We all hurt. We all feel pain. We all experience sorrow and loss. Even those who seem to have been born with a golden spoon in their mouths, whose every wish and whim is fulfilled, experience the ache. Even those who seem to have permanent smiles on their faces and endless cheer and joy have tear-soaked moments. (Ironically, the ever-happy seem to experience the most pain.)

I’d like you to pause for a moment and quickly recollect what you’ve labeled as the most painful experience of your life thus far, emotional or physical or perhaps the emotional pain so great that your very body physically ached. Once you have it in your mind’s eye, answer a question: What does the world around you look like? Who’s around you?

Chances are you can’t recall the world. You can’t recall much of anything. It just hurt and that’s all there is to the moment. The world with its day to day hustle and bustle, your clothes, your food, the news, your car, your job, your classes, your studies, the time, the day, the dishes, the dog, dinner, laundry, everything just simply disappears. In that moment, you have broken free of the world so to speak.

In her book, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry articulates this notion quite eloquently and succinctly when she writes the following: “The absence of pain is the presence of world; the presence of pain is the absence of world.” The first time I read that quote I remember my mind reeling with thoughts. I had often thought about the issue of pain. Why we felt it, why it was so awful, why it seemed to be what stood out in our memories over the joy and the laughter. The thoughts stretch back in time as far back as I can remember actively thinking about my faith in Christ in order to deepen and expand it. In their most simplistic form, my thoughts went a little like this:

God = Love, happiness, joy, hope, and all the good stuff out there.

pain = all the crappy stuff out there, no joy, no love, no hope.

It seemed that God and pain could not coexist. So you stick close to God and you shouldn’t ever feel any of the bad stuff, right? No, not so much. It’s not flawed reasoning to think so because God is our shield and our protector. He gave His only begotten Son for us that we may have eternal life and not perish. So it is true, pain and God do not coexist. But this is an incomplete picture, and an incomplete picture leads to incomplete reasoning.

The Book of Revelation helps complete the picture. In it St. John writes of Christ’s second coming: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The notion that God’s presence wipes away pain is reaffirmed but here it is qualified–all the former things have passed away. The world with its 1,001 worries, distractions, temptations is gone, and only God in all His glory is there. How can there be pain and suffering? It’s not possible.

But we live in the world. We cannot escape it. In effect, there is no way out till we breathe our last. The worries, distractions, and temptations are simply a fixture of our corporeal existence. And as long as we are trapped in this world and simply focused on our corporeal experience and only concerned with the body and what will satisfy it, then we will never come to experience the joy of God’s presence for all of eternity. So now Scarry’s theory comes in to clarify things. She writes that the only thing that can shatter the hold of the world on us and break us out of its grasp and, in a way, out of ourselves is pain.

In order to look above and beyond to Him, we must experience pain and sorrow. The world is no more when we hurt. And when we see beyond the world we can see God and all of His comfort and mercy. Although we remain planted here physically, as the world melts away in the face of our struggles and only God remains, we are comforted by Him. In his most painful moments, David the prophet and the king writes “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning…Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness…” (Psalm 30:5, 11).

We feel pain so that we may see Him. When we see Him we are engulfed in His warmth and we are comforted. And we have the His promise of second coming when all the former things have passed and the pain itself no longer exists.