In its most severe instances, the experience of pain from burns or certain diseases is excruciating. There really is such a thing as "unbearable" pain, and a human body will either pass out or shut down completely at a certain point. And so far the only pain under consideration has been that of physical sensation.
What of emotional pain? What about heartbreak? What about the shared pain of the human race across time? Poets have written of the crust of Planet Earth that is soaked with the tears of humanity's collective pain. The infamous "problem of evil" alleges that all this pain counts against the existence of God.
True enough, this whole topic is just too big for any one simple answer. The answer that won't work, though, is this one: If an all-loving and all-powerful God exists, he would have created the world of human beings to be pain-free.
Ashlyn Blocker is an 11-year-old girl who doesn't feel pain. She didn't cry when she was born or when she got hungry as an infant. She didn't cry when she burned her hand severely as a toddler. One of her parents' worst fears for her is infection or appendicitis. The pain others of us would feel and that would send us to the doctor is absent for Ashlyn — and a constant threat to her life and health.
Ashlyn has a very rare genetic abnormality diagnosed in only a handful of people. "The life of someone who can't appreciate pain is very difficult," said one of her physicians. "Look at pain as a warning signal that keeps you out of trouble and alerts you to the things you should try to stay away from."
Because Ashlyn doesn't feel pain, she doesn't understand the vocabulary others of us use about it. Instead of coming naturally for her, she has to be taught empathy for others and their feelings of pain and distress.
For all the times you and I complain about pain in all its varieties, perhaps there really is another side to the coin. A world without pain would be far more dangerous than this one. We would not only be dangers to ourselves but would be shut up to a world in which our sensitivity to one another would be diminished.
Perhaps the argument against pain in a world created by a loving God is forced to stand on its head by Ashley's rare condition. In her case, life without the possibility of pain is a curse rather than a blessing. The absence of pain leaves her more fragile and puts her at greater risk. It makes compassion more difficult.
For all our complaints over the injuries, tears, and anguish involved in being human, a world without pain would only make it harder to be human at all.
Of Jesus it was said:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5 tniv).