The Purpose of Pain or The Pain of Purpose?

I've been pondering lately the circumstances surrounding the introduction of pain into humanity's story as told by the scriptures. I believe it teaches us some pretty amazing things regarding our pain that should not be overlooked.

The first thing I see is the environment into which Adam and Eve were placed where pain was going to be a regular part of their ongoing experience. Genesis 3:23 says, "Therefore the Lord God sent him (Adam) out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken." That ground was the untended land outside of Eden, and it was ground to which Adam and Eve were meant to bring the abundant life of Eden. Their mandate after all was to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." In other words, they were to now be partners with God in carrying His creative power throughout the whole earth. What this means is that original purpose of the land into which Adam and Eve were placed after having sinned was to produce. God's intention for that land was never anything less than becoming as Eden-like as the Eden He Himself had created.

Yet, that was not what ended up happening. Instead, that land became the place in which Adam and Eve would endure the newly discovered pain of being human. It's where they would have the experience described by God for them in Genesis 3:16-17. "To the woman He said, 'I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.' And to Adam He said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.'" What is so fascinating to me about this description is that out of all the pain God could have said now awaited them, He chose specifically the pain attached to the thing they were purposed to do. The pain God described was the pain now attached to "filling the earth", to bringing forth life from the womb and life from the ground. Purpose was the original intention. Pain was now the inseparable add-on.

Fast forward to right now, and what does this mean for us? First, I think it tells us that no matter how great and gifted we are at bringing forth whatever we produce in this life, it will never be as fulfilling and enjoyable as it will be on the day when God is fully, finally the glorious focus in all that we do. The pain of Adam and Eve was a reminder that their purpose served them in a far more superior way when God was the center of their lives (true worship) as opposed to themselves being at the center of their lives (idolatry). This is why joy and fulfillment are nowhere even remotely automatic for even the people who seem to be the most evidently gifted and productive. The answer is, as best we can in these "bodies of death", to seek to worship God in all that we produce and create in life. One day we will be able to do that without any presence of self-glorification. Oh what truly glorious day that will be!

The second thing I think the scenario of Adam and Eve tells us is that we ought to be less fascinated by our pain. That might sound odd, but I feel it is in vogue within Christianity and beyond these days to almost deify our pain. In an effort to help people see pain not as a limitation but as a tool of empowerment, the message of pain has become centered around the power of pain. I myself have preached this in years past and do believe there is some inherent truth to it, no doubt. But my mindset about the subject has broadened as of late and focuses less on the purpose of pain and more on the pain of purpose. It's perhaps a subtle transition from one element to another when those elements are so intertwined with each other. But I believe it matters because the first draws our attention to the thing we brought about, which is pain, where as the second draws our attention to the thing God brought about, which is purpose. Only the latter is inexhaustible in the power it contains to move us forward. That is perhaps a danger of the "power of pain" message. Eventually, you require a new painful experience to keep pushing you. I'm not sure that's a healthy dependency or muse. I do believe it is healthier and more productive to focus on God's purpose for our lives than it is the pain which for a little while longer, is intrinsic to that purpose. One day pain will no longer be part of the experience. Yet the purpose of glorifying God in all things will remain. Therefore, be less pushed by your pain, and more pulled by Jesus who leads us in our purpose. Pain can be a reminder that you're doing what you are meant to do, as would have been the case of Adam's aching back and rough hands in bringing forth food from the ground. But it's much more a reminder that this was never the way it was supposed to be, never God's plan.

See you in church,

Pastor Jake