed into the world, physical evil also followed as an inevitable consequence: sickness, pain, affliction, and indeed the height of misfortunes, death, plagued man. It was necessary for the prestige of the law (which the supreme law-maker, God the Creator, had given to man) to be restored by the punishment of disobedience.

Man had to feel in the deepest way that sin, the trampling down of divine law, is not a harmless little game, but that it has the most terrible consequences. When you don't listen to the skilled chemist, who tells you that a certain liquid can poison your system, create horrible pains and bring death, but you want to gain experience and drink it, naturally you must suffer all the terrible consequences of your disobedience.

This is what happened to man. He was told by his Creator that the transgression of the law would bring death as an immediate penalty and consequence. He was, of course, destined to be immortal and to have bodily immortality as well. "To live forever" was his original destiny (Gen. 3: 22). But since he didn't believe God, but wanted to personally experience this psychic poison which is called disobedience or moral evil or sin, he learned that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6: 23). His life in the paradise of pleasure was without pain and sorrow. "Rule all the earth, and subdue it", was the will and commandment of God for man.

But since he wanted to reject those priceless gifts which were offered to him, naturally, "The Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken". Now, in return for his trouble and sweat, the earth would bring forth "thorns and thistles".

In sorrow he would eat its poor products; his grief would be greatly multiplied; he would no longer be the ruler of the earth, its subduer, but the earth and nature in general would revolt against revolting man. Physical evil would flood his life with disease and natural disasters. Behold the originating cause of pain, the sinister, deep cause of every disorder of all the disorders which occur in human life.

It is sin, the mortal evil which man committed and transmitted by inheritance to his descendants and jealously retains as his beloved possession. "Most diseases are caused by sins", St. John Chrysostom says, and rightly so.

A multitude of people are suffering. Daily experience demonstrates it. They comprise an inexhaustible clientele for hospitals, sanatoriums, and clinics, where, because of their sinful lives, they have to drag their wounded bodies. The reader knows that among the sins which are immediate causes of pain debaucheries have first place and exert the worst influence. Debaucheries are the so-called sins of the flesh and the sins of immorality, which create such dissipation and misery in the body. These sins multiply the number of wounded people, the paralytics, the insane.

This, then, is the cause of pain.

from For the Hours Of Pain
published by the Brotherhood of Theologians "Zoe" Athens, Greece.

For more on this topic of pain, we suggest you read The Purpose of pain.

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