Emlet asks the question, “What is your ultimate goal in dealing with chronic pain? Is it to remove pain? Or to redeem pain? Is it to take away pain? Or to transform pain? Or is it a little of both?”
On the redemption of pain, I am completely with him. This is exactly what makes unbearable suffering bearable, even as it remains unbearable. It’s what makes it possible to manage the ongoing experience of pain as remedy after attempted remedy fails.
The connection with Christ is key. All of history, all of the story of life and the universe, is about Christ and bringing glory to him. Our suffering has the validation we crave: it is part of a bigger story, a grand story. It is the story of Christ and the amazingness of his character that, as the central being in all of creation and history, gave everything up to save a race that is little more than a blip in the space-time continuum, and certainly has committed and continues to commit enough atrocities to suggest it is not worth saving.
The culture in the UK is very individualistic. We extol the virtues of the self-made person, deplore dependency and insist we can all be whatever we want to be, given enough hard work. But in reality, there is no independency. Margaret Thatcher was wrong when she said that there is no such thing as society. There is society, and it is incredibly important. Not just for those who suffer, who clearly need the help of others, but also for the strong and successful, whose success depends upon a well-ordered and functioning country – or society. But it is when we are weak that we are forced to see our dependence upon others, and in particular our dependence upon God. Sometimes a weakness in our life is the grace of God protecting us from ourselves and our predilection for claiming, and taking pride in, self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.
Society, in fact, is vital. The predominant way in which God ministers to us in our suffering is through the actions of his people. Love, says God, is entirely practical. It is giving food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, companionship to the lonely, comfort to the sick. If we don’t love others through these actions, then we do not love God; we are not Christians. It is the hallmark of Christians that they serve those who suffer. For those of us who suffer chronic illness and pain, this is immensely comforting. It means we have a right to ask our fellow Christians to help us, and it is that help that can make all the difference.