Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The problem of pain

Today, in the midst of speaking to CMDA [Christian Medical and Dental Association], my fifth of six visits this Spring, and a Systematics Honors class (on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit), I am spending a few hours contemplating pain--literally, in the form of "root canal."

Everything I have heard about this procedure fills me with dread. And since the procedure is being done by one of our ruling elders, I fear "the revenge of the pew." All those long sermons coming home to roost under the surgeon's drill. I can barely write... I'm such a chicken about pain.

But it gives me pause to contemplate the "problem" of pain. Not on any any highbrow plane you understand...far too early in the morning to be contemplating the musings of the philosophers on suffering. Just one thought for now: that God uses the disorder, decay, and resulting pain (physical and psychological) as his chisel in our lives to sculpt us, or changing the metaphor, get us into shape by rigorous self-discipline. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Jesus each day. Living with chronic pain and feeling weak is God's way to grow a servant's heart. Healing of spirit can take place despite (or even because of) the non-healing of the body.

Pain! Does it have to be so, well, painful?

The story comes to mind of David Livingstone's encounter with a lion:

"He shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening."

You can see where this is going. Some pain is necessary, for our sanctification. But, O for those compensating analgesic effects that dull its sharpness and severity. It's OK, for a while at least, to ask with our incarnate Savior, "If it be possible, let this pain pass from me." But then must come the resignation: "Not my will but thine be done."

So, my prayer: "Lord, if it be your will, make Dr. Story merciful! This is your will, is it not? Isn't it?... Hello?"

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.

Derek Thomas said...

Where's the love? The pathos? The sympathetic, "I feel your pain" which is better than any analgesic.

Anonymous indeed: I KNOW who you are!

Anonymous said...

Nothing makes me long to see Christ make all things new like the doctor's office or the dentist's chair...especially the dentist's chair! I'll be praying for you.

Ronnie

James said...

Since He who healed the paralytic from Lydda is today neither more willing that we should suffer nor less able to prevent it, we can be certain that we only endure such trial as is absolutely needful.

A good book on Job (something about "mining" or some such title) reminds us that sometimes we find out why it was needful, and sometimes we don't, but we always know that He knows, and in the end that is enough for the believer.

All that in mind...

(a) Was it needful (i.e. did it hurt)?
and
(b) If so, did you find out why (i.e. what did you learn from "The Chair" or what epiphany came to you via "The Drill" from which we might all learn)?

Derek Thomas said...
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Derek Thomas said...

James, since I'm (officially at least)your mentor at Presbytery, I should probably post some lengthy diatribe about the benefits of suffering, but truth is, Dr Story is now "Danny the Mericful". All I can say is, "Thank God for the gas!"