Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I first heard of leprosy in Bible stories as a child.   I wasn't too clear on what it was, but if you had it, it was gross. and no one wanted to be near you.   I learned more about leprosy reading Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.   The anti-hero in this epic fantasy, Thomas Covenant, is a modern-day man with leprosy. That alone was a revelation.   Until then, I thought leprosy was a thing of the past.   Donaldson grew up in India where his father served as a medical missionary, and he injects his knowledge of the disease into his books.

The other surprising thing I learned from Thomas Covenant is that leprosy damages the victim's peripheral nerves, leaving him unable to feel pain in those areas.   Diabetics face a similar problem with their feet.   If you can't feel pain, you don't realize if you've been hurt, and you may develop a serious injury or infection and be unaware of it.

My brother-in-law is an avid golfer.   One day, an errant golf ball connected with his, um, family jewels.   Needless to say, he experienced excruciating pain. When the pain didn't go away a few days later, he visited his doctor, who subsequently discovered testicular cancer.   Until the golf ball made contact, he was completely unaware he had a problem.   Pain probably saved his life.

The fundamental purpose of pain in our bodies is to make us aware we have a problem.   Pain reminds us to avoid touching a hot stove, to wear shoes, to seek shade on a hot day.   Pain is necessary to our safety.   Can we carry on this analogy to other types of adversity?

Some of life's problems can serve as an early-warning sign.   When a teacher catches a student with drugs at school, his parents are devastated, but they also have the opportunity to seek help before the problem gets worse.   When an adult loses a job, it might signal the need for a career change.   A child's failing grade in reading may alert a parent to poor eyesight or dyslexia.

As difficulties in life are inevitable, we'd like to believe they have a purpose.   We've looked at some purposes for pain and adversity – to help us relate to others, to test and reveal our character, to reveal the attributes of God, and to alert us to existing or impending underlying problems.   Trials can do more than alert us to the need for change; trials can be the agents of change.   We'll look at that next.

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