Living Christianity Blog

What Is the Purpose of Pain?

Written by Barry Richey

The awful pain and suffering of this world can be overwhelming. What does it all mean? How can the awesome future roles God has in store for us give meaning to the pain of the past?

It was just a few minutes after 2 o’clock in the morning when the phone rang. Startled awake, I looked at the clock and thought, “This can’t be good.”

On the other end of the line was a 16-year-old boy calling to say good-bye. He told me that he had a loaded gun in his hands and that he wanted to be free of this life. From the time he and his sister were small children, they had been sexually abused at the hands of a demented stepfather.

I convinced him to wait and speak with me, then threw on some clothes and rushed over to his home.

What words do you use at such a moment to help someone so deeply wounded? How do you comfort someone so filled with shame and guilt and so lacking in self-worth that he had concluded death was his only way of escape?

What words?

We spoke for hours until daylight, and he did finally give me the gun and agree to seek help. I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I do know what I didn’t say. I didn’t say, “Count it all joy.”

In such a situation that phrase would sound callous or simplistic, like saying, “Come on now, look on the bright side.”

I didn’t say such words, yet truly those words of James hold a key to moving forward from the pain of the past.

Pain without purpose is just pain

In fact, the words of James point us to the future with a powerful message for understanding the purpose of our pain. Pain without purpose is just pain!

Have you ever asked, “Why me?” Or wondered what possible value there is to your sorrow and your pain? Have your past experiences caused you to question your value as a human being?   

Then let’s take a closer look at what James had to say.

What does “count it all joy” mean?

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).

Is there joy in the abuse of the past? No. Is there joy in trying to let go, in struggling to forgive or in dreams that haunt your sleep? No. Then how is this the answer? Just what does it mean?

In truth, James’ words contain profound wisdom for those who will look forward!

Consider the example of our Savior. The extreme pain and suffering He experienced in His life culminated in a death that was unimaginably painful. What He is accomplishing now as our perfect Intercessor gave meaning to His suffering (Hebrews 2:17-18). And in a similar way, it is what we will accomplish in the future that gives meaning and offers hope for the suffering of our past.

Let’s closely examine the words of James and see the real intent of his instruction.

The meaning of trials

Trials is a translation of the Greek word peirasmos (G3986), which means a putting to proof by experiment (of good), experience (of evil) (Strong’s).

Trials come in two distinct forms. The first is an experiment in good. For children, learning to ride a bike is an experiment in good. Everyone falls a time or two. Many skin a knee or elbow and experience pain. Yet once we got through the hard learning process, we could travel twice as far in half the time with the same energy.

Later in life, our experiment in good might be working toward a new degree or job certification. At times we might struggle with missed sleep or a failing grade. There can be pain, and that struggle can be a trial.

Can we consider these hard moments of life joy? Of course we can, because each offers a unique learning opportunity.

Falling off a bike does not teach us that bikes are bad any more than falling while learning to walk teaches a baby that walking is not worth it. Failing a test does not mean we can’t learn or that more knowledge is bad; it simply means we need to work harder.

Life is full of challenges, and at times there is suffering, pain and deep sorrow. Yet we learn lessons. We build character, and overcoming is the end result.

This type of trial is the experiment in good, but we can’t leave it there. The Greek word James used also means that some trials are the experience of evil!

In the time it takes to read this article, over a dozen children around this world are being sold into bondage and unspeakable abuse. Many of us have likewise been mistreated and experienced evil.

How do we count this all joy? We are told to, so there must be a way. The answer is found in the meaning of the word count.

The meaning of count

Count is translated from the Greek hegeomai (G2233). This word means “to lead or go before,” and James was using it metaphorically, “to lead out before the mind … to esteem as something” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, edited by Spiros Zodhiates).

We have to rule over our trials before we can see the joy in what our trials teach us. There’s no joy in the experience and pain, but there is real lasting joy in understanding how that experience will be used in our future. This isn’t the kind of joy we experience when something really exciting and positive happens to us. It is a different kind of joy. It is a mature, inner satisfaction, knowing that we can use the experience for good.

For instance, we can have inner joy knowing that our trial produced more of the fruit of patience in our life or knowing that it will help us show more understanding and empathy toward others.

This type of joy doesn’t always come immediately, but the more we take our pain and trials to God and the more we meditate on how He can use them for some kind of good in our lives (and the lives of others)—the more we will gradually stop feeling pain and start feeling peace. We will never forget what caused the pain, but we can put it in the context of how it can help us fulfill God’s purpose for us.

How pain can be used for good

Christ was perfected by the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8-9), and so are we. He suffered for a purpose—to help Him be a perfect High Priest and Intercessor who can completely relate to us, understanding the fear, sorrow and pain we feel.   

We, too, are being perfected for the roles we will have at Christ’s return. As kings and priests in God’s Kingdom, we will work directly with people who experienced many forms of trauma and pain. As we work with them, we will be able to use our experiences to better help them.

Prophecy tells us that the end times will be filled with people who have suffered unimaginable pain and loss. Millions, filled with tears and sorrow, will be scarred by the abuse and suffering of a world under the control of Satan himself. Children will have watched their parents die, and parents will have watched their children be murdered. We can fill in the blanks for every other source of pain we can imagine.

They will have the same questions we may have asked ourselves: Why? Why me?

When the survivors of the Tribulation—having experienced deep suffering and sorrow beyond measure—meet us, the children of God, what will they need?

They will need the answers to those questions: Why? Why the pain, why the sorrow and why all the suffering? They will need answers. They will also need helpers who understand them and can empathize. Having experienced pain ourselves, we will be able to work with them with understanding and empathy.

We will be able to look them in the eye and say, “I get it—I understand.”

Your unlimited worth

From the pain and sorrows of the past, we can learn to rule over life’s adversities and be prepared for a special level of service in God’s great plan that only our pain could have accomplished. Focusing on pain’s purpose in preparing us for our future role in God’s Kingdom can help us move forward, overcoming, letting go and practicing forgiveness toward those who hurt us. 

We are perfected through suffering that we may fulfill the ultimate purpose of God in bringing many children to glory (Hebrews 2:10).

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