Toward An Adventist Theology Of Health (5) - On Pain

According to the Spanish essayist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations, Madrid 1912), pain is the universal human experience of vulnerability and woundedness. It has an objective dimension usually given by the presence of physical damage and a subjective perception conditioned by the religious, cultural and psychological background of the involved person. The distressing feelings and unpleasant sensory and emotional experience is a disturbing challenge because sometimes it lasts beyond our expectations and doesn’t resolve easily. It can touch us in our primordial foundations and certainties, and cruelly become an eroding event from within. Its universality doesn't respect age, gender, religion or ethnicity. When it persists, it compels us to try to understand and make some sense of it, knowing in advance that whatever the resulting description, it will always remain a precarious, fragmented and insufficient explanation in the unexpected and weary path of life. This unavoidable vulnerability nevertheless – and surprisingly – coexists with a parallel and unquenchable desire for living that universally engraves every human, making them structurally and pre-rationally resilient.

Religion and culture don't create these two universal human conditions, Pain and Resiliency. They only propose well-intentioned paradigms, explanations and motivations to encourage people to go on. We need to continually revise such explanations in an open, humble and honest dialogue with ourselves, others, history and God. In this sense the Adventist approach to human pain is certainly not the only existing one, not automatically the best and not necessarily fully Biblical. The dignity, meaning and reasonableness of the Adventist approach to pain doesn’t uniquely depend on its Biblical foundations or its universal abstract declarations. It must have the wisdom to be aware of its own cultural roots and the openness to perceive specific situations and exceptions. Pain is never a general impersonal category but always a unique personal experience with a name.

In fact, even though the experience of pain is universal, the meaning given to it is particular and circumstantial. Let’s briefly describe the meaning pain has had in three different cultural and historical periods.

1. Far-Eastern tradition

Far-Eastern traditions have, generally speaking, an opposite view on pain than Western traditions. That’s visible, for instance, in the teaching of “The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism”.

  1. Pain, suffering and dissatisfaction are part of a normal life. This suffering is called “dukkha”. Human nature is imperfect, as is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death.

  2. Pain and suffering arise from attachment to desires. The cause of suffering is called “samudaya or tanha”. It is the desire to have and control things, such as craving of sensual pleasures. Attachment to material things creates suffering because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable. Thus suffering will necessarily follow.

  3. Pain and suffering cease when attachment to desire ceases. The end to suffering is called “nirodha”. It is achieving Nirvana, which is the final liberation of suffering. The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go any desire or craving, attaining dispassion. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles and ideas.

  4. Freedom from pain and suffering is possible by practicing the “Eightfold Path”. This liberation from suffering is what many people mean when they use the word "enlightenment”. The path to the end of pain and suffering is gradually seeking self-improvement through the eight elements. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance and other effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made through each lifetime.

There are millions of people who have lived and still live according to this understanding. As Christians we are very critical of this World-view but, behind the details and particular explanations, Far-eastern tradition has a cultural point to make. For them, the pain in which the transience of human existence expresses itself, does not have its own reality. It is only “appearance” and stems from an incorrect attitude toward existence. Therefore we just need to change our attitudes in face of the world and life. For instance, to give up voluntaristic obsessions and greed that wants and pretends to control everything. Then pain will be seen for what it really is: “pure appearance”.

2. Judeo-Christian tradition

We’ll not consider here the details of the Biblical teaching on pain and suffering, but rather its practical interpretation, as it’s widely internalized by most Christians. For the majority of Christian believers, both Catholic and Protestant (and beyond doctrinal differences and nuances), pain is the result of a human fall. It gives birth, in the human soul, to an indelible feeling of guilt that demands to be repaired and therefore is susceptible to redemption. In this vision pain is seen as a punishment and, at the same time, as a purifying agent. As such it contributes to redemption and salvation. Pain is thus not constitutive of existence itself but rather the guilt of existing and, at the same time, a means of redemption. If pain and suffering are the result of a fault susceptible to redemption, this earth and our earthly existence are only transitory. The expected future soothes the cruelty of pain because those suffering today may be liberated tomorrow. Pain is no longer something inevitable in life, but something that happened as the result of a fault, and therefore fundamentally separable from life. That means true life does not know pain and if life on earth is not exempt from pain, it’s only because life on earth is not the real one, the one for which we were born. This widely shared Christian interpretation often leads to a devaluation of earthly life. “Life is a valley of tears” that, as Isaiah says, finds its justification only in the expectation of a new heaven and new earth. Pain, then, is both the element that leads to devaluation of this world and the most powerful factor that leads to hope and faith.

