Dr. Paul W. Brand was a noted leprosy expert and famous for his surgical accomplishments with lepers in India. One night he became terrified when he noticed he had no feeling in his heel, a sign that he might have contracted leprosy. “He rose mechanically, found a pin, sat down again, and pricked the small area below his ankle. He felt no pain. He thrust the pin deeper, until a speck of blood showed. Still he felt nothing… All that night the great surgeon tried to imagine his new life as a leper, an outcast, his medical staff’s confidence in their immunity shattered by his disaster, and the forced separation from his family. He waited until morning, then with steady fingers he bared the skin below his ankle, jabbed in the point–and yelled. From then on, whenever Dr. Brand cut his finger, turned an ankle, even when he suffered from agonizing nausea from mushroom poisoning, he was to respond with fervent gratitude” (Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Ten Fingers for God, pp. 142-145).
What an awesome perspective! While pain is certainly no fun, the alternative is to be paralyzed, or be infected with serious diseases like leprosy, or to potentially never know when something is wrong. Feeling pain means we are alive. Experiencing pain helps us to fix problems before they become severe.
This story teaches us an important lesson about spiritual pain as well. When we sin, we are supposed to feel guilty and appalled with ourselves. This is the reason God gave us a conscience. Guilt often produces change. Consider David’s emotional words of guilt, “O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, and chasten me not in Your burning anger… For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me… I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart… For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin… Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! (Psalm 38:1, 4, 8, 18, 21-22).
It’s good when people feel guilty and ashamed of their sins. This is how we should feel. The real problem is when people stop feeling guilty. The people in Jeremiah’s day got to a point of spiritual numbness that they “no longer knew how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15). Paul talked about people who were so engulfed and unashamed of their faults that God gave them over to their sins (Romans 1:18-32). The more we ignore our guilt and spiritual pain, the deeper into sin we become. What a sad day this is when it happens.
Whether it is physical pain or spiritual pain, God gave it to us so we can know when something is wrong and fix it. Don’t ignore the warning signs. If something hurts, especially in our spiritual lives, take care of it.