Last week in a Sunday school class I was teaching, someone asked about being delivered from depression. I noted that God is surely able to do so. But I tried to give another perspective on this—that pain may actually be a means of blessing. As C.S. Lewis observed, pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a dulled world.

In our culture, we have a tendency to be preoccupied with the alleviation of pain. But there is a danger: we can become so absorbed with “recovery” from pain that we make this a higher priority than knowing Christ or being delivered from sin.

Do we find ourselves more upset with our discomfort than with our lack of Christ-likeness and sin? Our main problem is not pain; alienation from God and idolatry and sin are. Once we realize that God is not obligated to take our pain away (as Paul experienced with his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12), our relationship with God can be enriched and deepened.

We are living and even hobbling about in a fallen world—in anticipation of the new heavens and earth. Christ offers us hope and grace in the midst of suffering, not always relief from it. Theologian Vernon Grounds eloquently writes:

An individual, quite completely free from tension, anxiety, and conflict may be only a well-adjusted sinner who is dangerously maladjusted to God; and it is infinitely better to be a neurotic saint than a healthy-minded sinner. . . . Healthy-mindedness may be a spiritual hazard that keeps an individual from turning to God precisely because he has no acute sense of God. . . . Tension, conflict, and anxiety, even to the point of mental illness, may be a cross voluntarily carried in God’s service (Vernon Grounds, “Called to Be Saints–Not Well-Adjusted Sinners,” Christianity Today [17 Jan. 1986], 28).

Paul reminds us that it is often in our weakness and inadequacy that we are most conscious of Christ’s power resting upon us: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (cp. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Having God’s power means that we can please God whatever our circumstances or condition. I think of my grandmother (we called her “Oma”) who, though bedridden, always had such a sweet, gracious demeanor; she never complained. Christ’s power enabled her and enables us to carry out God’s will and purposes—despite our weakness and frailty. Consider the powerful British preacher Charles Spurgeon would be laid up in bed for long stretches of time due to depression, yet he was a remarkable instrument of God. Or think of the noted hymnwriter and friend of John Newton, William Cowper, who battled severe depression as well. Yet God used this man’s gifts to bless the church. Below are a few stanzas from Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”—one of my favorite hymns—that reflect the theme of pain as a possible means of blessing:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.


Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.


His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.


Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

If we allow it, weaknesses and pain may open our eyes to see how much we need God and prompt us to cast ourselves upon his mercy. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:9: “indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

    15 replies to "Inner Pain – Curse or Blessing"

    • C Michael Patton

      Great post Paul. I needed this!

      I don’t know about you, but I go through this with my ministry, especially with teaching. I always want to feel confident about everything and secure in my presentation. I also stress about whether my life is meeting up to the standards of that on which I am about to speak. This is not only stressful, but often depressing.

      In relation to what you wrote, I know that the common experience is that when I don’t experience this stressful and depressing time, I don’t rely quit so much on the Lord and things don’t go quit so well. Now I often pray that I am going through some conflict so that I don’t rely too much on my own strength, but on His.

      Thanks for the reminder.

    • richards


      A timely message for me as well. I cannot thank you enough for turning my eyes up rather than in.


    • mjfreshoil


      Thank you for a great lesson. It is a great revelation. In a time where we seem to want to be delivered from our weaknesses, it is a great reminder to know that no matter what our circumstance, that His “grace is sufficient”. Thanks again.


    • Paul Copan

      Thanks to you all for your comments. We all need to be reminded (and rebuked) about the temptation to pursue self-sufficiency. We run the risk of becoming practical atheists. To varying degrees. we all are in danger of allowing this subtle idol to creep into our lives. May God help us to “keep [ourselves] from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21).

    • iakobusdoulos

      After spending life as a youth who won trophies for athleticism, being on the tumbling team, track team, and just a “do it all” kind of guy I am now spending life as a semi-invalid with a back problem that no one seems to know what to do with. Pain? 24/7 although my meds help with that somewhat, it takes the edge off. I could complain, I could gripe, I could tell you that I am angry at God for making me go through what I looked on with pity in my years of youthfulness. I’d look at people in my shape and say, “Man, I wish I could give them some of my healthiness!” And I was sincere about it.
      But I won’t complain, I won’t gripe, and I’m not angry at God. I praise God for what He has given me thus far in this life. Heck, I got to spend the first 47 years as a person who did what he set his mind to. I took Martial Arts, got those trophies, there are so many who never get to do that much. No, I won’t complain about the pain. I praise God for it. It draws me closer to Him. I depend on Him more. It’s humbling really. But, I do look forward to the day I can walk upright again, holding His hand, but first, I’ll spend a great deal of time prostrate before His feet. Praise His Name forever! So, you’re right Paul, it does open our eyes as to how we need Him. And to how Awesome, Generous, and Loving He really is!