3. Greek tradition

For the Western mindset, pain, suffering and human frailty – like everything else in this world – are not just “appearance”, they are true “realities”. But Greek and Christian traditions will explain the status of pain differently. For Classic Greek culture – and in opposition to Christianity – pain is not the consequence of a fault but is constitutive of existence. So we must recognize, accept and even welcome pain as a structural and a natural component of life, with no illusions of otherworldly hopes for salvation from original sin. Once we welcome the transience of human existence, we then must learn to accept life’s expansion and contraction movements, because this is simply the natural condition of mortals which no meta-narrative can really change. The praised Greek “Phronesis” (practical wisdom) consists precisely in this – in the capacity to accept our mortal life as it is and the refusal to be deceived by redeeming hopes or be destabilized by extreme despair. Wise people are led by a temperate wisdom where pain is endurable and tolerable and, within certain limits, even controllable. This is the heroic and tragic component of Greek anthropology.

We see, in these three explanations of pain, a kind of crescendo. Christianity is in between. It’s not so idealistic as Buddhism but not as realist as Greek culture. Now, on a pastoral, catechetical or worship level we Adventists don’t need to worry about all those alternative views of pain. We just need to quote the Bible and be lead by the Holy Spirit. But on a cultural, sociological and anthropological level, when Sabbath is over, we still need – as a caring and responsible church – to think about all this. There are millions of people who have lived, and still live, following these various understandings of life and some of these ideas have, paradoxically, also become part of our practical attitudes in facing pain. We need to learn, at minimum, to preserve the coherence of sound Biblical teaching, which can easily be deformed over time. But further, we also need to know that unfamiliar and even non-Biblical reflexions are not automatically meaningless. Some of them incorporate, albeit perhaps in an unfamiliar form, legitimate human concerns and questions about pain and resiliency.

Western churches today and their parallel twin sisters – contemporary societies, are certainly not only Biblical or Christian based. They are also, in various degrees and ways, heavily influenced by non-Christian elements. And the apparently innocuous, theologically neutral, element that perhaps today better explains the nature of pain in our societies is – “Technics”. Technics has produced a massive process of the medicalization of pain. And this Medicalization doesn’t only mean that human pain is considered to be completely curable but also that the traditional multifaceted and heterogeneous human experience of pain has been reduced to be identical to medical pain. And the three main cultural presuppositions and biases underlying this technical comprehension is that pain is presupposed to be “understandable”, “controllable” and “removable”.

This understanding of pain in Western societies configures what we could call a “Cultural dissociative disorder of Pain”. It means that in order to see pain as controllable it has been artificially detached from its more natural human contexts. This analytical orientation tends to remove pain from daily life and, when it cannot, it kidnaps and isolates it specialized places called hospitals or nursing homes. The efficiency of work and scheduled goals of life certainly can’t be interrupted to give time and space to irrational experiences like pain.

More deeply, today's experience of pain has become paradoxical. It can't be compared to the perception of pain in Biblical, medieval or renaissance times. Technique and drugs have deeply modified our relationship to pain and suffering, putting us in a unique historical condition. And it is paradoxical because technique and drugs have diminished the perception of pain so dramatically, a perception that previously was always intense. As Epicurus said, if pain is strong it is also necessarily short and if it’s weak you necessarily can accommodate and coexist with it. This classical formula on pain is no longer applicable. By separating the perception of pain with the real state of the sickened body, technique and drugs have paradoxically increased pain – generally. It has become psychologically more intense and chronic while physical pain can simultaneously be dramatically diminished.

