Pastor, I bet if there’s one question you get more than any others, particularly when you’re ministering to people in times of crisis, it’s “Why does God allow pain?” I can’t count the times I’ve been asked that question. So when you’re asked that question, here are four answers you can give people.
1. God has given us free will.
In Genesis we learn that we were made in the image of God. But how so? God gave us choice. We can choose to do what’s good or what’s evil, to accept God or reject him. Why did God give us that choice? He didn’t want a bunch of puppets. He didn’t have to do that. He could have forced us to worship, serve, and love him. But he wanted us to love him voluntarily. You can’t say you love somebody unless you have the opportunity to not love him.
Free will isn’t only a blessing. Sometimes it’s a burden. Sometimes we make dumb choices. Those choices have all kinds of painful consequences in our lives. I can choose to experiment with drugs. If I get addicted, that’s my fault. I can choose to be sexually promiscuous. If I get a disease, that’s my fault. God doesn’t want us to have this kind of pain, but he allows us to face the consequences of our choices.
Not only do we have free will, but everyone else does as well. Sometimes we get hurt because of other people’s bad choices. We’ve all been hurt by someone else at some point in life. You’ve probably asked yourself, “Why didn’t God prevent it?” He could have. He just would have needed to take away that person’s free will. But here’s the dilemma. He would have needed to take away yours as well!
2. God uses pain to get our attention.
Pain is a warning light. It tells us something is wrong. Pain isn’t your problem. It’s a symptom. It’s God’s megaphone. As you’ve heard before, God whispers to us in our pleasure, but he shouts to us in our pain. Proverbs 20:30 says, “Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways.”
A number of years ago I had a pair of shoes that I loved. They were made out of deerskin and were real soft and smooth. They were great! But after awhile, I got holes in the soles. Yet they still looked good on top. So I wore them anyway. I just had to be sure that when I sat on stage, I kept my feet on the ground. I wasn’t motivated to buy new shoes until there were seven days of rain in a row, and I had to put up with soggy shoes several days in a row. My wet feet motivated me to changed! Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:9, “I am glad not because it hurts you, but because the pain turns you to God.” Sometimes it takes pain to get us to do what God wants us to do.
Remember the story of Jonah? Jonah was going one way and God said, “I want you to go the other way.” So he provided a typical Mediterranean cruise for him – a whale! And, at the bottom of the ocean, Jonah said, “When I had lost all hope I once again turned my thoughts to the Lord.” God uses pain to get our attention.
3. God uses pain to teach us to depend on him.
You don’t know that God is all you need until God’s all you got. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 (TLB): “We were crushed and overwhelmed and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves but that was good for then we put everything into the hands of God who could save us and he did help us.”
If you never had a problem, you’d never know God could solve it. God allows pain to teach you to depend on him. The Bible says in Psalm 119:71: “It was the best thing that could have happened to me for it taught me to pay attention to your laws.” The truth is, some things we only learn through pain. Depending on God is one of those things.
4. God allows pain to give me a ministry to others.
Pain prepares you to serve. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT), “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Everybody needs recovery of some type. Nobody’s perfect. Who can better help an alcoholic than somebody who has struggled with alcoholism? Who can better help somebody dealing with the pain of abuse than someone who was abused themselves? God wants to use and recycle the pain in our lives to help others, but we’ve got to be open and honest about it.
God did this with Kay and me. The first three years of our marriage were really bad. I understand the guy who says he is miserable and wants out of marriage. I understand because I’ve been there! But through the help of a Christian counselor, Kay and I worked through those problems and now have a great marriage. A few years ago I did a Sunday morning sermon series on marriage where I talked about a different problem we worked through each week. It was a 12-week series, but it could have been 50. God uses your pain to help other people.
Imagine the army of ministers you could train in your congregation if you helped people use their past pain as an opportunity for ministry. God never wastes a hurt!
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved