Pain and God

Pain and God

Have you ever had pain… maybe pain in your neck, pain in your back, pain in your knees or hips?  I’ve visited my doctor for a recurrent pain in my neck that crops up at the most inconvenient time.  It began in my thirties and has gotten progressively more intrusive.  I wake up some mornings and sitting up hurts.  It takes time to flex and move, get up and get going.  I suspect many of you know what I’m talking about.


Pain is a real fact of life.  A senior lady with a walker in my last church said to me, ‘getting old isn’t for wimps!’  She was a long time church member, who had done missions and children’s ministries and still showed up for book studies at the church.  She occasionally closed her eyes during worship, but she was always at church on Sunday and throughout the week.  I knew she prayed and came to church because it made her feel better, not just emotionally, but also physically.  There is something about having a faith and faith community that helps deal with physical pain and suffering. 

Aristotle (4th century B.C.) described pain as emotion, being the opposite of pleasure.  In the middle ages, pain was considered a religious matter, even punishment for sins or evidence of demon possession.  Some modern people still believe that suffering is our human ‘cross to bear’.  Hindu, Islam and Buddhism all include religious perspectives about pain/suffering as the result of personal actions and may be punitive or the cost of human experience.  There is a long history of world religions weighing in on the cause of pain and suffering. 

In the 1960’s a wave of interest in spirituality and consciousness brought a new perspective on pain, medicine and religion.  Postmodern thinking began to create openness to diverse medical systems and the empowerment of individuals.  Medicine returned to a mind/body/spirit, holist therapies which continue to include meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis, acupuncture, social and spiritual practice, even reiki, message and aromatherapy. The means of confronting our physical pain and suffering is profound and almost limitless. 

According to an article I read, called Spirituality and Religion in Pain and Pain Management, (Dedeli, Ozden, and Gulten Kaptan. “Spirituality and Religion in Pain and Pain Management.” Health Psychology Research 1.3 (2013): e29. PMC. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.)  ‘Religious people are less likely to have pain and fatigue… They obtained data from 37.000 individuals, 15 years of age or older, with fibromyalgia, back pain, migraine headaches and chronic fatigue syndrome, and those who are spiritual but not affiliated with regular worship attendance are more likely to have those conditions. They also found that those with chronic pain and fatigue were more likely to use prayer and seek spiritual support as a coping method compared to other people. Pain sufferers who were both religious and spiritual were more likely to have better psychological well-being and use positive strategies.’


Physical pain and suffering is nothing new to the human experience.  I do not believe it is inflected by God to teach us a lesson or punish human beings but is a part of living in skin.  How we deal with it is our journey in life.  I will keep using modern medicine, and homeopathic modalities to manage any pain I experience and I hope you will too.  Please know that if you have pain, you are not alone.  Every Sunday I see you and know that it takes a lot of effort to come to church.  Please know that I pray for people struggling with constant pain and ask God to bring you relief.  If it feels faithful to you, I hope you will join me in prayer for those people walking in constant pain, and related fatigue. 


God bless you with peace, comfort and moments free from pain. 

Rev. Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw

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