For this reason I think that an innovative approach to pain necessarily needs to adopt an inclusive understanding. And this is fundamentally what non-Western traditions do. For them life and death, suffering and joy, health and pain go always together. They are not exceptional but rather constant life experiences. It is one of the reasons why these traditions are “slow” societies. For Western societies suffering, death and pain are separated and hidden from a functioning and functional life. In this perspective suffering is not approached continually, but only punctually – just in certain exceptional and programmed moments like sickness or death. This easily becomes a managerial and administrative approach to suffering and pain. But the inclusive approach of non-Western societies contain three important attitudes. First, an “ecological integrative view” of pain that, while refusing to consider pain as a redemptive experience, treats it as a natural component in life. Second, a “mythological view” of pain that, while rejecting mystifications of pain, dares to offer non-rational approaches to pain, such as the rich aesthetic narrative of the American Black community, as immortalized in Gospel and Black Spirituals. Third, a “relational view” of pain that,while opposing tribal and corporate views that deny personal autonomy and self-determination, guarantee the experience of a shared and delegated pain.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Death is also a natural part of life, but most cultures and societies seek to avoid or prolong it at any cost. Thus, we are now faced with the ability in parts of the world and even in a few states in the U.S. where the terminally ill and often in intractable pain, can choose to hasten the inevitable.

Temporary pain can now be alleviated by the advances of medical science, but usually with results that may come with unpleasant side effects or worse.

A someone now in the tenth decade of life, pain is not unknown. But never for a second was there a thought to consulting my pastor or what Adventists might have been taught about pain.

As theory, the article discusses several traditions which have been followed at different times and by different beliefs. But is there any one that could be called an Adventist theology of pain? Or is this seeking a solution that is even needed? Why must there be an Adventist approach to every possible life situation? Is it not possible that individuals, on consulting the best medical advice and family, should determine the best approach without considering what the church might have to say–an official church that has not always had the wisest answers to troubling life questions?


Why make things complicated?

Physical pain - tissue damage.

Mental pain - problems (of all sorts)

Both caused by sin. Both should drive you to seek God.

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The church should constantly review its teachings in regard to basic questions such as, “If God exists and He is Love/Good, why is there so much pain?” When hurtful teachings or points of view are uncovered, they should be discarded in favor of something more helpful that will promote health and healing. Always at the forefront of any discussion should be the teachings of Jesus and His own personal responses to pain.


Both caused by Satan, will drive you to Satan?
Both caused by God, will drive you to God?
Both caused by ???, will drive you to a Doctor?
…When the Doctor solves the pain, do you thank God or the Doctor.
…If pain saves people, then lets shoot the Doctors and give Preachers hammers.

Mother Teresa has been accused of not relieving suffering of the sick because “the poor are saved through their suffering”.


Sorin S
Too simplistic!


Physical Pain is a blessing from God.
Pain is a symptom that something is “not right” with the normal functioning of the body and needs attention.
There is short-term pain, like after work out in the gym. Due to products of metabolism built up temporary.
There is chronic pain due to something more serious.
Chest pain, abdominal pain, back pain, joint pain these are all gifts of God to allow us to seek remediation before they become life threatening.
God created pain relievers and pain reliever receptors in the brain.
Knowledge of pain allows us to have sympathy for others experiencing the same conditions of Pain.
Mental and Emotional pain is also very real. Depression can be Very Painful.
Mental and Emotional pain can have a profound negative affect on our physical well-being.
Our Religious Response should be towards alleviating Pain in the World. We do this by investigating the underlying causes of Pain in the World and attempting to remove the source.
This should be our SDA Theology of Health in regards to Pain.

PS-- In the time of Jesus, anyone with a Deformity of any kind, had an illness of any type, was considered “unclean”, blind, etc was NOT Allowed to attend Church. And was therefore relegated
away from contact with society – Social and Religious.
How much Mental and Emotional Pain would one have in those days if they could NOT attend
Temple services? Not allowed to worship God? By NOT worshiping God, one would be relegated
to their idea of “hell”.


Beyond its origin, which some here have commented on, pain exists in humans and animals for one simple reason: survival.

No better evidence comes from those who are born with congenital insensitivity to pain. These individuals have one of several genetic mutations that block pain conduction by the nerve cells that transmit pain. Because individuals with the condition lack the perception of pain, they suffer debilitating, life-threatening injuries from early childhood onward. Many fail to survive three years, and those that do often accumulate so much wear and tear to their bodies that they seldom live beyond 25 years. Here is a good read:

Back to the issue of origin, I’m comfortable with what Scripture has to say about pain and suffering following redemption (Rev 21:4), and what that implies about its origin in Eden. I want to believe that things were–and one day will again be–very different.

Just a humble biologist’s perspective.

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so why did Jesus heal the lepers? they could feel no pain. TZ

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Perhaps our resident psychiatrist and psychologist could write a jointly authored article on this topic.

@elmer_cupino @GeorgeTichy