Today someone said this to me (I’m paraphrasing; she used more words): “God gives us pain to teach us things. He never gives us more than we can handle. Pain is the best teacher and God knows that”. Even after I’d picked my jaw off the floor and located my brain trembling in a corner, I was lost for words.
But now I’m not.
I struggle with this statement to such an extent that I’m going to have to tackle it in two, maybe three parts. To start with, pain is the best teacher??
A little bit, I have to admit, that’s true. Maybe not the best teacher, but not a bad one nonetheless. If you write down every pain you can think of that you’ve experienced – everything from last week’s physio appointment to the deep existential pains which come from being a fallible and fragile human being in the world – it would be a pretty impressive, probably slightly depressing, list. Pretty amazing to look at that list and reflect that you’ve come through all of that and survived. You are stronger for it, wiser for it, even as you might be sadder (or, admittedly, happier) for it. I’d never wish pain on anyone (well – not most people, anyway) but I have to acknowledge that there are many agonising, excruciating situations and experiences which have gone towards making me the strong, fragile surviror I am.
Having said that, though, I can’t be ok with the idea that pain is inflicted in order to be a teacher. Personally, I’m far more likely to screw up if I know, or fear, that screwing up will cause me some sort of pain, whether it be physical or emotional or mental or spiritual. Like almost every creature on the planet, I don’t like pain and will do what I can do avoid it. And pain that’s deliberately inflicted to be a lesson – there’s no love in that, there’s no teaching in that. There’s just punishment in that, and as someone who has taken (I feel) more than my fair share of punishment over the last ten years just for existing, I’m pretty keen not to take any more. Learning, and growing, and becoming stronger – I’m good with those things. I’m not good with punishment.
And the idea of a loving God inflicting pain? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother blog post…