THE AMBIGUITY OF PAIN
William Stringfellow on pain and suffering – 1 of 3
A THEOLOGICAL CONTEMPLATION ON HIS PAIN. Harlem street lawyer and lay theologian William Stringfellow knew physical pain very acutely. The latter part of his life was lived in excruciating pain after surgeries and therapies for healing failed. Stringfellow writes as poignantly as any writer I’ve encountered regarding pain and suffering. I want to post an extended reflection of pain, based on his own experience of it, in a few installments. This is excerpted from a Stringfellow anthology edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman titled A Keeper of the Word.
AN EXQUISITE AMBIGUITY. “There is an ambiguity in pain that is truly exquisite. It is no wonder that medical science is so ignorant about what pain is, beyond knowing what any victim of pain realizes without asking a doctor: pain involves a delicate joinder of physiological and the psychosomatic and is never but one or the other of these.”
DENYING PAIN OR CONSIDERING IT PUNISHMENT. “Nor, given the dignity of the mystery of pain, is it very surprising that so little has been uttered since Job himself, concerning the theology of pain. American religiosity (as distinguished from Biblical faith or theology), meanwhile, remains so hapless and absurd that, generally, it denies the reality of pain or else treats pain as punishment for immorality.”
WHY WE’RE INDIFFERENT TO SOCIAL INJUSTICE. “It is such religious attitudes about pain that explain the profound and primitive indifference of institutional religion in America to human suffering occasioned by social injustice.
BUYING PAIN RELIEF OR DESERVING PAIN? Moreover, the association of these typical views of pain with the equally entrenched notion that acquisition or control of money or credit is an evidence of virtue is what has allowed the commercialization of medicine, of which the previous complaint has been made. Obviously, to the religious, if pain is either an illusion or a punishment, and if money or its equivalent signifies moral rectitude, then one must be able to purchase the absence or relief from pain, and those who cannot do so have only themselves to blame for it.”