Hunger can be a helpful kind of pain or suffering, if you please. (Fasting and prayer have been known to bring rains.) It tells us when we need to rest from what we are doing – or not doing – to reenergize the body. Same with thirst. And other elemental biological human desires. We all learn early on in life to deal with all these kinds of signals in the way we have been taught or the way we have come to cope with them – rightly or not.
Most kinds of pain, however, are generally unwanted, unnecessary and burdensome. Sickness comes to mind. So does the all-too familiar feeling of embarrassment or shame. All these come with the territory of being human. The heartache arising from a failed relationship, although necessary to teach us to become more well-equipped in life, can leave us debilitated for a while. We end up walking half-dead, totally unfeeling at times but almost always bearing that bittersweet emptiness that no one else will learn to share with us. Loneliness is the first and lasting human pain. And even God “learned” to appreciate that it is not what humans need to go through constantly.
So in the beginning, marriage came into being. And then all the real pain came about. If truth be told.
Woman experienced the pain of childbearing and childbirth. Man learned to bear the painful burden of supporting and raising a family. And so many other “slings and arrows” that bedevil marriages.
This does not mean life comes bereft of comfort, joys and unequalled satisfaction. The balance of life – yin and yang -- however, does not mean anguish is necessary for humans to truly know the worth of happiness. Nor vice versa. Angels in heaven do have eternal bliss in spite of all the sorrow they see in us. That comes from their capacity to behold the face of God when they need to. Something that Adam and Eve used to have and do in the Garden. Until in deep humiliation they had to depart that place of painless existence. (Well, except for Adam’s loneliness, nothing else spoiled our first parents’ aborted stay in Eden.)
The pain of sin and its resulting punishment – death – that became our lot after the fall has no equal in terms of consequence. It affects our eternal destiny. And for many, that pain will be the worst burden they can bear in life. Among them are the blessed ones who find release through a spiritual conversion. The rest go through life carrying the yoke of guilt and bitterness through their denial of the One Whom their sinful life has offended. Yes, like many masochistic people who literally induce self-inflected pain, many of us wake up in the morning with our minds chained to unrepented sins. It could be as simple as envy or hatred. Or as heavy as a crime. Whatever it may be, pain – in the form of guilt, anger or jealousy -- lurks like a shadow of the mind, unseen but ever present with its diabolic aura. Yet so many people have built a callous conscience to remove the throbbing pang of guilt in their lives. It takes the top award for being the best defense against guilt ever developed (psychology comes next) and yet the most ineffective of all.
It takes human discernment to know oneself. It takes spiritual discernment to know God. As humans, we all know somehow what pain is and what it can do to us. As believers of God, we may have the privilege to know why we go through pain and what we can do to alleviate or eliminate it. Of the many things we ascribe to God and His nature, the one quality He possesses that is closest to our being human is this: He feels our pains.