George Macdonald said, "The Son of God suffered onto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his." (Unspoken Sermons, First Series)
The above quote I found in the preface of C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain." I was struck by the profound truth in this saying. I found myself reflecting on it throughout the whole day.
I thought about how we presently view death and suffering and how we are supposed to view it according to the teaching of the Gospel. When dealing with pain and suffering, it seems that today's society offers us one of two options; 1. We attempt to avoid the subject all together and concentrate on health, vitality, superficial beauty and youth, or 2. Many religions (even those professing to be Christian) attempt to pass off their "spirituality" as a way to somehow magically escape from pain. Not one of these attempts to deal with the problem head on.
Perhaps the reason for this is that we are all afraid of pain; and rightfully so. We are human and it is natural to attempt to avoid pain at all costs. Physically, our bodies gain nothing from experiencing it (except discomfort) and, without the proper spiritually training, psychologically, we are many times damaged by it. All in all pain is something to be avoided.
It is this great misconception that leads people to question why God allows pain to exist. This questioning is exceptionally poignant in those purported believers who have been duped into believing that Christianity would deliver them from all pain and sorrow. What they fail to realize, and indeed what most of the world fails to realize, is that deliverance from sorrow is very much different from deliverance from pain and suffering.
This is evident throughout scripture. If we pay attention, we will notice that Christ deals with pain in a very different way than most of us would picture Him doing. Although Christ does heal the sick and the suffering, we notice that he first inquires as to the state of their souls and then remedies their bodily ailments. In many instances, Christ continues to give spiritual advice even after the bodily illness is cured. This tells us two things; 1. Christ is more concerned about the well being of the soul, 2. Healing is only a by-product of a strong and healthy soul. However, the healing itself is not the object of the lesson, repentance is.
Did it not ever strike anyone that Christ deliberately waited for Lazarus to die before raising him. The scripture says that he waited in the place where he was for two more days before even setting out to heal his friend! If God was only interested in relieving his friend Lazarus from his pain, he would have hastened to spare him the torment of dying. However, when asked about Lazarus, Christ told His disciples that Lazarus was dead and that He was glad for their sakes that he wasn't there, so that the grace of God could be manifest. This is the true teaching that the gospel account conveys. There is a deliverance that can only be found at the other end of suffering. Just as Christ endured crucifixion, so pain has it's medicinal properties as well.
As Bishop Kallistos once said, "Never did Christ promise that he would deliver us from pain and suffering. However, He did promise to walk by our side as we go through it." This is accomplished in Him suffering and dying as we do. The cross exists not so we do not suffer, but so that we do not suffer needlessly! The difference between a true Christian and a none believer is that the Christian sees pain and suffering as a source of learning and spiritual enlightenment, while the non-believer sees it as a source of sorrow. Christ's death and resurrection gives our death purpose just as the Martyrs' deaths gave them joy in emulating their Lord. It is this faith that delivers us from sorrow in the face of pain and suffering!
In today's world, such a message is not a popular one. Humility does not sell and patience, fortitude, perseverance and hope are in short supply. To deny the reality of pain is to deny our own capacity to move past that pain. In essence, we deny our potential to face and overcome our own mortality and in doing so, we deny the hope of the resurrection.