Practical Theism In the Midst of Chronic Pain
Though Broken and Mended is a Christian support ministry for those dealing with chronic illness and pain, I desire to create a culture that is welcoming to all. The question is will people who do not believe in God or have an active commitment to Jesus Christ want to be a part of a ministry that can’t help but reference belief in divine help and redemptive hope in Christ?
Obviously, people who are hostile toward Christian faith are not likely to be attracted or hang around this ministry very long. But perhaps, someone who is undecided about matters of faith will stick around long enough to see what Christian faith offers to people in the throes of chronic illness.
Allow me an important clarification: If God is not real, then he cannot help you. God cannot be just a crutch to get us through life. If God does not exist, then I would not advise anyone to seek help from him anymore than I would tell someone to go to the Tooth Fairy for financial advise. My conviction is that there is a God, and therefore, who better to help us through life’s trials?
There are a lot of other convictions behind that rhetorical question. To name a few: God is able to help us. God wants to help us. God is able to be known, etc. I don’t want to have to defend each conviction today, but I do want to explain why I believe that faith in God is vital to successfully living with chronic pain.
If there is no God, then there can no redemptive purpose for your pain. Your pain is simply a physiological response hardwired into your body and mind through millions of years of evolution. It would not be in itself evil (just unlucky) because moral categories of good and evil would be mere contrivances. Further, your fate is simply to hurt until you die and then oblivion.
I realize that some atheist who is striving to live a meaningful life might not like that. I am not trying to discourage anyone. I’m just saying that from my perspective any other coping method without God is simply kicking the can down the road until there is no more road. In such a scenario, every person with chronic illness/pain is distinctly disadvantaged to their healthier peers (though we should note that oblivion is their fate as well). There is no transcendent One to help anyone. We just have to get by as best we can.
I don’t hurt any less because of my faith than those who don’t share in my faith or any faith. And I certainly have some rotten days where it is hard for me to appreciate the point of living. But faith in God as revealed through Jesus Christ always calls me back to trust and hope. I absolutely believe that there will be a day when the pain will end–not by oblivion–but by immortality. That hope gives me a horizon that does not stare directly down into the grave. That, in itself, is of immeasurable value.
But my hope is not relegated only to hope of heavenly bliss with God (though it is hard to diminish what that means). I will leave you with one of my favorite passages that describes how God redeems pain and suffering in this life to shape me into a person of greater character than I would be without suffering. Suffering itself may not be good, but God is still working good in my suffering (Rom. 8:28).
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.Romans 5:1-5
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