Faith and Hope in Pain
Autumn Ridenour, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious and Theological Studies, Merrimack College
In 1985 Elaine Scarry wrote on the incommunicability of pain, recognizing the gravity of pain in its ability to deconstruct identity. The late Harvard law professor, William J. Stuntz was no stranger to pain. Suffering from chronic back pain for over a decade followed by stage four colon cancer, Stuntz’s own body was a battlefield in the experience of cancer in addition to the throbbing pain residing in his lower back. Stuntz writes, “Living with chronic pain is like having an alarm clock taped to your ear with the volume turned up-and you can’t turn it down. You can’t run from it; the pain goes where you go and stays where you stay. Chronic pain is the unwelcome guest who will not leave when the party is over.” While Stuntz recognizes the challenge of pain for daily activity, he reframes pain and identity in light of Christian faith and hope. Writing prolifically on his experience with suffering and disease, I turn to insights drawn from Stuntz in congruence with St. Augustine on the problem of pain set within the lens of Christian faith. To do so, I illuminate how Stuntz first, reframes pain in terms of Christ’s presence and solidarity with the sufferer in pain; second, recognizes the dignity Christ brings to those experiencing pain; and third, offers comfort in light of redemptive hope. Here I identify ways that Stuntz’s theology reflects the realistic yet hopeful vision of Augustine’s view on suffering and loss. Finally, I turn to the virtues of fortitude and hope as resources for the wayfarer experiencing pain and the pilgrim community accompanying the sufferer in her journey through time.