A lot of people I know are on painkillers. Given the role that suffering plays in developing character and a cruciform life, should we avoid taking pills?

There are always dangers associated with painkillers, so yes, I think we need to be careful. Some have potent side-effects. Others are highly addictive. The Lord invites us to share in his suffering (Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24), and if we are numb to all pain it’s a short step to being numb to the suffering of others.I know disciples of Christ who as a matter of principle avoid all medication, and I respect them for that. I know disciples of Christ who as a matter of principle avoid all medication, and I respect them for that.

On the other hand, we can’t forbid all analgesics. In fact, Proverbs 31:6 reads “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress.” Relying on doctors and medicine isn’t wrong; it’s the failure to depend on the Lord that is wrong.

I should probably take advantage of this moment to share my own experience with painkillers. At a difficult time in my life I began to take strong medicine. At first I thought the physical pain was simply from internalizing emotional pain. But the doctors suggested it stemmed from a couple of bulging discs, and from my height. (Tall people are more subject to back issues.) I accepted their advice and began taking opioid painkillers. That was in 2009. The dosages increased, and soon I felt absolutely horrible unless I’d taken my Tramadol. Later, we added a Fentanyl patch, at higher and higher strengths. When I mentioned this to a physician in our congregation, he was alarmed. “That’s some pretty powerful medicine, Douglas. You need to be careful.” Those words registered, and I determined to reject any upping of the meds. Within a year I had managed to come off the patch. And a couple of years later, I was off the Tramadol. I came off gradually, and this was not easy.

From 2009 to 2017 I was on strong painkillers. These days I read of an epidemic of opioid addiction. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. Though I have never used “recreational” drugs, even marijuana, I have more understanding now of the power of addiction. It is easier to imagine myself as an addict. It’s easy to get hooked, hard to come down off of drug dependency.

It’s better, if possible, to deal with pain through proper diet and exercise. Further, understanding that many maladies stem from unresolved emotional or spiritual issues, we should understand that prayer, genuine friendships, confession of sin, worship, meditating on the Word, and other healthy practices are likely to reduce (or completely eliminate) unnecessary physical pain in our lives.