The other day, I learned the physiological mechanics of a mosquito bite.
Some of you might have seen the same animated video that I did as it makes the rounds on Facebook. I learned that it’s really all about the mosquito’s saliva (ick) – it acts as both an anesthetic and anticoagulant, allowing the female to get the blood she needs (what a wonderful provider God is!….I think…).
Then the video concluded with an interesting point: the actual swelling and itching of a mosquito bite isn’t directly caused by the saliva. It’s caused by the body’s immune response to the bite. The saliva is an allergen, which triggers antibodies to attack the foreign intrusion, and that causes the swelling and itching we’re all familiar with as we writhe around upon the grassy ground, scratching like gangbusters.
I was reminded of other bodily responses. A lot of symptoms we experience to various problems aren’t actually caused by the problem: they’re the result of our body fighting the virus or the infection or whatever.
We would not want to live without physical pain.
Like most of you, I learned early in my education that pain, though unpleasant, is a lifesaver. A person unable to feel pain would leave his elbow in contact with a hot stovetop until flesh and bone crisped through, instead of jerking it away upon feeling the heat. He might keep pushing a compromised knee as he climbed a mountain until a ligament gave. Or he might simply go about a normal and unremarkable life and never feel the pangs of the tumor growing deep in his abdomen until it was too late.
Sometimes I wonder: is pain of the heart any different?
Pain of the heart makes itself felt when we experience loss, or injustice, or cruelty, or other forms of disappointment. The body is fine, but the mind and heart are sorely pressed. And the world demands its riddance. Our upward mobility as a species is largely bent towards eliminating pain, and much of this is good.
But then the world turns around and claims that the only evidence they will accept for God’s existence is the removal of all pain. Any other is insufficient.
Pain is hard. But pain is also a bite on our faith, a burn on our conscience, a cancer in our sense of our own need for God. It’s trying to draw our attention to something that is amiss.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Aside from having our status as delighted children proven every time we suffer (no small deal), we can always ask ourselves this question: what could this pain reveal about my need for God?
We will spend the rest of our lives building and rebuilding our sense of reliance on God and our love for him. It’s an unending project. We’re born without it, we’re given a foundation for it when we’re saved, but we have much to build.
And every once in a while, sometimes comes along and stings, wounds, or bludgeons us into remembering that our final, ultimate goal is to become hooked into God, and not this world or its offerings, for our joy.
God is not happy about or detached from our suffering. He might, indeed, be outraged. He might intervene to bring us relief and justice.
But I have come to believe he is also using pain to build our intimacy with him, our delight in him, and our trust in him. Our trust in his ability to make everything right within our hearts again. To restore our awareness of his love. To make us untouchable by despair.
Talk about an immune reaction.
Is it really something we’d want to live without?
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