There are few things more common to the human experience than pain and suffering. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) their universality, there are also few things that seem more incompatible with the human experience. This is why a period of suffering, and especially a prolonged one, causes us to ask God why–to question the purpose behind our pain.
C.S. Lewis, the famed atheist-turned-apologist, was himself intimately acquainted with suffering–essentially orphaned at the age of 9 when his mother died and his father shipped him off to a strict boarding school, physically and mentally wounded while serving in the trenches in World War I, and tragically widowed when he finally married following a long bachelorhood. Unsurprisingly, considering his experience, his literary works are filled with references to, meditations on, and explanations of the problem of pain. How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the existence of pain and suffering? What possible purpose can pain have?
What’s interesting is that while Lewis agrees that pain is undoubtedly evil, he insists that it is sometimes a necessary evil (God in the Dock, 224-25). He goes even further in The Great Divorce, an allegory about the afterlife, when George MacDonald, his guide through the purgatory-like state in which the story takes place, tells him “that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory” (The Great Divorce, 69). He doesn’t actually explain how one’s pain results in glory, beyond saying that “the good man’s past begins to change so that his … remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven (The Great Divorce, 69), but based on the rest of the Lewis canon, there are at least 5 ways that this “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17): Continue reading 5 Purposes of Pain in the Works of C.S. Lewis
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”
(C.S. Lewis, Letter to Arthur Greeves, 20 Dec 1943)
I’m reading John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013during my devotional time this month. If you’re not already reading something specific to focus on and celebrate the Incarnation (or even if you are), go download the book. It’s free. You can’t beat free. The readings so far have been deep, meaningful, and encouraging. Today’s entry on Luke 2:1-5 was especially good, emphasizing how God uses the big things of this world to bless the little people who are his. Here’s the key section (emphasis mine): Continue reading A Big God for Little People
This year has been a trying one for me, mostly because I was more unhappy at work than I have ever been. Men find meaning and fulfillment in work (sometimes to unhealthy and unbiblical extents), and no longer being able to find it in what I was doing was a strike at the core of my identity. Because of this I was contemplating a new career, something that is stressful enough when you’re 19, but is even more so at 29, with a wife and son to support, and a 1/2 finished master’s program that would be wasted with the change. That combined with busyness of family life and ministry at church left me in a constant state of worry, agitation and stress.
One of the Scripture passages that I’ve always used to help me during such times is Philippians 4:6-7:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I can still remember sitting outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow repeating those verses over and over in my head while my wife (then, fiancee) was being interviewed for a visa to come to the United States. And again in the DHS offices in Newark as we waited for her citizenship test and interview. Or a few weeks ago in Louisiana as we awaited news on our son, who had been taken to the hospital in New Jersey. Continue reading Be Reasonable