Christians have long been asked to wrestle with the Problem of Pain. Orthodoxy is teaching me that my pain serves a purpose.
I’m tired this morning. My allergies are giving me fits. My body aches and I was sore when I got out of bed, not because of some exertion, but simply because I am getting older. The accumulated effects of how I’ve used my body are causing it to slowly break down.
That all sounds like morbid bellyaching, especially if you know me personally. What I’m slowly learning is that God is teaching me to look to the future not with dread but with hope.
The Orthodox emphasis on the goodness of the created world was a doctrine that I did not realize I would need to experience Christianity more fully. My own understanding of my Protestant worldview bore the taint of Docetism. I had a Puritanical loathing of physical desires. I prayed with eyes tightly shut to block out the material world surrounding me so I could focus on some divine future.
For the Orthodoxy, the Incarnation of Christ is the redemption of the material world from its fall. When I pray in the Divine Liturgy, I am surrounded by beautiful reminders of heavenly realities. The Church uses the imperfections of physical objects as icons of spiritual truths.
I am coming to understand that pain and physical ailment are a way of helping us experience what it is like to be apart from Christ. In the way that God spent generation after generation slowly teaching a Bronze Age tribe of Semites the concept of sacrificial love, God is teaching us throughout our own frailties and the temporary nature of this physical realm that we were meant to be eternal.
CS Lewis famously said, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.” Perhaps our aches and our pains, and even the slowly encroaching knowledge of our mortality, is a way of showing us that Christ is beckoning us away from the frail, material world, to join him in eternity, where there is no disease or sickness or pain.