Just for Catholics

Self-Inflicted Pain

Question: I sometimes get very deep spiritually and poke myself with a sharp object. I feel the pain in my hands and then I feel an extreme sense of relaxation and comfort afterwards. Before I do this I tell Jesus that my pain is given to him and that I wish to suffer like him, and to bear my cross in his name.

Answer: I am very concerned about you hurting yourself. Not for one moment do I doubt your love and zeal for Jesus Christ, yet I think that the way you go about to show that love is misplaced.

There is enough suffering in this world, and you will surely get your share of hardships, problems, pain, suffering, disease and afflictions. Why would you add self-inflicted suffering? Do you think perhaps that the Lord is pleased with your personal form of flagellation?

To suffer in your labors, or to suffer persecution and to bear illness with patience is commendable and pleasing to the Lord. Though suffering is bad in itself (it is a curse that results from the Fall of man into sin), yet God by His wise providence can and does use it for our benefit - to learn patience, to learn His Word more profoundly, to sympathize with the poor and needy, to trust more fully in Him and to hope for heaven. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). “When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:20).

It is noble to receive suffering from God’s hands, but why inflict unnecessary pain on yourself? Nowhere does the Bible tell us to do such a thing. To bear the cross daily certainly does not mean that! Jesus himself explains that bearing the cross means “denying” oneself – saying no to our sinful desires, in order to follow Him, to be obedient to His commandments.

The idea that one could hurt himself to gain some spiritual benefit was already present very early in the Christian church. Even in apostolic times we find the introduction of this practice. The apostle Paul addresses the issue in his letter to the Colossians:

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).

The apostle Paul specifically mentions the “neglect of the body” as part of this self-imposed religion, yet instead of praising it, he denounces such a practice as worthless. No value whatsoever may be found in it! God is not interested in the religion we invent; He simply wants us to obey Him.

It is good to be zealous in religion, but zeal must be guided and regulated by the Bible, the Word of God. I encourage you to turn from a religion of human regulations. Instead, trust in Christ, to cleanse you from all sin by His blood, and to lead you in the way of righteousness by the teaching of His Word.

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A