Can there be a good reason why some people live in constant pain and others escape most forms of it altogether?
For many faith traditions, there is a reason, but not a good one: pain is a necessary punishment for offending or disobeying Deity. Those who experience it very intensely and/or for very long are simply getting what they deserve for how they have chosen to live their lives.
Compared with this outrageously condemnatory perspective, the view of modern medical science on chronic pain, based on empirical knowledge rather than faulty theology, almost overflows with understanding and empathy.
Pain, physicians tell us, is not always a bad thing. The capacity to feel it when we inadvertently touch a pan of boiling water, or stupidly exercise too long at the gym, is what keeps us from bringing even greater harm to ourselves.
But physicians also acknowledge that the pain some people endure seems wholly disproportionate to any good that can possibly come from it. And to make matters even worse, some painful conditions offer up neither a cause nor a cure.
Fortunately, there is now available a considerable variety of medications which, if not capable of eliminating pain completely, can make it at least manageable. And because there is, it is difficult to understand why so many medical practitioners seem so indecisive about making effective use of them.
More often than not, their stated concern is to minimize the possibility that a patient will become addicted to “pain killers.” This is a legitimate concern. But what if the killer is the pain itself?
From the standpoint of medical practice, the primary purpose of alleviating pain is to make it easier for people to get more enjoyment out of the life they have ahead of them, however long or short it may be. From the perspective of faith, there is more involved.
Certainly it is a worthy goal of physicians to help their patients enjoy life more. But it is also a worthy goal to help people make the kind of difference in other peoples’ lives that God enjoins all of us to do. When pain gets in the way of both endeavors, and when it can be reduced, it is a good thing to expend every effort to reduce it.
Medications can help, as can the compassion of understanding friends and caregivers. Staying other-centered may help even more.