And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
One of the greatest curses that came as a result of sin’s existence in the world is that of pain. Even though we all have done our share of inflicting pain, we feel pain and its effects acutely. Physical pain is a nuisance at best and debilitating at worst. Emotional pain can devastate one’s life. While spiritual pain has led some to godly guilt and repentance, it has driven many others from ever believing at all.
Pain is a given in life; the only questions involve how much we will experience and when it will come upon us. The real issue, however, is how we will handle our pain and respond to it.
As long as there has been pain humans have sought ways of alleviating it. These days the options are legion. For physical pain one can always find aspirin, Tylenol, or Advil; those in greater pain often receive prescriptions for morphine or other similar higher level pain relief medications. People drown their emotional (and, for some, spiritual) pain in alcohol and in various “recreational drugs” like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and the like.
As with many things, so with medicating pain: not every use is sinful. Many people cannot function without some kind of pain medication, and they make sure that they are taking what is prescribed or advised by their doctors under their supervision. The occasional use of over-the-counter medications also poses no problem.
Nevertheless, as with so many other aspects of the creation, narcotics can quickly become a god for many people. There are some people who take powerful pain medications on account of severe pain and become addicted to those painkillers. Yes, there are many people who are not really in pain but who have become addicted to various “recreational drugs” or alcohol and will, at some point, suffer the consequences.
But a substantial part of the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol stems from attempts to escape from life, its pains, and its challenges. People using such substances probably have some inkling of how it is damaging their lives. They keep coming back, however, because the feeling is so “wonderful,” even if it lasts for only a short time. As things get worse and worse for them–lost jobs, abandonment by spouse and children, criminal records, and so forth–that escape is more greatly desired than ever!
Such is the lie of narcotics. Narcotics create an illusory state of happiness, contentment, or at least the absence of pain. But the high will end and must end. It is not real. It cannot deliver or save. It must always end in frustration and a return to reality; that reality gets worse and worse the more often the escape is sought!
On the whole, turning to narcotics to numb the pain of life is the inappropriate response to pain. No one denies the reality of pain and the challenges pain presents. Pain hurts, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. It is easier for us humans to try to run from pain, but it will always be there until we do something about it!
Healthy responses to pain will vary based upon the severity and nature of the pain. In general, we must first recognize that we are going to experience pain and will have to persevere. If our pain is physical, it is appropriate to find treatments to reduce or eliminate the pain while making sure that we do not become addicted to painkillers. We must also take our pain to God in prayer and cast our anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
If our pain is emotional, it may be appropriate for us to find counseling and ways that we might be able to cope with the pain and live healthy lives. Chemical imbalances may need addressing. We will likely find, however, that we are not going to be able to endure our pain through our own efforts alone; we will need to turn to God and be sustained by Him, finding healing not only through therapy but also through our relationship with God (Matthew 4:4, Romans 8:31-39).
If our pain is spiritual, some counseling may be required. But let us always remember that while tragic events may occur to us and we might be betrayed by perceived spiritual “authorities,” God is faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13). He understands the challenges of pain, sin, and death: that is why He was willing to give of His Son so that we can be freed from them and spend eternity with Him (Romans 5:6-11).
Pain is real and difficult but it need not destroy us. Let us respond to pain in healthy ways and be sustained through our relationship with God!
Ethan R. Longhenry