Suffering is as much a part of the human experience as death and more so than taxes. As a physiotherapist, I see people every day in the clinic who are seeking help with their pain. I too have had my own personal struggle with pain. I have prayed, yet no healing has occurred. I have screamed out to God in anguish asking, “Where are You?”
If you’ve been in pain yourself, you may know the pain and suffering that comes when waiting for healing. Though miracles happen for some, many have seen clinician after clinician, hoping to find answers, only to be disappointed after many “cures” have been promised yet failed. Once exhausting modern medicine and alternative therapies, some turn to the only glimmer of hope they have left . . . a divine miracle. They pray, partake in anointing services, go on healing retreats and when their pain remains, they are left questioning their faith.
Despite the reality that pain and suffering are part of being human, I’m yet to see someone who has completely come to terms with it. There is something about suffering that is just not right. Perhaps the only logical conclusion is that we were “made for another world”, as CS Lewis surmised.1
The Bible begins telling of a world free of pain and suffering and ends telling of a world free of pain and suffering. We are stuck in the middle, which if you know the story of the Bible—or simply if you breathe and bleed blood—is one that is full of pain and suffering. But I’m here to tell you that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.
Jesus brought healing from suffering everywhere He went, declaring to people, “Your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; Luke 17:19). I believe in the miraculous, instantaneous, unfathomable healings of Jesus. And despite lacking miracles experientially in my own life, I believe miracles still occur today.
In mainstream 21st century thought, the concept of faith healing is met with zealous opposition.
This scepticism is twofold: science attempts to completely explain away the supernatural realm and experientially, many of faith have sought miracles, only to be left frustrated, angry and doubting their faith altogether. But there’s another option that I want to bring to the table. That is that faith can bring slow, scientifically measurable healing.
The claim that faith brings about healing is hard to back up with rigorous science in a community of faithless scientists. Lisa Miller is one scientist that, despite heavy scrutiny, has swum against the tide. Dr Miller is known for her research on spirituality and depression. Her studies show that spirituality is protective and healing of many depressive disorders2, inferring that faith can make you well . . . not instantaneously, but slowly, progressively, bit-by-bit.
After reading her book The Awakened Brain,3 I was intrigued by how her research related to my field of physiotherapy—musculoskeletal pain. The research suggests that psychological distress plays a role in the development of persistent pain and it can be reduced by addressing contributing factors like depression.4 Also, the joyful heart is the faith- filled heart, which reminds me of the ancient proverb that declares “a joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
This doesn’t mean you can’t be a depressed person of faith—but that it is simply less likely for a person of faith to feel “down” due to the hope inherent in the Christian faith.
Considering the relationship between depression and pain, can faith bring healing from pain also? The research shows that one in five people suffer from persistent pain.5 In my home country of Australia that is 5.1 million people, which is an enormous amount of suffering. Yet, there are many ways in which faith in God can bring healing from pain in ways that are supported by modern science.
Pain is a helpful protective mechanism. If you put your finger on a hot plate and turn it on, the pain will increase as the temperature increases. When it becomes unbearable, you will react by pulling your finger away from the hot object to protect your finger from damage. It goes without saying, please do not try this at home. If your pain system is functioning as it should, your finger would not be damaged due to the protective buffer between the onset of pain and tissue damage. Again, please don’t try it.
Consider pain as an alarm system, warning us of impending danger. Unfortunately, it can become overprotective in people who suffer from persistent pain, like a fire alarm that is so sensitive that it wakes the family up when all you’re doing is making toast.
One thing that makes us more sensitive to pain is fear. If you are fearful, your body goes into a heightened protective mode and becomes more sensitive to danger signals, producing even more pain.6 The apostle John declares that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). What if I told you that the faith that grasps the perfect love of God could bring healing from pain? I believe this can happen and that the love of God can rewire the neural pathways away from fear and pain, towards hope and love. It might take longer than we imagined, but when we’re in pain, any progress is a win.
Belief alters our pain. Positive expectations bring about relief from pain (placebo) and negative expectations bring about increased pain (nocebo). Individuals who are given a sugar pill will get pain relief despite the pill not containing any active pain-relieving substance due to the belief that their pain will be relieved. In the same way, if prior to getting a needle you are told it is going to hurt, you will have more pain than if you were told that it would be a light prick. This shows that our beliefs and expectations influence the pain we experience.6
Pain thrives in hopelessness and I believe faith in Jesus is the antidote. Faith in Jesus brings hope that restoration can be our ultimate reality rather than pain, suffering and death. The apostle Paul describes that while we’re here on earth “we groan and sigh”, but that one day we will be given new bodies where pain will be no more (2 Corinthians 5:1–5). This hope, grasped by faith, can bring healing from the pain we experience in the here-and-now.
So, to the sceptic who doesn’t believe in the supernatural realm, or to the believer who lacks experiences of supernatural healing, there is another option. Faith can bring healing, in slow, scientific ways.
The faith healing I have described is not instantaneous but it is miraculous. If you are in pain, you can rest assured that God is not the author of pain and suffering, rather “the enemy (commonly referred to as Satan) has done this” (Matthew 13:28). If you trust God, He will bring you healing—perhaps through an instantaneous miracle—or more often slowly, as His love works within the laws of nature.
Jesus is able to sympathise with our pain—He suffered and felt abandoned by His Father as He hung on the cross 2000 years ago. But God did not abandon Him and hope didn’t die—Jesus rose from the dead and lives today. We can put our trust in Him to receive mercy and grace that will help us in times of pain.
This life will be full of suffering in many forms but my invitation to you is to trust the God who brings healing—if not in this life, then in the life to come where there will be “no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This article originally appeared in the June issue of Signs of the Times.
Lachlan Townend is a physiotherapist and a youth pastoral worker at Kingscliff church, NSW. In his spare time, he loves surfing, basketball, travel, reading and hanging out with family. He lives on the Gold Coast with his wife, Emily and dog, Otis.
1. Lewis, CS (2017), Mere Christianity. Harpercollins Publishers.
2. McClintock, CH, Worhunsky, PD, Balodis, IM (2019),
“How Spirituality May Mitigate Against Stress and Related Mental Disorders: a Review and Preliminary Neurobiological Evidence”. Curr Behav Neurosci Rep 6. Available from: <doi.org/10.1007/s40473-019-00195- 0>; McClintock, CH, Anderson, M, Svob, C (2019), “Multidimensional understanding of religiosity/spirituality: relationship to major depression and familial risk”. Psychol Med.
3. Miller, L (2021). The awakened brain: the psychology of spirituality and our search for meaning. Allen Lane.
4. Steven, JL, William, SS (2011), “Impact of Psychological Factors in the Experience of Pain”, Physical Therapy. Available from: <doi.org/10.2522/ ptj.20100330>.
5. Yong, RJ, Mullins PM, Bhattacharyya, N (2022), “Prevalence of chronic pain among adults in the United States”. Available from: <pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33990113/>.
6. Butler, DS, Moseley, GL (2018). Explain Pain. Noigroup Publications.