The great French painter Pierre Auguste Renoir was afflicted with arthritis that gradually crippled his hands. Little by little his hands became gnarled and twisted, and it became increasingly painful to just hold a brush. Anyone who has been strong and then has had pain begin to cripple him can relate to what Renoir went through, but Renoir’s pain didn’t go away with a few aspirin. Eventually holding a brush became a painful challenge. At last the arthritis put him in a wheelchair and the easel had to be lowered for him to even reach it.
On a certain occasion Henri Matisse, his artist friend, visited him and watched as he moved the brush with deft exactness, knowing that every stroke cost in the currency of pain. Matisse asked the question that you probably would have put to the great old man, “Why do you paint when it hurts you so much?” “The pain passes,” replied Renoir, “but the beauty remains.” Renoir, Matisse and their contemporaries are gone, and also the pain which racked his body, but the beauty of his work remains today.
Pain is a strange thing! By and large our generation expects deliverance from it, and between the doctor’s and God’s help we are certain that we ought to escape it. We prefer dentists who won’t hurt us. We ask the doctor, “Is this going to hurt?” I’ve never met Philip Yancey, but I’ve been blessed by his straight-forward, honest appraisal of life. Much of what Yancey says cuts across the grain of what folks think should be said but are really thinking themselves. In His book, Where is God When It Hurts? Yancey says, “Christians don’t really know how to interpret pain. If you pinned them against the wall, or in a dark, secret moment, many Christians would probably concede that pain was God’s mistake. He really should have worked harder and invented a better way of alerting us to the world’s dangers.”
Almost everyone who is within the vicious grasp of pain sees little if any redeeming value at the time. We go through a cycle of anger because God has allowed something, then guilt thinking that we have done something for which we are being punished, then groping and searching for deliverance, and then, perhaps, solitude as we experience God can meet us where we hurt. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
In case you are wondering, yes, I have known pain, but I’ve never been through the Gethsemane which has wracked the body as some have seen day after day, week after week, month after month. But I’ve walked through many dark valleys with scores of people, and observed that it is not completely predictable as to how we would respond in any given situation. Some who don’t appear to be terribly strong do amazingly well spiritually when they are confronted with pain. Others, whom I would think could cope quite well, become bitter and cynical.
I’ve searched for answers which would help you who struggle with this, and, at times the neat little formula just doesn’t hold up, but I have discovered a common thread or element which individuals have who cope well with pain from a Christian perspective. I have learned that the people who cope take the statements of Scripture at face value and lean upon the presence of Jesus Christ to meet them. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), so we may say “The Lord is my helper; I shall not fear what men shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:6). Wherever you are, may God meet you at the point of your deepest need.