The purpose of pain

by the Very Rev. Archimandrite + Seraphim Papakostas

Man broke the moral law and rebelled against the moral order. To punish man, God permits pain and physical evil. However, He has another reason. God, who is good, gives pain a purpose.

The purpose of pain is the healing of the soul. God permits pain, not only to punish the transgressor and the rebel, but also to heal him--primarily to heal him , to save him, to do him good.

What do doctors do, in order to counteract bacteria, to neutralise a sickness, to restore a human organism to health? They give drugs, many times bitter and unpleasant tasting. They perform operations, which are often painful and exhausting. They impose diets, many times long and rigid.

God also uses such methods; or rather, the wisdom and goodness of God present an incomparably wiser combination for the chastising affliction. It looks like He punishes sin, because pain is, of course, punishment. It establishes the prestige of His law, which the sinning person violates.

With pain, however, He also heals the soul, poisoned by sin. His intervening love gives pain a healing quality. He changes it into a drug which draws the poison from the soul. He uses it as surgery, which removes the malignant tumour of sin from the soul, and destroys the death-bearing microbe and saves the soul from eternal death. He uses it as a kind of spiritual diet which hinders the advance of sin. He nails the sinner to a bed of sickness, in order to prepare his repentance is conversion, his restoration to spiritual health. Thus pain, even though it comes from sin, is changed by the wise educator, by the unique physician of the soul, by God, into a medicine of the highest quality, for the healing of sin.

But does God really need to use pain, grief, privation, and tears, to draw the sinner to repentance?

Here is another torturing perplexity for people who don't know the wisdom and love of God. How shall we answer it?

We answer that for most people pain is the only means by which they will repent and be saved. For others, it is the superior, invigorating medicine which will make them perfect. Even experienced doctors can make mistakes and use drastic therapy, when milder and gentler means would bring the same results. For the infallible physician, however, the all-wise God, this is never the case. He is always right.

Undoubtedly, when the prodigal son announced his decision to rebel, his father gave him advice and warned him. He used all the means of pressure which are applied to free men in order to make them willingly obey the law of God. But these methods are weak and feeble, when sin fills the mind with the fruits of egotistical rebellion, when it hardens the heart with its lust and poison, when it imprisons the will with its demonic impulses.

Then, only "the discipline of the Lord, opened the ears." Only pain softens the heart, as fire softens iron, only pain makes the heart long for repentance; it clears the mind so that it can see and hate the trickery of sin; it frees the will so that it can decide to make its return.

Only when the prodigal lost his riches, only when he became a wretched slave and a debased swine herder, naked and hungry, only then did "he come to himself"; he realised that he was lost and he made the heroic decision:

"I will arise and go to my father, and I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned."

If the paralytic of Capernaum, whom they lowered through the roof in order to reach the Lord, had not been thrown into bed as a living corpse, by a painful disease, it is doubtful if he ever would have left sin, and if he ever would have approached the Saviour. Finally, purified by disease and repenting, he heard the Saviour say,

"Son, thy sins be forgiven thee."

If the other paralytic of Bethesda, who was bed-ridden for 38 years, had not been purified in the furnace of pain, from the corrosion of sin, he never would have known the Saviour and heard the saving commandment (which also applies to us):

"Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."

For, in addition to the persistent diseases and life long afflictions of earth, there are even worse pains which the unrepentant person might finally experience.

So there is no medicine more beneficial than pain, and no higher purpose than repentance and return to God. This is the target which pain aims at and sorrow works for. There is no knowledge more useful to man, and especially to the Christian, than this knowledge about the purpose of pain.

How many tears would be wiped away, how much darkness would be made light, how many hearts would be comforted, how many sufferers would more quickly find the solution to their pain, if only they wanted to learn about God's beneficial purpose, and to believe in it. Surely then they would see that pain is the beneficial knife of the surgeon-physician. Not only would they suffer patiently, but they would gratefully thank the Good Physician. They deserted Him, but He did not desert them. They forsook Him, but He visited them through pain; He called them through pain, He guided them with pain to the sorrowless and blessed life.

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

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