I’m not a doctor. But I know a thing or two about pain.
A few years ago I found myself on a hospital gurney getting scanned for appendicitis and gall bladder issues. I was in such excruciating abdominal pain, even morphine couldn’t take the edge off. At that moment I was praying hard for an easy answer—just remove an organ or something so I could go home symptom-free.
But that didn’t happen.
My earliest memory of chronic stomach trouble was when I was five years old, lying on the couch with a bloated tummy while my mom watched over me, covering me with blankets and asking where it hurt. Decades later I’m still trying to figure out the cause. I’ve been through test after test, therapy upon therapy, diet over diet—and while some things have helped and I’m finally able to manage the symptoms, still no one can tell me for sure what the root problem is or how to fix it. I’m something of a medical mystery.
And I’ve prayed over and over and over again for God to take it away. But He hasn’t.
Maybe you can relate to that. And you’re probably asking the same question I’m asking.
Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers for healing?
I don’t know.
Oh, how I wish I did.
But I do know this—God has a reason for it. He knows everything we don’t know. And His actions and allowances are always, always, for our good.
So we have to trust Him.
In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about the amazing revelations God shared with him—“inexpressible things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). And because of that, “in order to keep me [Paul] from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
Maybe God hasn’t given you or me those inexpressible visions. That would be nice, huh? But the principle applies to us just the same.
Paul had a thorn in his flesh. I often wish he would’ve given us just a little more information, you know? Tell us what the thorn was, Paul! Was it an ailment? A disability? Did he suffer from depression or some other emotional affliction? Theologians have lots of theories, but nobody knows for sure.
There’s likely a good purpose for that. God made the story of Paul’s thorn ambiguous so that we can relate to it, no matter what kind of pain we’re facing.
What is your thorn? What’s causing you chronic pain or heartache? Whatever it is, God’s grace is sufficient to uphold you through it. Perhaps it’s your constant reminder to depend on His strength, not your own—so that God’s power can shine through your weakness.
I have to admit, in moments of searing stomach pain, the last thing I’m feeling is shiny and strong. I just want the hurt to go away. You, too?
Here are a few encouragements to keep in mind when God allows illness and suffering in your life.
- God works everything out for your good (Romans 8:28). That doesn’t mean everything is good, obviously. Disease and suffering were never part of God’s original plan, and I have to say hanging out in the ER at 2 a.m. wasn’t my idea of a “good” time.But somehow in His sovereignty, God takes even the bad things that happen and weaves them for a good purpose in the end. He is always watching over you, loving you, and grieving with you when you hurt.
- It’s not about me. Remember how Paul was given his thorn in order to keep him from becoming conceited? There’s nothing like a painful health issue to keep a person humble. Ultimately our suffering isn’t about us at all, but it’s about God.Will we keep our faith in the midst of it? Will we trust Him, cry out to Him, honor Him for who He is even when he doesn’t give us what we think we want? (Which, if we knew what God knows, we might not want so much after all.)Consider this. Job’s suffering was a test of good vs. evil. The heavens were watching. And the heavens are watching you, too. So—even though it’s hard, don’t I know it—let’s face our suffering in a way that makes the angels cheer.
- In heaven, all pain is gone. And when I get there, I’m going to eat all the wheat and dairy I want. Often in our temporal suffering (which doesn’t feel so temporal at the time, I so get it), we lose sight of our eternal perspective. Maybe the most important decision we can make in our weakness is to remember where we’re going. We win in the end, because we have Jesus. So hold tight to him, amen? He will never let you down.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).