Chronic Pain & the Church: When the Doctor Doesn’t Have an Answer

This is the final post on this series of Chronic Pain & the Church.  The series came about as I realized that the Church doesn’t do an adequate job equipping the saints in their walk through chronic pain or lingering physical illness.  As a pastor, I feel that the Church should be addressing this topic, so that the children of God continue to demonstrate the vitality of a life that is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Today we’ll examine what a Christian should do if the doctor cannot come to a conclusion on treatment or come to a diagnosis of what is causing the chronic pain.

How do you respond to no diagnosis, a diagnosis of a chronic condition, or a diagnosis of an incurable condition?

First of all, I think we need to bring our theology to bear on our suffering.  Growing old, with deteriorating bodies, is not something that we do naturally; it is a result of the Fall.  Keeping that in mind, here are responses to a non-answer from your doctor:

  • Pray – This is not an over-simplification of our faith, or an assumption that we haven’t been praying all along.  Continue to entrust yourself, and your body, to the One who does all things according to his good pleasure.
  • Have more faith – Continue to take God’s word for reality itself.  Understand that God is allowing this for good and that you will be developing the character of Christ through this.  When all the supports are knocked away, hold fast.
  • Get other opinions – Keeping your motivations inline with what we’ve discussed in our last post, realize that God may be using this “wall” as a way to move you in another direction.  There may be other doctors available that will have an answer for you.
  • Use other treatments / remedies – When one door closes often another door will open.  Personally I think that the denial of my spinal fusion surgery was for this very purpose.  I discovered other treatments that seem to be helping in the treatment of my spine.
  • Do something! – In this day of technology, researching your condition can yield a tangible benefit, both to you and your physician.  (Remember that you do not understand your body better than your medically trained physician, but your research may assist him in recalling treatments or answers for your condition.)

A question to consider when the doctor doesn’t have an answer:

Are you desirous of being in control over your physical condition?  Is God attempting to show you your problem with control or pride?  I can tell you that it is uncomfortable to be “out of control” when it comes to health matters.  When the body is afflicted the pressure is on!

Come to Christ – Mark 5:24-34

The fact that the doctor is coming back with a “non-answer” and no direction may be God’s wake-up call for you!  It may be his way of bringing you into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.  We can be obedient and trusting God no matter “how much” faith we have.  Coming to Christ would look like this:

  • It means that we undergo a radical change in our thinking and desires.  That we transform and renew our mind so that we have biblically-controlled thinking that leads to behavior that pleases God.  2 Corinthians 5:9
  • It means that we function as a “Christian oyster”.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10
  • It means we increase our dependence on God.  Philippians 3:8-11

Understanding what it means to have a body that will not get “better”:

  • When your body is failing, in constant pain, or revealing a lingering illness or disease – do not understand that as a removal of God’s grace in your life.  Your failing body will not keep you from becoming like Christ.  (In fact, it will do the very opposite: God will use your physical weakness to promote spiritual strength!)
  • A failing body does not mean that your ministry is ending.  Failing bodies never stop your ministry, they only change the movement and perhaps its direction.
    • This point is still something I am struggling to understand.  To realize that I will in all likelihood never recoup the physical ability that I once had can be a very discouraging thing.  When I began to understand that God was fashioning my ministry in a different direction even as he “fashioned me”, then I began to accept my circumstances better.  I am able to minister to a different group of people in the medical field, to empathize better with hurting people and my personal worship has grown deeper.

When God says “no” to healing:

Why is it that sometimes unbelievers find healing or relief from chronic pain when God’s children don’t experience the same?  That is such a hard question to answer.  I think we need to continually remind ourselves that this is God’s world and he functions as he will for his own glory.  (Psalm 115:3; 135:6)  His sovereign control is always to bring glory to himself and at the same time benefit his child.  (His glory, our good)

  • We need to understand that failing bodies, and “ignorant” physicians (doctors that cannot always give us answers) are just a part of living in a sin-cursed world.
  • We need to understand that our response to our situation is a response to God.

Final thoughts on Chronic Pain, the Church and what we have learned:

  • Being a patient enduring chronic pain, suffering or disease is a theological activity.  All of life is theological and every one is a theologian.  How does your theology affect your behavior?
  • Being God’s kind of patient means that we function as a biblical steward-theologian which honors God.
  • Any other motivation for seeking medical help than pleasing God dishonors him and will be counterproductive for us.
  • The desire to see the doctor is not necessarily wrong, but it may be.
  • The desire to refuse to see the doctor may be wrong as well.
  • Desire for relief is not necessarily wrong but it can never be my primary reason for going to the doctor.

Do not bring your whole person and offer it at the altar of medical science.  You are bought with a price!  Glorified bodies are in our future, and they will come, so don’t make them an idol now.

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