People who suffer from chronic pain carry an extra burden that healthy people may not fully comprehend. Chronic pain can be defined as a persistent and ongoing physical pain that continues for longer than six months, despite efforts to relieve it. For many, chronic pain is a life sentence. Whether the pain is due to arthritis, fibromyalgia, a car accident, or an old football injury, those who suffer can find the simplest tasks overwhelmingly difficult. Modern medicine has taken huge strides toward alleviating chronic pain, but there are some levels of suffering that medicine has yet to reach. Sufferers may wonder if God even cares, so we will investigate what the Bible has to say about chronic pain.
The briefest glance at the Bible reveals that God is aware of our suffering and is eager to help us (Psalm 50:15; Numbers 21:8–9). He made us from dust and knows how our bodies function (Psalm 103:14; 139:13–16). He created the nerve endings that communicate pain to our brains, so He well knows how they affect us. We know that God is ultimately in charge of everything, even chronic pain (Isaiah 45:7). Those who know, love, and trust Him need never worry that God is unaware of their suffering or that their requests for relief are being ignored (Matthew 6:31–33; Luke 12:6–7).
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He gained renown for healing the crippled and the chronically ill (Matthew 4:23). He sometimes went out of His way to alleviate the chronic pain of an individual, revealing His compassion for the suffering (Luke 13:10–12; Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus said that He did nothing of His own accord, but only what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19; 14:10), so from this we learn that the Father also has great compassion on those who suffer and can heal them.
But pain relief was not Jesus’ main mission; nor is it the Father’s. Sometimes chronic pain is the result of sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is merely the fallout from living in mortal, imperfect bodies in a fallen, broken world. Whatever the case, our suffering is not wasted. God has a purpose in it. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man born blind, Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–7). He then healed the man, but only after the man had suffered from blindness his whole life up to that point. So Jesus’ attention to the chronically ill shows us that God knows about our chronic pain and cares that we suffer. However, for reasons known only to Him, He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.
Many times God brings good from our chronic pain by teaching us to rely more on Him. The more acutely we see our need, the more likely we are to seek His face. Also, God may use chronic pain to help us learn endurance and patience. We then can help other sufferers with what God taught us: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (1 Corinthians 1:3–4). Chronic pain can be an opportunity to learn to suffer well before the eyes of the world. When those with no hope watch the patient endurance of a child of God, they may yearn for that kind of strength. By their silent testimony, chronic pain sufferers may be storing up mountains of treasure in heaven as they refuse to doubt God’s goodness (see Matthew 5:16; 6:6).
Sometimes God miraculously heals people from chronic pain; other times He does not. Neither instance is an indication of God’s love or the worth of the person. God states clearly that He is sovereign over everything and His plan will stand (Isaiah 46:9–11). Sometimes that plan includes suffering, even for those who love Him and serve Him faithfully (Acts 9:16; 1 Peter 4:13). The apostle Paul was an example of someone totally devoted to Christ, yet he had to suffer many things in order to remain obedient to God’s will for his life (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). It goes without saying that Paul must have lived with chronic pain from his many beatings and imprisonments. We are not told what his “thorn in the flesh” may have been, but it is entirely possible that it was chronic pain of some sort. He pleaded with the Lord to take it from him, and God’s response has become a source of strength for many sufferers of chronic pain: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul also wrote that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV). If Paul could call the abuse he suffered “light momentary affliction,” then we can all take heart and follow suit. He seemed to be saying that those who learn to suffer well will be rewarded grandly for all eternity. God is not standing idly by while His children suffer. He promises to draw near and comfort us when we call to Him (Psalm 34:18; Hosea 6:1). Although chronic pain is exhausting and disheartening, we have God’s promise that it will be worth it when we see Him face to face (Philippians 3:8–11; 1 Corinthians 13:12). Our pain is not pointless when our lives are devoted to God’s will. We can rest in the confidence that He is allowing it for His greater purposes (Romans 8:28) and that soon we will be with Him and free from pain forever (Revelation 21:4).