    • Paul Copan

      Thanks for that testimonial! I pray that the Lord will continue to give you grace while you live in such pain and discomfort. May the God of all comfort and hope sustain you!

    • Cheryl

      Thank you Paul for a great post. When I read your post, it made me
      think back how I reacted to depression and/or pain and how I’ve changed in
      my ways now. I used to look for attention from anyone I could always crying
      about something. I realized not too long ago that when/if I get to that point
      I look to God for help and guidance and I have never been let down. Even
      when the outcome isn’t exactly as I would have wanted, the result ends up
      bringing me closer to the Lord by thinking about all the good things I have
      and thanking Him for that.

      What I’ve found is that by doing this just a few times, it then came natural
      to seek out His help and guidance on everything and I don’t feel depressed
      anymore and any pain that might start, gets better immediately. I now have
      a more positive outlook on everything and I thank God everyday for His love
      and grace.

      Thanks again,

      Cheryl Mann-McLaughlin

    • Paul Copan

      Thanks, Cheryl, for your openness about how God has worked in your life. It’s marvelous to experience–and read about!–such transformations. The patterns we set through the deliberate choices we make, by God’s grace, can help free us from these self-destructive habits. May you continue to look to Him!



    • stevemoore

      I try to liken it to surgery.

      No one wants to be cut with a knife. It hurts!

      But instead, in the hands of a skilled surgeon, the knife is a tool that ultimately brings about healing. If I had some disease and needed surgery, I’d want to have it cut out! Pain now may not be enjoyable, but I believe that God is the ultimate surgeon and He’s working in my life – a nip here, a tuck there, to ultimately one day bring about final healing in eternity.

      Thinking of it this way does allow us to change our perspective, and while the pain is no more fun, we can now endure it with peace in our hearts knowing that God is working for our benefit instead of being angry at Him for not delivering us from our circumstances.

    • Paul Copan

      Yes, indeed! Thanks, Steve!

    • nathanimal

      I completely agree with this assessment. Depression has been a lifelong hardship that I would wish upon no one. But at the same time I have seen the invaluable properties that this difficulty has added to my character that [maybe] God’s best tool in bringing me into his dependence day after day.

      Great post!

    • Paul Copan

      Thanks so much! God’s grace to you!

    • MichaelDean

      I don’t know that I can adequately explain this.
      You know, I can easily explain salvation (sola fieda) from scripture.
      But ask me to explain fellowship and I choke. However, thru my studies
      of scripture I am coming to the conclusion that fellowship too MUST
      be by sola fieda!
      As Paul said “If you break one commandment then you area guilty of all.”
      (James) and “Whoever relies on obeying the law to be right with God is
      under a curse for the scripture says, ‘cursed is everyone who does not
      continue to do ALL things that are written in the law.” (Galatians)
      But I sense a distance from God. I fear Him in unhealthy ways i.e.
      I apparently believe lies about Who He is, who I am in Him and what he
      expects of me.
      Therefore, prayer / quiet times are some of my most anxious and stressful
      times. I sense I cannot reach or please God and that really hurts.
      For some reason I’m still not confident in my fellowship with God. I desire
      to just rest in His arms. I just want to be close to Him.
      I believe that my depression / anxiety are mostly symptoms
      of a spiritual root problem i.e. lies I believe and misconseptions I have about
      Who God is as revealed in the Scriptures. For the past several years I have
      been studying and meditating on God’s character, the doctrines of grace,
      mercy, justification etc.
      I have suffered with depression /anxiety since at least 8th grade.
      I’ve been on Rx since I was 18. Became a Christian at 19. Radically
      transformed- no doubt about it. 37 now. Still on Rx. Believe I’ve been
      called to full time ministry. I think I have been in a time of equiping up
      until now.
      Lately I have asked my church to pray for me because the depression /
      anxiety began to interfere with all aspects of my daily life. I believe that the
      Rx are necessary- when I forget a dose I will know within about 24 hours
      because I cannot concentrate and I get light headed along with other
      There was a period in my life when I believed that God would kill me.
      I would literally lie in mybed at night trembling and crying in absolute fear
      and hopelessness. I didn’t tell many about this because when I would they
      often turne into Job’s friends. I am past the worst of it. I have had some
      good counseling. And by God’s mercy and grace He has shown me that
      He does love me and He is very patient.
      What do some of the top conservative scholars say? Is fellowship
      too by sola fieda! Why? or why not?
      Any other comments, suggestions, direction?
      Thank You

