In discussing the problem of pain, Christians have sometimes maintained that pain is necessary for growth and love. It is impossible, they claim, to make progress apart from the spurring effects of pain; man needs pain as a goad for goodness. And, it is said, an intelligent creature living in a painless world could not love God for Himself alone; he would love God only for the gifts and the joy He gives.

These arguments are not biblical. Never do the writers of Scripture justify pain by any such argument. The attempt to do so, therefore, is entirely extrabiblical. Indeed, any attempt to justify the existence of pain at all is nonbiblical in nature. It is true that there are places where the reasons and purposes of pain in an individual case are clearly set forth (gaining the ability to help others, 2 Cor. 1; discipline and judgment, [2 Cor. 11, etc.); but in none of these instances is there even the slightest notion given that what is said in particular is an explanation for the basic problem-why pain exists in a good God's world.

It is dangerous to reason about why God does what He does. He has made it clear that our thoughts and ways are not His. We are certain to go wrong whenever we try to second guess God. We can know why God has done what He has only from revelation. If, as we have seen in the previous chapter, we cannot even know the mind of another human being, surely we cannot know the mind of God. We know what motivates another person only when he discloses his intentions to us. Otherwise we guess, and invariably seem to guess the wrong thing. But even though we may occasionally guess rightly about the motives of our fellow human beings, because we ourselves are enough like them that at times we understand what they think, we are far from divine and, therefore, can be assured that we will guess incorrectly about God's motives. That, in part, is what He meant when He said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8). We do not think the way God thinks. It is of the height of folly, therefore, to try to fathom the mind of God apart from revelation.

These statements about the necessity of pain as a motivator are dangerous because they fail to take human sin into consideration. While it is true that a sinner, unaided by divine grace, will not love God for Himself (indeed, he will not love Him at all), and while it may be true that pain is necessary to spur on lazy and lethargic persons, neither of these circumstances would exist if there had been no fall. Perfect persons naturally love God and grow in their desire and ability to serve Him; they need no other motivation than the honor and glory of God. Pain is a necessity for love and growth only in a fallen world.

This is clear from at least two biblical considerations:

  1. there are other intelligent creatures (angels, seraphim, cheribim), which have never fallen, who love and worship and serve the Creator apparently quite apart from the goads of pain;
  2. we too shall serve, love, and worship God apart from pain ("there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. . . ." [Rev. 2 1:4]) throughout eternity. It is sin, not our creatureliness, that occasions the need for pain as motivation. But even in this life, before perfection, according to I Peter 2: 19, a regenerate person can serve and love God in a disinterested way. Indeed, in that passage it is said that a believer may endure pain "out of conscience toward

God." (Here the word often translated grief is lupe, also translated "pain.") His concern about maintaining a clear conscience before God, by living a life that honors Him, is urged as the motive for enduring pain, rather than the other way around. If the contention of those who argue otherwise were true, we would be admonished to maintain a good conscience in order to avoid pain. An even clearer statement is found in Romans 13:5:

It is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath, but also because of conscience.

Here such motives may be mixed, but in heavenly perfection there will be no mixture at all. There the Lord will be served and loved for the One He is (Rev. 4:11).

Pain is not the only possible motivating force for a believer even here in this life of imperfection, though at times it may well be one such force. And in eternity pain will be no force at all since "there will be no more . . . pain." The subject of pain itself, how to understand it and how to respond to it, must be left for another place. But we do a pain-sufferer no good when we speculate about the problem of evil according to the follies of human reason, which inevitably involve us in contradicting some revealed truth of the Bible.

Jay E Adams

Institute for Nouthetic Studies

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