BY: DESIREE MACCHIA
Pain is a very personal, and therefore difficult concept to define. Only the person bearing it knows what it’s really like and will sometimes lack the words to describe it. A general dictionary definition for our purposes here may have to suffice: pain is “physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.” This generally recognized definition for pain can be categorized more specifically (for example, acute or mild, short term or long term) and be described in more physical or emotional terms. In all of this variety, one aspect of pain is clear: it is inherently negative but can be positive depending on the situation.
The fact that pain is negative and is to be avoided seems apparent. Pain hurts and can cause someone to withdraw in search of comfort. We seek to help alleviate pain in others as much as possible. Noble stories of heroes who suffer great pain for the good of others should not cause us to view pain as something to be desired. No one but a masochist would do that. Jesus, for example, referred to his suffering and death as a bitter cup that he wished to avoid (Matthew 26:42). He was willing to bear suffering for humanity only if it were necessary. He otherwise wished that his painful cup would pass from him.
Sometimes, however, one may choose to accept a certain amount of suffering in order to fulfill a greater purpose that is noble and good. For example, Jesus was willing to endure the pain of the cross because to avoid it would mean giving up something too valuable to lose, namely, his mission on earth to bear the rejection of humanity in order to reconcile man to God. A different kind of example would be Huxley’s classic novel, Brave New World. The ruling class of the futuristic society depicted in this novel avoided discomfort at all cost by living a drugged up existence. Who wants to live without the ability to feel anything, just so one would not be able to feel any pain? Pain should be avoided or alleviated if possible but not at the cost of living life to the fullest. There are some things worth suffering for, like fulfilling a higher purpose or really living.
There are other times when suffering is not something we choose but is rather thrust upon us and for no apparent reason; we simply have no other choice. A debilitating and incurable illness or disease will involve a degree of pain and suffering, no matter how many pain medications are taken. This kind of pain may seem meaningless, just something that we have to go through. Yet, even such seemingly meaningless pain may still become meaningful, depending on how we bear it. The Swiss psychologist, Paul Tournier, wrote a book entitled, Creative Suffering, in which he maintained that one can take charge of one’s suffering by turning it into a testimony of one’s faith and courage. For example, by bearing the cross courageously, Jesus turned his suffering into a redemptive force that drew the hearts of millions towards God.
Pain and suffering in and of themselves are negative and are to be avoided or alleviated, but can be turned into something positive if unavoidable and borne courageously. We all understandably seek to have the cup of pain taken from us. We should dedicate ourselves to helping others be free of it. But if we must drink it, let us do so in a way that makes it count for something.