If that has ever happened on your walk you will know that the severe discomfort it creates is out of all proportion to the size of the irritant causing the problem. The movement of your entire body is affected. It cannot be denied, or ignored. It temporarily distracts our attention from the beauty around us and everything else.
We live in a finite world. Suffering is an ever present fact of life. Illness knocks us flat and we have to deal with it. No one remains permanently immune from pain. The wife of a dear colleague suffered much; when taking her a cup of tea he would lovingly greet her and tenderly enquire, “Where does it hurt this morning?” Perhaps I should ask you the same question. It would be no surprise to learn you have some tender spot, or are hurting from a grievance or wound long hidden or recently inflicted.
Pain is an indication of disorder. Our body, mind, emotion and spirit is subjected to its intrusion. We instinctively seek professional assistance, resist it, fight it, use home remedies, or resort to pain killers. It is something we do not want to live with yet don’t know how to handle. Thankfully human knowledge and the amazing advance in medical skill and technical equipment can alleviate, or cure, many of our personal disorders. However, some pains persist eluding medication. Grief, anguish, heartache, verbal abuse, fear, disappointment, betrayal, rejection, shame, resentment and insult. The solution lies neither in pill, bottle or ointment, but in the measure of grace and love we draw from God. Suppression, denial, pretense, unforgiveness delay recovery and prevent healing.
Covid has plunged the world into a battle with a deadly disease. COP 26 has made us aware the entire planet, on which our life depends, is in pain. Any denial, delay, or inaction will spell death for some small islands and catastrophic conditions for larger nations and cities. The wetlands, forests, animals, rivers, oceans, agricultural areas and ice caps have no voice but their deterioration cries to the Creator. The public outcry by Greta Thurnberg, scientists and street protesters has acted like ‘a stone in the shoe’ of the wealthy nations who, though ignoring the warnings and refusing to comply with the decisions taken, will not escape the future catastrophic consequences of their non-compliance.
We can become the victims of pain inflicted by others. Carelessness, irresponsible action, or neglect may result in accidents and tragedy. Mechanical failures, natural disasters, pandemics create suffering for many. Racist remarks, smears, bullying tactics, or a callous disregard for human dignity inflict psychological and emotional wounds preventing full personal development.
Confronted with the enormity, variety, and agony of suffering throughout the world the cry is heard “Why does God allow it?”, ‘Why does God not act to stop it?”, “Why does it happen to me?” Pain throws into question divine goodness, omnipotence and evil. There is both contradiction and mystery. For centuries philosophers and theologians have wrestled with these issues – but there is no easy answer. Being unable to avoid the reality we have to ask ‘How can I deal with it?’, ‘Can we wrench anything good from it?’ How do I perceive the beauty in human beings who can be cruel?
The apostle Paul did not use the metaphor ‘stone in the shoe’, he chose instead, ‘a thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor.12). Various suggestions have been made by scholars to identify what the source of his discomfort was. Paul gives us two clues for handling affliction. Perhaps to our surprise he refers to it as a ‘gift’, something given, or entrusted to him. We immediately, but erroneously think he is saying the gift was from God. Such a conclusion contradicts the teaching and healing mission of Jesus. Secondly, Paul handled his suffering with the God-given assurance ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. God cannot be simultaneously both cause and cure. God, who is good, never leaves us.
Michael Mayne whose cancer of the jaw could not be cured shares his experience, ‘It may be a cliché that the most valuable lessons we have to learn come from our times of suffering rather than from times of contentment, but it is profoundly true.’ C. S. Lewis described suffering and pain as ‘’God’s megaphone to get our attention’. When the stone gets into our shoe Michael, who remained certain God was ever present, would encourage us not to ask why has it happened, but what deep truths does it hold? How can I draw on the immeasurable love and grace God is willing to supply?