Numbing the pain

Photo by Andrzej GdulaEvery so often, I get a persistent pain in my neck.  (Some people probably think of me as a persistent pain in the neck, but that’s another conversation.)  I put up with it for a while, massaging, relaxing, and stretching the offending muscle.  But the relief is usually partial and temporary at best.

Rather than visit my chiropractor every time it happens, I visit the medicine cabinet.  Ibuprofen often does the job, but if not, I’ll break out the naproxen (Aleve) for the next dose, alternating it with acetaminophen–since I know it’s not a good idea to take too many NSAIDs.

My wife is highly reluctant to take any painkillers, and I often hesitate as well, knowing that I don’t want to go too far down the road of medicating away difficulties, when other solutions are available.  But Big Pharma doesn’t want us to think that way, of course, and as a culture we seem happy to oblige.  Annual worldwide sales of acetaminophen and ibuprofen alone are each well over a billion dollars.

Please don’t mistake my meaning.  I’m not about to tout some biblical reason for swearing off pain-relievers (or for that matter, that morning cup of coffee you know you need just to get the day started!).  I know many people who struggle with chronic pain of one kind or another; no doubt you do too.  The medical decisions aren’t easy, and need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

But I can’t help thinking about the easy relationship we have with painkillers when I read this part of the crucifixion story:

And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”).  The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.  (Matt 27:33-34, CEB)

There are different schools of thought on what was happening with the wine.  Some take it as yet another childish prank on the part of the soldiers, who pretended to be hospitable, then got a good laugh out of Jesus’ reaction when he tasted the spiked drink.

Others, however, cite a custom mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, in which the condemned were given drugged wine to ease their pain.  On this interpretation, Jesus tasted the wine, and refused it because he could tell it was drugged.  In other words, having been mocked, beaten, and scourged, facing the torture and humiliation of the cross, Jesus turned down something that would have made the ordeal easier.  He wasn’t about to come down from the cross.  But surely, a little help would be welcome?

If he had asked your opinion on the matter, what would you have told him?  Jesus, you’ve suffered enough.  Take the drug.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ anguished prayer in Gethsemane.  He had stared into the black depths of the cup of God’s righteous wrath against sin and seen the horror there.  And having committed himself to do the Father’s will, to drink the cup of suffering that should have been ours, Jesus refused to blunt the pain.

There would be no compromise on the cross.  Jesus understood his mission full well:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isa 53:4-6, NIV)

I’m still going to take Tylenol for the occasional headache.  But I might think of Jesus as I do.  Any time is a good time to remember what he suffered on my behalf, and to be grateful.