Rationalizing Pain

WORDS FROM W.W.                                           June 8, 2021


Phillip Yancey wrote these words: “Pain is a foolproof producer of guilt.”

Pain is something we all experience and very few of us understand. It is the path of life we try to detour around and yet is the trail that requires us to walk from time to time.

I can still remember a book written by Ben Carson that talked about the importance of pain. Sometimes pain is a warning that alerts us to a situation that is happening, such as a finger touching a hot burner. If I had no sense of pain the damage could be much more severe. 

But some folk have a bad habit of spouting bad theology to explain the presence of pain. Often their God formulas are intended to bring understanding to the hurt, grief, or wound that a person is experiencing. For example, one person held the hands of a grieving parent who had lost her young child and said, “God just needed another angel in heaven!” 

First of all, it’s bad angelology. Regardless of what Hollywood has made us believe, we don’t become angels. More importantly, the loss of a child is one of the most excruciating pains to happen to a parent. I’m sure the grieving parent’s thought was to let it be someone else’s child get their wings.

We’re uncomfortable with silence in the midst of a person’s pain so we fill the void with nonsensical phrases that are about as helpful in understanding life as an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. We simply don’t know what to do or say with the occurrence of pain.

Songwriter and musician Charlie Peacock wrote a song a number of years ago entitled “This Is a Time For Tears”. It’s a powerful song that makes the point that one some life situations words are meaningless. I know, I know…that sounds like something Solomon would have written in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Maybe Solomon’s grim perspective on the meaningless of life had been penned after he had been subjected to a few pet God formulas pertaining to loss. There’s a line in Charlie Peacock’s song that says, “Don’t speak, say no words! There is nothing that you can say that can take this pain away.”

In my years as a pastor I was called upon to walk the trail of pain with the grieving a number of times. I’m so glad I had attended several seminars and workshops presented by Alan Wolfelt that focused on various aspects of grief and loss. Wolfelt operates the Center for Loss and Life Transition outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. He has journeyed with the grieving for decades and never tries to simplify the experience by suggesting someone do these four easy steps or say these five things. 

His insights helped me sit with a young couple whose unborn child had died in the womb. It was devastating for them. Thirty years later I still have vivid and heart wrenching memories of sitting in that dimly lit hospital room offering nothing more than my presence and prayer. That’s all they wanted from me. Anything more would have been a distraction from their need to grieve. It was important for them to experience the fullness of pain. They needed to wrestle with the questions of why their unborn had been taken and the self-doubts that had been echoing through their minds about what they might have done that had contributed to the death? Had they not prayed enough? Was there something one of them had done wrong that had caused God to take their child? As Yancey had written, “Pain is a foolproof producer of guilt.”

Whereas, sometimes pain is that warning about something greater, like our immune system trying to fight off an illness, there are plenty of other times when pain, simply put, just is.

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