Now in the winter of my life, I have witnessed many friends and family members deal with hardships that resulted in physical pain – miscarriages, a stillborn child, loved ones taken too soon, those who have had to endure cancer and heart disease.  Whenever I encounter someone in physical pain, my first inclination has been to pray that the pain would be taken away.  Secondly, I would offer help where needed.  Finally, I would make a deliberate effort to be grateful for all my blessings and for God’s goodness to me.  My feet have landed in pleasant places in comparison.  Psalm 16:5-6 reminds me of God’s goodness; “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

Never have I looked into the eyes of a friend who was in pain and thought to myself this is a reminder to repent.  But that is precisely what John Piper tells us is a reason for physical pain in the world.  In his book Providence, Piper presents a convincing argument that God uses our pain as a call to repentance.  He reminds us first that our fallen world is under God’s judgement.  He permits the physical pain, the tragedies, and death itself.  But why?  Why does God judge the world with physical pain?  His argument goes back to the fall.  When Adam rebelled and ate the fruit of the tree which he was not supposed to eat, he was essentially taking a stand.  He decided that his ways were better than God’s ways, that God’s law did not matter, arrogantly thinking that there would not be consequences.  It was a mockery of God, completely out of step with what he owed God, which was glory, praise, honor, and obedience.

We are still like Adam, completely unaware of how much our sins grieve our holy God.  God has become so insignificant in our daily lives that we don’t realize how much we hurt Him.  Piper suggests this is “one of the reasons God judged moral evil with physical pain.  While fallen people do not value God, they do value being pain free.  Therefore, to point them to the outrage of belittling him, God judges that belittling of God with physical pain and sorrow.  He subjected the whole creation to futility and corruption.  In other words, God puts the call to repentance in the language everyone can understand – the language of pain and death.”[1]

After I read this passage, and thought about Piper’s words, I became convicted of how often I act like Adam in this regard.  I too, have many times decided that I know what is best for me.  I think I know how to solve my own problems.  I march full steam ahead, without even giving a moment’s thought to first seeking God and His will for my situation.  My thoughts and actions are no less of an outrage to God as Adam’s sin.  And now I hear the Holy Spirit’s nudging every time I witness pain.  I can’t help but see my neighbor’s suffering at the loss of his dear wife and think, “This is because of mankind’s depravity, my response must be to must repent.”  Now I see remnants of natural disasters on the news and think, “God allows this as a means to remind me to repent.”  In Luke 13:3, Jesus states it clearly, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  Even physical objects have become a source of a call to repentance – like seeing my husband’s wheelchair.

God chose pain and suffering as the way to bring redemption to a fallen world.  Jesus suffered for us and we are called to participate in his suffering.  Paul taught us that unless we are willing to participate in the suffering of Jesus, we will not participate in his exaltation.  “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).  When we see or experience pain and suffering, we can be reminded to repent, thankful that we still have time for repentance, and then rest in Christ who has gone before us conquering sin, suffering and dying for us.

Lord, thank you for theologians who deeply study your word and write with clarity that we may gain a thorough understanding of your providence.  And thank you for the reminder of just how much we hurt you when we turn from you and try to do things our way.  Forgive us Father.  Help us to see the need for personal repentance of our sins each time we see evidence of pain and suffering in the world.  Amen.

[1] Piper, J. Providence. Crossway, 2020, p. 503-4.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sharon Rockwell

Sharon retired from her career first as a chemist and then as a regulatory affairs consultant to the medical device industry. She has served on the women’s ministry team at Grace Presbyterian Church in her hometown of Yorba Linda, California, and has worked as the west coast regional advisor for the PCA. She and her husband have 4 adult children, and 6 young grandchildren (current score girls 4, boys 2). In her spare time Sharon enjoys cooking, traveling, bird watching and raising orchids.