The Mystery of Pain

After enduring pain in my shoulder (rotator cuff) for several weeks, my orthopedic specialist gave me a cortisone shot. The shot was more than just a “pinch,” as shots are usually called by medical caregivers, but I was grateful afterwards, for I could move my shoulder again without feeling like I had been stabbed with an ice-pick!

This experience with pain was in addition to my craniotomy last fall and the onset of migraine headaches.  Physical pain is bad enough, but emotional and mental pain can be just as bad, if not more perplexing and burdensome.

Anyone who has chronic pain of one kind or another is usually moved to ask, “Why?  Why do I have pain in my life?”

Years ago, I learned some answers to these questions by studying the disease of leprosy that appears so often in the Bible.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is an infection caused by bacteria that are contracted  by direct contact or through the air by sneezes or coughs.  Leprosy is highly contagious, therefore, which explains the prohibitions given to lepers in the Bible to prevent the spread of the disease.

(Click here to read Leviticus 13 for a description of the disease and its symptoms, along with some of the restrictions placed on lepers.)

Leprosy bacteria multiply slowly, so the disease may take years to fully manifest, but when it does, the symptoms are very visible, especially on the skin.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Skin lesions that may be faded/discolored
  • Growths on the skin
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness on affected areas of the skin
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness
  • Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee)
  • A stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ulcers on the soles of feet

(Click to see source.)

What About Pain?

When leprosy becomes active, which may take two-three years after initial exposure, it eventually attacks the nervous system, leading to numbness in the nerves on the skin and the loss of feeling or sensation on the hands and feet.

Read a fuller description here:

Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. (Source)

The worst danger from the bacteria arises, therefore, when a burn or another kind of injury occurs, for example, and the leper does not feel the injury due to the lack of sensation at the site: “The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent” (Source).

Pain’s Purpose

Imagine putting your hand on a very hot iron or woodstove and not feeling anything.  You may end up leaving your hand on the heat for quite a while, resulting in a terrible burn.  If you had felt the pain initially, you would have quickly acted to remove your hand.

Consequently, as a result of an inability to feel pain, the leper does not react quickly, so the injury becomes quite severe, leading to extreme damage to the body.

Leprosy: A Metaphor for Sin

Leprosy was so dreaded that lepers were shunned, and they were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden from touching anyone to prevent the spread of the disease:

As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Leprosy was so dreaded, and the commandments of God were so clear, that lepers were shunned. Lepers were declared to be “unclean.” To prevent the spread of the disease, lepers were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden even from touching anyone else.  Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another.

Incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people (Numbers 5:2). Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy. (Source)

Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another. The consequences of leprosy, therefore, are analogous to the consequences of sin.  When we are infected with sin in our lives, we become “unclean,” and our sin may even infect others with serious consequences.  Sin results in severe consequences in our lives, both physically and mentally.  Like leprosy, these consequences may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.

Like the symptoms of leprosy, the consequences of sin in our lives may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.  Yet, we should dread the symptoms of sin even more than those of leprosy, for the consequences of sin are death and eternal separation from God.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Jesus Christ, however, is the answer for both leprosy and sin, along with the resulting mental and physical deformities and anguish:

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus is willing to cleanse us wholly, in spirit, soul, and body.  He renews a right spirit within us and restores our souls.  Like King David, we may pray the following prayer in faith:

Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalms 51:9-11)

Jesus Himself, because of His love for us, is the One who restores our souls and cleanses us from all the consequences of sin.  See what the Apostle Peter wrote about the crucifixion of Christ:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (I Peter 2:23-25)

While on the cross and before His ascension into Heaven, therefore, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sins upon Himself and cleansing us from all unrighteousness if we will only accept Him.  By faith (which is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1), we may receive His ultimate cleansing in spirit, soul, and body, taking away our pain.

Today, we constantly seek ways to escape our pain, whether through cortisone shots, or pills, or certain “relaxation techniques” that are essentially occultic.  While we do not like the experience of pain in our lives, we should seek the causes of our pain and be thankful to a wise and loving God who gave us nerves that help us feel the pain of dangerous situations, thereby protecting us from further harm and disabilities.  And above all, we need to find our answer to pain in the forgiveness provided  by God and the salvation offered through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

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