Persistent pain is an announcement. Neural sensitivity radiates through our entire being, true, but the pain center is still the brain. From there, where we think, emote, live, move and have our being, pain speaks to the rest of us. In fact, pain can transmit from our brain, through our actions and attitudes, to our peers.
And, if pain is an announcement to the mind, senses and our living companions, then pain can also serve as a Call, a divine beckoning of grace for the living of a day or the accomplishment of a mission. We can “hear” the voice of God through the transmission of pain.
The Apostle Paul of the New Testament writes about his chronic pain. He refers to his pain as his “thorn in the flesh.” His description is of a chronic neural sensation of unpleasant sensitivity. Paul is not a wimp. His list of woes incurred in his service time is enough to make Hollywood say to his script writer, “Ease up on the Paul character. No one will believe he could live through all this stuff.”
Paul trudges through it all. Then, something occurs. He starts to hurt and his hurt goes chronic, constant, incessant. Paul just hurts. In his role as Servant Who Suffers, it makes sense to Paul to ask God for relief. You would think he had earned relief, if service hours and mission trips were enough.
Apparently, “earning relief” is not what God has in mind. Paul gets no answer other than this one, so far as he can tell, God just says, “My grace is sufficient.” Perhaps this is not the first time grace is tied to pain relief but it is the first time we get the prescription in one succinct sentence.
I agree with you that pain is always just pain. I agree with you that pain in the body is a symptom of something very wrong and we are not to look for pain. I sympathize with your chronic conditions, or, should I say, empathize, because I have constant, chronic pain. Pain cannot be ignored and must be respected. Pain is real when in the flesh and blood condition.
But pain is not the stopping place. My workout hurts rather soon when I start a weak muscle group. Nothing will get strong if I submit to the pain. Sometimes, as the workout elite say, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
If we apply logical distribution as a guide (which is mostly wrong, the even distribution of inductive reasoning is backward looking from evidence on hand) then the equation would be something like:
Paul has a divine call of grace.
Paul has a physical pain for which he asks relief but receives none, only a promise of grace.
Pain and grace as part of a divine call are not mutually exclusive.
So, Paul, is called out of pain, but not saved from pain, by grace. Physical pain is not any kind of indication that Paul is removed from grace. The divine call to Paul is certainly one of interrupting grace, but it admits of no other interference.
So, where does it hurt? My trainer got me in the best physical shape of my life the four months I was under her care by determining where I was weak (Pick a Place) and began to work on those muscle groups.
“If it hurts when you do that,” she would say, “that means it is a place where your body is weak. We must strengthen the muscles around that weak spot, so the pain will subside in action.”
Where do you hurt? Does it hurt to open your heart to God in any of the following ways, things like prayer, meditation, fasting, financial giving, gospel sharing, disciplined study, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, perseverance, and, well, you know we could go on a bit. Do you feel a twinge or a gut wrenching jolt when you touch any points of weakness?
Where do you hurt?
Pain can transmit a grace call. Chronic pain does not dismiss us from service. Pain may show us the sufficiency of grace, the better to work out our Call.