    • Paul Copan

      Hello, Mike.

      When you wrote this e-mail, I was on vacation for several weeks, and for some reason I never saw this posting until I happened to just stumble across it today. I’m so sorry for the oversight—especially as you told so much about your struggles and difficulties.
      I think you’re right to emphasize that true Christian fellowship is rooted in God’s sufficient grace in Christ, to which we can add nothing. By the Spirit’s working, our full trust in Christ’s cross-work enables us to come together in Jesus’ name. As the hymnwriter put it: “Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.” However, we can have fellowship with people who struggle with placing their trust in Christ day-by-day, which is true of all of us! I (and other Christian theologians) would say that fellowship is made possible by God’s Spirit in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. Fellowship is not based upon our faith; rather, this dependent faith is a response to God’s provision, and by faith we enter into the grace of Christian fellowship. We are most fully appropriating this grace when we are most fully trusting in Christ’s work and empowerment, but we must also remember that we stumble and fail; we can easily construct idols of self-sufficiency in our hearts. So our fellowship is comprised of struggling, imperfect Christians who often say, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
      As for the question of medications, sometimes that is necessary for handling certain bodily imbalances. There certainly are negative health conditions that are the result of spiritual and emotional issues and thus must be addressed appropriately—not simply by taking medication.
      As for the question of feeling inadequate, join the club! Indeed, that’s precisely the point—that we’re inadequate and in need of God. Consider Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), of whom the preacher George Whitefield said: “I have not met his like in all New England.” The saintly Edwards confessed:
      “Often . . . I have had the very affecting views of my own sinfulness and vileness, very frequently to such a degree as to hold me in a kind of loud weeping, sometimes for a considerable time together, so that I have been often obliged to shut myself up….When others that have come to talk with me about their soul’s concerns have expressed the sense they have had of their wickedness, by saying that it seemed to them they were as bad as the devil himself; I thought their expressions seemed exceeding faint and feeble to represent my wickedness . . . . My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable [i.e., inexpressible] and swallowing up all thought and imagination–like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite on infinite and multiplying infinite by infinite . . . . When I look into my heart and take a view of my own wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell” (Personal Narrative, Pt. XV).
      So take heart! You’re not alone! There are lots more of us right next to you!
      I think we should differentiate between being *accepted* before God (which is based on Christ’s performance, not ours) and being *pleasing* to Him. We can please God and walk in His light so long as we acknowledge our sin, our inadequacy, and the need for God’s forgiveness.
      May God give you grace and wisdom—and the human support you need—as you struggle through these difficult waters.

      Blessings to you!


    • Paul Copan

      Another posting affirms, “Any kind of pain is a bad thing. There are some people who think that if they cant calm a pain, their world is finishing. The should know that there are many ways to control a pain, specially with medicines.”

      I would disagree. First, not all pain is a bad thing (think of the “pains”–sometimes physical ones–we go through for our kids, and we’re glad we made the sacrifice). We should be careful about adopting the hedonist view that we should maximize pleasure and minimize pain (or at least dull all pain). Second, our deepest pains will be psychological or emotional, not physical. Some would much rather go through physical pain than the pain of alienation or sorrow or loss of a loved one. We shouldn’t attempt to “fix” such pain with medicine! Third, as Christians, we not only “take up our cross daily”–a very painful thing–we also enter into the pains and heartaches of others. We not only rejoice with those who rejoice, but weeping with those who weep. Christians will often hurt precisely because they are united with Christ and because they are concerned about others. Jesus himself was pained–his stomach tied in knots–when he saw the crowds distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.

      Thanks for the comments!

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