Every Primary graduate knows that the purpose of life includes the attainment of a physical body and the concomitant opportunities of experiencing both pleasure and pain. We perhaps rightly take pride in the theological basis for our celebration of the physical and, accordingly, our purported denunciation of the impulse toward asceticism. For Mormons, within appropriate limits, physical pleasure is good and even ordained of God.
But what of physical pain? Is it, too, ordained of God?
For much of my life I fastidiously avoided pain killers under any circumstances, believing that deliberately eliminating pain thwarted God’s will and hence was inappropriate. I’ve since become converted to the wonderful and multitudinous uses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, but I wonder whether there’s a theological justification for this behavior. Our doctrine sounds not unlike a recipe for self-flagellation. If suffering is instructive to a degree that God has choreographed a physical existence in which it is unavoidable, and if God countenances and perhaps even approves of it (even if he does not actively create it), on what grounds is it acceptable for me to avert it? Can we simultaneously assert the necessity of pain in this existence and seek opportunies to alleviate it?
If physical suffering is a specific component in God’s design for the universe, what justifies the Tylenol in the medicine cabinet?
- 17 January 2008