Dealing with pain

How do we deal with pain in the Christian life? How does it intersect with evolutionary origins?
Several posts address the topic an have been moved here for further discussion

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I agree. I think this is why many who have struggled through the question of evolution’s impact on Christian theology have found it helpful to draw from Irenaeus’s approach to the fall narrative. Irenaeus – as I’m sure you know, but I explain in order to make the point for any readers who may be less familiar – said that Adam was created not perfect (the text never says “perfect”) but in a state of childlike immaturity, with the intent that he should learn wisdom gradually, the natural way, through life and discipline and suffering. In this view, Adam’s sin was essentially that he tried to short-circuit that process by eating a magical wisdom-giving fruit, rather than patiently awaiting the normal, painfully drawn-out process of becoming wise. This Irenaean view puts suffering back in a more central role in theology.

To better understand what I’m talking about here before posting, I googled “Irenaeus Adam immature suffering wisdom,” and I stumbled across this delightfully lucid and thought-provoking blog series. I’ll post the final installment here but one can use the blog’s “previous” button to track back to earlier installments:

Irenaeus of Lyon: Adam, Christ, and the Christian Life (Part 5) – Resurrecting Orthodoxy.


Great points. Thanks for reminding us that some theologians in the early years of Christianity were listening to the difficult lessons taught by Jesus, lessons that involve “the natural way” to wisdom. The natural (or hard) way makes some very different assumptions about our relationship with God than the easy fruit-picking way. It’s all about bottom-up observations rather than top-down acceptance of authority.

There’s a wonderful freedom in allowing God to help you learn from the pain. One aspect of that freedom is the absolute relief that comes from knowing God not only allows you to grow and change, but expects you to grow and change.


I believe that simply because Genesis 2:7 says “God formed man out of the dust of the ground” is why the perceived conflict exists. Also Paul in Romans 5 and 2 Corinthians (For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive) has Adam as the antithesis of Jesus, so if Adam did not exist or was representative, why did Jesus have to literally exist or suffer and die a literal death. Without Adam and original sin, the death of Jesus makes much less sense.

I don’t think so. Pain and suffering are simply part of life.

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And this is to what Genealogical Adam responds … allowing for an Historical Adam… and an evolved population of humans!

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Pain and suffering are indeed part of life, but it’s not true that pain is something we just have to put up with. There are so many true stories about people who have gone through pain and suffering, learned from it, adapted to it, and found the courage to help others because of what they’ve learned and how they’ve changed.

Evolution wouldn’t need to take place if God’s creatures weren’t constantly tasked with finding new solutions to new problems that are causing pain. Loss of food sources causes pain and demands adaptation. Loss of historical environments causes pain and demands adaptation. Loss of group/tribe/clan family members causes pain and demands adaptation. In some ways, it could be argued that the very essence of evolution is life’s response to the pain we don’t like but have to cope with nonetheless.

Human beings are at their best when they’re challenging themselves to take what they’ve learned from their painful experiences and bring change, learning, and healing into the world – with God’s ongoing guidance, of course. This is, in my view, the essence of Jesus’ teachings.

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I don’t think you can cast everything in evolution in terms of pain. It’s true that a hungry coyote experiences hunger pangs, but if it catches a rabbit for dinner then the rabbit experiences pain. It’s more like a struggle for existence.

And while I’m experiencing pain right this very minute (from several problems), I can appreciate the value of pain–imagine putting your hand on a burner and not realizing it! So pain itself is adaptave. One of the things that makes high blood pressure so dangerous is that it had no symptoms. Same thing with adenomatous colon polyps. Doctors have to be proactive in scanning for this stuff–If you wait for symptoms you could be gravely ill.


What helped me tremendously was the philosophy of Leibniz with his “Best of all possible worlds”, though people who believe in the omnipotence of God would not find it very convincing, Im afraid, but I like it very much. Basically his point is, that God is also limited to certain rules and he can´t create a fully perfect world, without having the same levels of evil in it, and he chose to create this world, since he is a good God and therefore took the best option. The Templeton Foundation recently used his philosophy as an introduction to one of their articles, if anyone is interested.

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Sorry to hear about your pain. I hope things work out okay for you!

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