Love Pain

Can pain be prevented? Jesus famously states in Matthew 5:38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”1 This passage does not directly address pain but to novelist and Christian thinker, Leo Tolstoy, this passage made all the difference.

After his conversion to Christianity, Tolstoy wrote his magnum opus The Kingdom of God is Within You.2 Named after the passage in Luke 17:28, here Tolstoy outlines his beliefs and interpretations of Jesus Christ’s teachings – Tolstoy believed in a literal interpretation of Jesus’s teachings. What emerges from this text is Tolstoy’s principle of non-violent resistance, one that would famously influence great figures in history, particularly Mohandas Gandhi. Tolstoy strongly believed Jesus forbid any form of violence and rejected any doctrine or interpretation that believed otherwise, including serving one’s country during times of war or even employing violence in self-defense. His view can be summed up as “… oppose evil by every righteous means in our power, but not by evil.”3  A righteous man’s response to evil should not be more evil. An eye for an eye certainly does seem fair, but does this not only perpetuate pain and suffering? If all suffering is bad and the greatest amount of suffering is to be prevented, then preventing two men from suffering is preferable to preventing the suffering of only one man. If this is accepted, then if one man causes suffering unto another is it not moral for the wronged man to end the suffering there instead of perpetuating it by retaliation? This is where fairness and morality begin to part.

Suffering and pain are often creations of man, and this is what Tolstoy’s interpretation of Christ led him. When one man wrongs another, the wronged man’s natural response is to retaliate. Why? To achieve fairness. Men cannot tolerate what is unfair. But Jesus Christ was subject to suffering and pain. He was wronged unfairly, accused and punished for a crime He did not commit. What he experienced was not fair under any sense of the word. And yet, He did not attempt to retaliate or even defend Himself. He even went as far as to teach his followers to “turn the other cheek”4 and “love [their] enemies.”5 The Gospel message in itself is unfair – man could never do anything to earn his way into heaven and yet a holy and almighty God offered it as a gift out of love and grace. The unfair suffering of Jesus remains at the heart of the Gospel – the punishment for sin is death yet Jesus Christ, a man without sin, died in the place of man. Instead of destroying man for man’s transgressions against God, Jesus endured pain and suffering in order to end it all out of His love for man.

And perhaps this is what he calls mankind to do – in order to end the pain and suffering in the world, man must endure it out of love.  If a man is wronged, he must not retaliate. If left unchecked, pain has a ripple effect – once it starts, it continues in every direction without stopping. Retaliation is only fair. It is widely accepted that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is only natural. But nothing about the Gospel is natural. God created man in His image to worship Him, yet man rebelled and rejected God’s will. This is sin in its simplest form – a rejection of God’s will. The Bible makes it clear that the punishment for sin is death. Much of the Old Testament is dedicated to recording all the various sins Israel, God’s chosen people, committed over the course of hundreds of years. And because of man’s inability to change and fully conquer sin, God sent his one and only son as a sacrifice in man’s place, setting man free.

Suffering, pain, and even war are all around us; they have become a normal part of life. Yet none of these things are ever desirable, so why do we accept it? Instead of combating these forces, we are guilty of perpetuating them, usually in the name of fairness. If someone wrongs me, it is only fair I wrong them back. And yet, this is precisely why pain exists. Jesus Christ who appeared on this earth promising salvation broke this never ending cycle by refusing to create pain. On the contrary, He absorbed as much of it as He could to break the cycle there just because He loved us. Perhaps the way to prevent war and pain is just that – love. What is love? Many would describe it as feelings of affection and adoration. But the Biblical account takes it further by portraying it as the stage of a relationship wherein one man would willingly lose his life to see the one he loves live. If this is love and this is the answer, then the rest is simple. Love your enemies and those who wrong you. The Bible makes it clear that, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”6 Endure the pain they inflict to stop it from rippling. Die for them so that they might see the truth and be saved.

 

References

[1] Holy Bible (NIV) Matthew 5: 38-39

[2] Tolstoy , Leo. The Kingdom of God is Within You. 1894. Web.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Holy Bible (NIV) Matthew 5: 38-39

[5] Holy Bible (NIV) Matthew 5: 44

[6] John 15:13 (NIV)

 

Image from the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, directed by Mel Gibson. Seen here, the left hand of James Caviezel as Jesus, during crucifixion. Initial theatrical release February 25, 2004. Screen capture. © 2004 Icon Distribution, Inc. Credit: © 2004 Icon Distribution / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz.

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