From The Gift of Pain, by Paul Brand, M.D.:
[P]ain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy. And yet–here is the central paradox of my life–after spending a lifetime among people who destroy themselves for lack of pain, I still find it difficult to communicate an appreciation for pain to people who have no such defect. Pain truly is the gift nobody wants.
My esteem for pain runs so counter to the common attitude that I sometimes feel like a subversive, especially in modern Western countries. On my travels I have observed an ironic law of reversal at work: as a society gains the ability to limit suffering, it loses the ability to cope with what suffering remains.
The average Indian villager knows suffering well, expects it, and accepts it as an unavoidable challenge of life. In a remarkable way the people of India have learned to control pain at the level of the mind and spirit, and have developed endurance that we in the West find hard to understand. Westerners, in contrast, tend to view suffering as an injustice or failure, an infringement on their guaranteed right to happiness.
1. This is an example of where I’m not sure that “better” is unconditionally better. There is a price/consequence/fallout to relief of pain, which is not exclusively positive in a world that will always be tainted by sin. In saying that, I do not mean that we should not continue to do our part to make things better or fight for relief of suffering. I do think, though that we might deceive ourselves by thinking that we can “solve” the problems of pain or suffering if we try hard enough. We work hard, we fight the effects of the fall, but even our best solutions will still be tainted by the effects of the fall.
2. There are profound implications, if Dr. Brand is right, to our viewing suffering as:
an infringement of my guaranteed right to happiness.
When suffering becomes the ultimate enemy and relieving suffering the ultimate goal, relief can become a god and an obsession. If that is all that drives us in our fight against suffering, when we fail to relieve suffering, we have failed. Also, I think if we fight suffering as the ultimate evil, we will take or demand relief regardless of the price that comes with it.
Is it possible to accept and embrace pain and suffering, while simultaneously fighting valiantly to relieve it? Mother Teresa comes to mind. Jesus, too. He did make a tangible, physical difference against suffering. For many people. But many more people, it seems, were frustrated, disappointed and disillusioned because he didn’t do all he could have done (or they thought he should have done) to overcome injustice and suffering under an unjust government.
I apologize that my thoughts are garbled on this. I admit that I am randomly flopping around to other types of pain, suffering, injustice, when Dr. Brand is talking primarily about the gift of physical pain. I don’t know if I’m even making sense, but it is good for me to try to sort my thoughts out into words. All of this is my attempt to sort through and try to make sense of what I see and experience. Any input is appreciated.