For C.S. Lewis, explaining the problem of pain was at first an intellectual pursuit, and then a personal one.
The famous author, academic and Christian apologist published The Problem of Pain in 1940, a book designed to grapple with the philosophical conundrum of the existence of suffering and the existence of God. Twenty-one years later, he published A Grief Observed, in which he wrestled with the death of his wife, and the existential question of how such deep pain and suffering could be compatible with his Christian faith.
Eugene Hor, a self-confessed C.S Lewis enthusiast says, “for Lewis, the existence of pain and suffering is actually the reason for belief in God, because of the longing that it produces in us.
“That longing is in every human being, that longing for the good. The suffering and pain of the world in which we live amplifies that longing. It should drive us to God.
“We long for good, for beauty, for righteousness and justice. Lewis asks, ‘where does that come from?’ Pain and suffering leads us to long for the good, and this longing is an argument for the existence of God, because God is the ultimate good.”
For Lewis, this turned out to not be a simply theoretical conclusion. In A Grief Observed, he wrote, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
In that book Lewis wonders if God is the cosmic Sadist, or the cosmic vivisector. He is honest with God, and as Hor says, “God is big enough to deal with that. [Lewis] expresses his doubt, his anger, he makes accusations, but through it all he holds on.
“A Grief Observed is really the journey of someone who is deep in sorrow trying to resolve what he knows to be true, and what he feels. That’s always a tension,” says Hor.
“Lewis says that everything in life is a signpost that leads us to the greater. Suffering presses in on us because it amplifies our longing.” Suffering is the signpost.
Hor says, “Many of us, we end with the signpost; we make much of the signpost. When you do that it becomes an idol and destroys you. But the signpost is there to lead you to the source.”
Hor believes that our focus on the signpost of suffering is due to the fact that in our culture, and even in our churches, we have been taught to do all we can to avoid suffering.
“We have not taught our people in our churches to suffer well. We all need to learn that God has a purpose in my trials and suffering. He is teaching me to let go of everything in this world and day by day, to find my sufficiency and comfort in the gospel. It’s not just an intellectual thing, I think it’s something we have to learn every day.”
“Even in your sorrow and brokenness when you’ve lost people you loved, or the circumstances have crushed you, or your world has crumbled, you do have reason to rejoice, because you possess something far greater that can never be taken from you. The gospel has secured that for you.
“You [can] experience sorrow, but not to the point where you give up on God,” says Hor. People give up on God “when [they] make too much of something.” That thing becomes an idol and when it breaks it crushes them.
Hor says that many of us have done this with the gospel too. “People sometimes love what Jesus gives them but they’ve never really loved him. He’s useful to them, but he’s never been beautiful to them. I think sometimes the good gifts of the gospel become more precious to people than the giver and the ultimate gift of the gospel.”
“So,” Hor asks us, “do you love what the King of the kingdom offers you, or do you love the king of the kingdom? There is a difference.”
Eugene Hor spoke on this topic at the last of SMBC’s Hot Topics on Wednesday evening this week.
Featured image: Flickr/JohnNineTwentyFive, used under CC License