Chapter 4: Fear of Dying in Pain
We all have a natural fear of pain, and a profound fear of prolonged pain. Pain without meaning is weakening. Pain with meaning, such as giving birth to a child, can be borne with a sense of purpose. Though we fear pain, pain is one experience that unites us as human beings. The deepest pain is spiritual. A man, let’s call him Jake, recently discovered his girlfriend was seeing another man. Jake also suffered from multiple illnesses. In the chaplain’s office, bent over with his head on the chaplain’s desk, Jake said, “I would choose my physical pain any time compared to this pain of betrayal.” People in the Bible faced both physical and spiritual pain.
The following Scriptures help us understand how they, and possibly we, find meaning in the midst of suffering.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
The people of ancient Israel cried out to God in their time of need, trusting in God’s unfailing love.
We cried out for help to the LORD, the God
of our ancestors. He heard us and saw our
suffering, hardship, and misery.
I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain.
The LORD is good to everyone who trusts in him.
Many of the psalms include prayers of those who turned to God in times of suffering and pain. God hears the cries of all who call upon him for help.
“Now I will come,” says the LORD, “because the needy are oppressed
and the persecuted groan in pain. I will give them the security they long for.”
The promises of the LORD can be trusted; they are as genuine as silver
refined seven times in the furnace.
“He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering;
he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.”
Turn to me, LORD, and be merciful to me, because I am lonely and weak.
Relieve me of my worries and save me from all my troubles.
Consider my distress and suffering and forgive all my sins.
I place myself in your care.
You will save me, LORD; you are a faithful God.
I will be glad and rejoice because of your constant love.
You see my suffering; you know my trouble.
O LORD, you know what I long for; you hear all my groans.
But I trust in you, O LORD; and you, O LORD my God, will answer me.
I am about to fall and am in constant pain.
Answer me, LORD, in the goodness of your constant love;
in your great compassion turn to me!
Don’t hide yourself from your servant;
I am in great trouble – answer me now!
In the midst of suffering, the prophets Isaiah and Daniel prayed to God on behalf of the people of ancient Israel, trusting in God’s mercy and constant love.
The LORD will give the people of Israel relief
from their pain and suffering and from the hard
work they were forced to do.
I will tell of the LORD’s unfailing love;
I praise him for all he has done for us.
He has richly blessed the people of Israel
because of his mercy and constant love.
The LORD said, “They are my people; they will
not deceive me.” And so he saved them from
all their suffering. It was not an angel, but the
LORD himself who saved them. In his love and
compassion he rescued them.
“Lord God, you are great, and we honor you.
You are faithful to your covenant and show
constant love to those who love you and do
what you command.
Listen to us, O God; look at us, and see the
trouble we are in and the suffering of the city that
bears your name. We are praying to you because
you are merciful, not because we have done right.
Lord, hear us. Lord, forgive us. Lord, listen to us,
and act! In order that everyone will know that
you are God, do not delay! This city and these
people are yours.”
Readings from the New Testament
Jesus has compassion on all who are sick and suffering.
Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness. The news about him spread through the whole country of Syria, so that people brought to him all those who were sick, suffering from all kinds of diseases and disorders: people with demons, and epileptics, and paralytics – and Jesus healed them all.
In speaking to his disciples, Jesus promises that suffering and sadness will turn to gladness and joy that no one can take away. Jesus said:
“When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you.
The apostle Paul describes his own suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12.7-10
The apostle Paul and the author of 1 Peter remind us that, following a time of suffering, we will share in Christ’s glory.
God’s Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share his glory.
I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who calls you to share his eternal glory in union with Christ, will himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation.
1 Peter 5.10
The vision described by John while in Patmos is of a new heaven and a new earth, where death, sorrow, and pain will be no more.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.”
Thoughts for Reflection
- Am I able to ask for help with my pain, or does fear of appearing weak or fear of addiction prevent me from getting the relief I need?
- Do I feel that I deserve to suffer or that God has abandoned me in my suffering? If so, will I ask to speak to a chaplain or clergy person about these feelings?
- In the midst of my pain, have I considered memorizing a Scripture passage and repeating it many times as a prayer and as a way to take my mind off my pain?
- Is part of my physical pain caused by fear, guilt or anger? If so, am I willing to talk to a chaplain, or someone I trust about these feelings?
Dear God, at times I fear being overwhelmed by pain. At times pain seems nearly bigger than I am. Sometimes I feel ashamed because I cry out or because I lash out at others. Lord, help me accept my limitations; help me to ask for help.
Be near to remind me that I do not have to bear this alone. Remind me that you do not intend for me to suffer, and remind me that you suffer with me. And Lord, if it is at all possible, help me find relief. Thank you for listening. Amen.