My wife and I recently attended a two-day seminar on chronic pain at the Mayo Clinic. We were trying to learn more about how to deal with my wife’s often intense, and very consistent pain. We were caught off guard to hear experts in the medical field (unwittingly) emphasizing things the Bible has to say about our pain (sin and suffering).
They drew a clear distinction between chronic pain (daily, ongoing, likely incurable pain) and acute pain (short, event-based, likely fully recovered from), and explained how you must treat them differently. With acute pain, quick fixes are appropriate. If you break your leg or need your gall bladder removed, surgery, pain medicine, and long periods of lazy rest typically bring about the healing you need. For chronic pain, however, being on strong pain meds and laying around to avoid the pain have been shown to be far more detrimental than helpful in the long term.
The issue is that people (and even some doctors) don’t understand the distinctions between these different types of pain. So they simply take more (or stronger) medications, and avoid activity more (and longer). These strategies tragically lead to more pain.
Miraculous Healing and Slow Progress
As Christians, we’re all engaged in the chronic, daily battle with the pain of sin inside of us and with the pain of suffering all around us (Genesis 3:14–19; Romans 8:19–24). We are all groaning with bodies wasting away with various pains (2 Corinthians 4:16), with relational struggles (Philippians 4:2–3), and with the fight to daily put our sin to death by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:13). There will be daily groaning for us in the pains of sin and suffering until we see Jesus face to face.
We ought to pray every day for miraculous healing of chronic pain and miraculous sanctification of areas of chronic sin. We have a God who does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6), and who is the master Physician, with no limitations. He can bring about the miraculous, in our health and in our holiness, in a moment for his glory.
But we shouldn’t despise the fact that God often doesn’t do it that way. Often God means for the fiery trials to produce a well-refined, sturdy faith and a glorified, inexpressible joy that wouldn’t be there apart from our pain (1 Peter 1:3–9).
The Problem with Quick Fixes
Often Christians are hurt by acute treatments to a chronic condition of brokenness. If you just have enough faith, you’d be healed today. If you just read the Bible enough, you’d totally overcome that sin in your life today.
Attempts at quick fixes to chronic conditions can sadly produce deeper pain, deeper guilt, and a lingering sense that we aren’t doing enough to appease God. Quick fixes to chronic conditions often cause more harm than good. And quick fixes often put the focus on a man-centered gospel of somehow further saving yourself, rather than resting in and living out of the God-centered gospel of what has already been done in Christ to save you.
The gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure strength from God to live in a way that pleases him. The Bible makes it clear that most of the time this is a long, daily process to abide, to fight the good fight of faith, to wage daily war against sin, and to set our minds on things above.
Mind, Heart, and Pain
Ironically, this is exactly what the medical world is saying about chronic pain. The best medicine for chronic pain is not a quick-fix, pain-masking kind, but rather a method they call “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” In simple terms, this means that what you think changes what you do, which eventually changes how you feel.
It’s not a quick fix. It is a lifestyle of engaging your pain in a way that makes it a part of the bigger purpose of your life, and not the whole of your life. It is a process of being intentional with how you think about your pain that will change how you feel and live. The medical world is confirming the Bible without even knowing it.
The apostle Paul speaks this way:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1–2)
What follows is a call to put sin to death (Colossians 3:5–11) and a call to live out the gospel in the labor of love (Colossians 3:12–17). The way that we can begin to carry out those good works is to first seek the things that are above by setting our minds on the things above.
Appreciate Every Miracle
Thinking rightly by “taking every thought captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and by thinking about things “worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8) will be the regular, daily lifestyle that will slowly but surely make God’s perspective on our suffering and sin our own perspective. “Walking in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Ephesians 4:1) flows directly from thinking long and hard (2 Timothy 2:7) on the reality of the gospel, and clinging to the great and very precious promises of the gospel (2 Peter 1:4).
When you are tempted to wade back into that chronic sin in your life that has so long plagued you, what do you do? Pray that God would miraculously take away that area of weakness. But while you pray boldly for his immediate, intervening work, use the normal, daily, long-term means of grace to take every thought captive, trust his promises, and pray that he would give you increased victory over sin moment by moment.
And when you are tempted to let your suffering dominate your life, what do you do? Pray that God would miraculously take away that pain. But while you pray boldly for his immediate, intervening work, use the normal daily means of grace to remember that this suffering is light and momentary compared to his glory (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17), this suffering is purposeful (2 Peter 1:3–9), and this suffering will be reversed one day in the presence of his glory (Romans 8:25).
Right thinking will slowly bring about right living, and even right feeling, to the glory of God. Pray for miracles and expect God to do miraculous things. And remember to appreciate the long-term miracle of a Christian who slowly and surely becomes more like Christ every day.