Obstacles: Opportunities for Growth?
November 8, 2017 | View PDF
Everybody knows that life has ups and downs. Life sometimes seems to have too much pain and misfortune. Hundreds of books have been written about the subject – dating back to Old Testament times. We still do not understand why people have to suffer. I will try to briefly discuss the medical, religious, and psychological aspects of this topic. It is a subject I can relate to (medically and personally), have researched at length, but certainly do not have all the answers.
A large amount of physical pain is actually useful. If you didn’t feel pain, you might not pull your hand away from a hot stove. If you ignore the pain of appendicitis or a heart attack, the results can be disastrous. In the book “The Gift of Pain,” Dr Brand, reminds us that the lack of normal pain sensation (in Diabetes and Leprosy) is what puts patients at risk of sores, injuries, infections, and amputations. The unrelenting pain that cancer patients have, on the other hand, is terrible and unfair. This is an obvious situation where doctors should prescribe narcotics (and other medications) to ease suffering.
Theologians (like St Augustine and Martin Luther) wrote that pain and suffering is a part of God’s creation. Sometimes people need pain to motivate them to correct the errors in their lives. Authors in past centuries did not get mad at God for this human experience. It was, in many ways, a reminder that life on this earth is not perfect.
What if you don’t believe in a Judeo-Christian God? Even if you don’t, pain may have some value. Friedrich Nietzche, the famous 19th century German philosopher, made this famous statement: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” In a similar way, the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism says that “all life is suffering.” When a person acknowledges this fact, then the pain is easier to bear. Some people are better at this than others.
Why do people experience pain when they have done nothing wrong? That is the tougher question. Recall the story of Job in the Old Testament. The “trials of Job” challenges one’s belief that God is kind and compassionate. Job lost everything (family, friends, and fortune) despite the fact that he was a good man. He could hardly believe that this was happening to him. The Bible says that Job was blameless. Despite his suffering, Job refused to give up his faith. By the grace of God, he eventually had his blessings restored.
We can calmly discuss pain in a theoretical manner, but it is much different if we experience this on a personal level. Harold Kushner, a Jewish rabbi, wrote a book entitled “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It explains how this question was forced on him when his own son became ill. Another good read on the subject is Philip Yancey’s famous book: “Where is God When It Hurts.” This author notes that modern day people seem to denounce the value of pain, and accuse God of lacking compassion. Some people deny the existence of God because of “the pain issue.” The persecution and resurrection of Christ, in my opinion, answers that question. Of course God loves us. He sent His Son to die for us. And I don’t believe God causes pain. It is possible that pain “just happens” or is the work of the devil. Theologians say that pain is the result of Adam’s disobedience in Eden by taking the iconic apple from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” It was Adam’s desire to be God that has caused the problem.
The Cursillo movement also addresses this issue. These retreats were started by Catholics in Spain in 1944. Many other Christian denominations now have similar retreats. St Matthew’s Church of Sidney sponsors “Cum Christo” weekends each February. They invite Christians of all denominations, and are similar to Cursillo weekends. One of the many topics discussed during these weekends is “Obstacles.” Not to give too much away, but the implication is that the only true obstacle is ourselves. If you want to learn more about these weekends contact the 2018 retreat leaders: Roy Fisher (406-480-1341) or Julie Brodhead (406-489-1500).
Alcoholics Anonymous also talks about this subject: “We came to realize that pain and suffering provide more of an opportunity for growth than does comfort and success.” Much of our suffering is our own doing. Even in situations where it doesn’t seem like we are at fault, we need to admit that we are at least part of the problem – otherwise there is no solution. It is noteworthy that Eldridge Cleaver, an early leader of the Black Panther movement, famously made a similar statement. Nowadays this is something that few people care to admit.
C.S. Lewis, a famous Christian author, said that pain is a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Lewis says that God gets our attention through pain hoping that we become humbled and less self-sufficient. We need to give up the notion that we can fix every problem with self-will and determination. We need God, and can only find contentment by loving and serving Him.
Is pain a useful thing? Many famous people think so. But nobody wants it in their own lives. Are obstacles an opportunity for growth? I think so. The question has medical, psychological, and philosophical implications. I also believe there is a spiritual aspect to this topic. I raise the questions. I leave the answers to you.