The Power of Pain

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Rather than trying to prevent your personal pain, learn the lessons it brings; let it become your teacher.

Psalm 119:67, 71, 75

“Thank God for prison!” These puzzling words of praise flowed from the pen of the man many believe to be the twentieth century’s dominant literary figure, the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Growing up as a committed atheist and communist, Solzhenitsyn was shipped off to a labor camp while a captain in the Russian army for verbally criticizing the policies of Joseph Stalin, the brutal Russian leader. But it was during his torturous years in the prison camps that affliction became his friend.

In prison, Solzhenitsyn encountered a number of hope-filled religious believers, Russians who clung to the Orthodox Christian faith so pervasive in pre-Revolutionary (pre-Communist) Russia (the Bolshevik Revolution occurred in 1917). It was during that time that he shifted his allegiance from Karl Marx, revered by his former teachers, to the revolutionary Jesus Christ, worshipped by his forefathers: “God of the Universe!” he wrote, “I believe again! Though I renounced You, You were with me!” Upon his release from prison, his books criticized not only Russia for trying to eradicate Christianity but Western democracies for elevating materialism and intellectualism over faith.

Why would the affliction of a prison labor camp cause an intellectual giant like Solzhenitsyn to turn to God? There can be no certain answer to that question—every afflicted person who discovers spiritual clarity in times of pain would have his or her own explanation for why it happened. What is most important to learn from the experience of a person like Solzhenitsyn—or the psalmist of the Old Testament—is that affliction can be a powerful force for good in our lives. In just three verses, the psalmist said affliction caused him to turn back (repent) from going astray; affliction caused him to learn the meaning of God’s decrees; and affliction caused him to see God’s righteousness. Why? Only the psalmist himself could explain why. The lesson for all is found in the power of pain to heal.

Afflictions seem to be tailor-made for us—another’s pain might mean little to you. So rather than trying to prevent your personal pain, learn the lessons it brings; let it become your teacher. In that season of sorrow, the fruit you bear may be sweeter than in any other.

God’s Promise to You: “My best for you can appear to be the worst for you.”

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