Generous Orthodoxy  




Sunday, June 12, 2005

On suffering pain

After four months of increasingly severe sciatic pain, I am now experiencing even greater pain as a result of surgery to remove a synovial cyst in my spine (this is temporary, however, and God willing I will soon recover completely). During this period I am having two sets of preliminary thoughts.

The first is related to Billy Graham's example, which is heroic beyond my imagination or capacity, though I aspire to it by the grace of God. This is part of what he says in an interview in today's New York Times:

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I have a lot of physical problems, it keeps me very weak. But I'm thankful for it.
I rejoice all the time because all these things that happen have happened to the furtherance of the Gospel. That's what the Apostle Paul said about his infirmities. He prayed several times that he might be released from these physical problems. But God didn't answer it that way. He said no, and Paul finally decided that the reason he had it was to keep him humble. And I think there's a lot of truth in that. I've had a lot of illnesses and sicknesses and operations and hospital stays, and I've rejoiced in all of it. When I fell and broke my hip a little over a year ago, I was very happy because I knew the Lord was working. Then a few months later I broke my pelvic bone in three places, and I had to go through all that getting well again, and it was a very slow process, and it helps me to relate to people who are suffering. It helps me to relate to people in hospitals. And it's been a great privilege for me, to have that type of ministry now, writing small articles, and talking to people.

Link to entire interview, well worth the reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/national/12gtext-web.html

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The second set of thoughts during this time has centered on people suffering torture. While I have been in pain I have continually imagined what it would be like to be in extreme pain with no clean sheets, no toilet, no opportunity to lie down, no pain medication, no one present to care for me and above all a pervasive atmosphere of menace and brutality.

Someone (I forget who) wrote recently that pain is a meaningless concept unless you are having it. All I can say right now is that, having suffered pain for a period of time, I would not want anyone to suffer extreme pain from other humans and I would not want anyone to inflict it on anyone else.

The most important new article about this is by the highly experienced Joseph Lelyveld and the link is
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/magazine/12TORTURE.html