Dr. Paul Brand was a medical missionary who dedicated his life to the study of a disease that has struck fear in the heart of humanity for ages, leprosy. His work with leprosy patients gave him a lifetime of insight into pain and suffering. He made an astounding statement: "If I held in my hands the power to eliminate physical pain from the world, I would not exercise it. My work with pain-deprived patients has proved to me that pain protects us from destroying ourselves." Dr. Brand has helped us understand and appreciate the central nervous system which allows us to feel pleasure and pain.
For centuries people believed that leprosy was a flesh eating disease. In fact leprosy is a disease that destroys the central nervous systems ability to register pain. Without pain the body cannot tell when damage is being done. Many foolishly assume that to be without pain is a good thing. North Americans consume 50% of the manufactured drugs in the world. One-third of them work on the central nervous system. We kill pain better than anyone, yet the more we do the more pain strikes back. If leprosy is the inability to feel pain, then alcohol and drug addiction are forms of self-imposed leprosy. We are rendered pain free and thus appendages are broken, damaged and eventually rot away from abuse because there is no pain to warn. Pain is a gift. It is the gift none of us want, but a gift none the less.
Imagine a garden where there was no sin, no sorrow and yes, no suffering. Imagine a place where the central nervous system of Adam and Eve was fully functional for pleasures and delights but not pain. There were no thorns. Then sin came and with sin, death and with death, pain. Reality hit the human race like a speeding locomotive. We have been hurting, bleeding, and suffering in pain ever since. Yet, God gave grace in the midst of our fall.
Grace is God's power when we have no power. Grace is God's ability when we have no ability. Grace is God's provision when we have no provision. Grace, if you can grasp it, was built into our central nervous system, waiting for the need. The central nervous system was designed by God and so well designed that even the fall could not keep it from providing a powerful function. The ability to feel pain is God's gracious gift to keep us from doing worse damage to ourselves.
My central nervous system is fully functional. I am in great pain. I am not pretending. This pain reminds me that I loved deeply and was loved greatly. This pain reminds me that I am alive and that I survived, even as I fight a strong wish to the contrary. This pain reminds me that greater damage can come if I do not carefully heal. This pain reminds me that there are deeper truths I have been skipping over in my exuberance. This pain reminds me of what God actually did promise and some things I falsely assumed He promised.
What He actually promised was His presence and the clarity of His voice. Most importantly, He promised that He is enough. Ps. 68:19 says: "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." This pain, I grudge the thought, is a gift.