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Biblical Literature | The Real Problem of Pain

We’re right to ask questions about why there is so much human pain, but there’s a problem with the philosophical “problem of pain.” Even though the idea of God often comes up when we talk about pain, somehow God’s pain, if it exists, seems beside the point. Pain is about flesh and blood, not spirit. Surely God can’t have a real “problem of pain” in the same way humans do.

For atheists especially, human pain is “proof” that God doesn’t or shouldn’t exist. The god they have in mind wouldn’t allow it. In Western society, science has created ways to ameliorate pain, and in Eastern cultures and religions people try to become invulnerable to pain through philosophy and spiritual enlightenment. Atheists assume that a god who could, would  take care of pain in the creatures He made. And without realizing it, they assume that a creator god would never have pain Himself.

The Bible is not all about God’s pain. God is too selfless to focus on His pain. The Bible doesn’t refer to God’s pain very often. But when it does, the instances are powerful.

The word “pain” is not mentioned in the prohibition of the eating of fruit, but we know that pain comes rather quickly to Adam and Even after the fall. Pain and sin are intimately related. The first pain we learn of in Genesis is the pain of fear. God had gone in search of Adam and Eve. When He finds them, He asks why they have hidden themselves. Adam responds with the plaintive cry, “I was afraid.”

It is important to realize that the pain experienced by humanity was not actually the first pain ever. Pain existed on the earth before sin, but only in the heart of God. He suffered pain before any of His creatures.

God didn’t have to sin to experience pain. In fact, God’s pain must be worse than any and all pain ever experienced in the universe. The Bible tells us that before Adam and Eve sinned, evil had already come into existence in heaven; in fact, there was a war in heaven that pitted the Serpent and his angels against God and his angels.

Our minds can’t possibly imagine war in heaven. We know that on earth war is “all hell,” as General William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army expressed it. We have no reason to think that war in heaven was any less awful than war on earth. No physical blood was shed, but a horror overwhelmed the perfect bliss of heaven.

The Devil and his followers fought for their spiritual independence. Desperation must have filled that holy place. The Bible says that a third of the angels joined in the rebellion against God. Each of these angels was a son of God, created by Him, loved by Him just as much as he loved Adam and Eve. The pain God and His loyal angels experienced must have been too terrible to describe.

The Devil did not know the consequences of his sin, but God certainly did. Christians tend to think that God merely foresaw what would happen in the future. We tend to make such knowledge highly abstract as if God were reading a roadmap. No, in some way we can’t understand, God experienced the painful results of evil.

God’s pain led him to pursue man. Man’s pain led him to run from God.

The One who had experienced pain went looking for Adam and Eve, who had not yet experienced pain. The story of salvation is the story of pain—ours, but more importantly, God’s. Pain will be closely connected to salvation. But unlike what most people think, the pain will be God’s and only secondarily man’s.

The Seed of the woman will have His heel “bruised.” Such language appears to be euphemistic and modest. Knowing the facts of the life of Christ, the Seed, especially of his crucifixion, suggests a far more cruel treatment than the seemingly mild bruising of a heel we might think of. The human heel bears a lot of the weight of the body, and injury to the heel can be devastating.

We might imagine injury to the Achilles tendon, which attaches the heel to the calf muscles. This tendon is the strongest one in the human body, and must be for a reason. “Bruising” may render the victim crippled. In the Bible we learn of a cruel treatment of horses—hamstringing involves cutting important muscles of the thigh, making movement impossible. Hamstringing can be a form of torture.

Blaming God for pain distorts what pain is. Humanity’s misinterpretation of the “problem of pain” is simply another example of sin. Adam and Eve indirectly blamed God for their own sin. Modern man is doing the very same thing.

As we experience the joy of salvation, we should remember that our joy is rooted in God’s own suffering.