It’s not fun to be sad. If that is news to you, I congratulate you on living a happy life. Yes, a good cry can be healthy for our bodies and souls. When I’m sad, though, it is downright unpleasant. I might be grieving over the loss of someone I care about, or reeling from other bad news. If I could delete sadness just like deleting a file on a computer, I’d probably not just delete it, but hold the Shift key down at the same time, in order to skip the Recycle Bin so that the sadness couldn’t come back.
I believe that in the Garden of Eden (before mankind chose to break the rules), and in Heaven (which we look forward to, from this fallen world), there was no pain or sorrow. In-between those bookends of human history, though, life is not so idyllic. (In fact, this isn’t just some failure of humankind to create a utopian, man-made ideal state; rather, it was our choice to rebel against the specific, perfectly-suited life for which God created us.)
Things that hurt us aren’t a petty way of God “getting back at us” for rejecting Him, though. He is just and fair, but also loving. Because of God’s infinite wisdom, even the pain that fills this broken universe can be used for good. See what Paul wrote to believers in the city of Corinth:
I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way.
2 Corinthians 7:8-9 NLT
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that all pain is somehow inherently good: some pain is just a consequence of human beings’ collective sinfulness. Millennia of bad choices, rebellion, selfishness, pride, and generally foul behavior have resulted in suffering for even the innocent. The pain of an infant going through withdrawal for drugs in her mother’s system isn’t a lesson for that baby. Children who go hungry because their government won’t help them (and their parents can’t) are not suffering because of their own sin.
Still, for the mature, discomfort and discouragement can lead to positive change. When I eat too much junk food, and feel lousy, I am reminded that my stomach should not be in control of my choices. How much more can wise and frank counsel – even if it stings our pride and ego – remind us that we need to get our acts together? Reading through the book of Proverbs can hit pretty close to home sometimes, and cause us to throw up our defenses, insisting that proverbs (especially those that are clearly talking about us) have nothing to do with our current situations. However, if we can break down our walls of pride, and accept the fact that we’re not where we need to be, then we can begin to rebuild properly.
Praise God that He can use all sorts of bad things – including pain – for making us better. If sin didn’t come with a curse, we might never want to leave a life of rebellion. If Jesus hadn’t suffered publicly and died for us, we might not see how terrible the consequences of our choices were – nor how great a sacrifice He made, in order to bring us back into His family.
Even more so, see the next couple of verses from this chapter:
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 NLT
Not only can the regret that comes from being “challenged to change” help us to fix things, but it can actually produce overwhelmingly positive results as we choose to accept that we need to alter something in our lives. Sorrow for sorrow’s sake isn’t helpful (and, without any positive result, it is wasted). When we use helpful pain to drive us towards giving us a new perspective, though, and then take action based on that fresh point of view, we can use that motivation not only to overcome our bad habits, but also to develop a new passion for doing better things.
I don’t wish fruitless pain on anyone. However, when we encounter the inevitable, may we look to see if it comes from bad choices on our part. That won’t always be the case, but when we find evil things that we can seek to purge – whether in our lives or in society in general – and replace them with the good that God calls us to, we can replace pain with progress. We may start with pain, but if we choose to do something about it, the results can sometimes be positive and productive.
If you’re just in pain because the world is broken, though, please accept my prayers on your behalf for healing. That kind of pain is just a reminder that we were made for something better, and that healing will come for followers of Jesus, when He returns.