Is God Closest When He Feels Furthest Away? Thoughts on Chapter 3 of C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain

I scoop up my wailing 4 year old and deposit her on the bed. I proceed to eat the rest of the jelly beans, at least we won’t have them to argue about again.

C. S. Lewis and his thoughts on Divine Goodness come to mind.  It isn’t hard to see that if God’s love for me is anything like my love for my daughter then I have no place to question His wisdom in withholding from me things that I want in order to give me a better life, it is what I do for her everyday.

“We may wish indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses-that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more love but for less.”

 

We are in chapter 3 with the Liturgy of Life reading group and Lewis is tackling the age old question, “If God is all powerful and all loving why doesn’t He give me what I want and allow me perpetual happiness?”

Lewis’ logic (no surprise) is sound. Like a dog trained by a master, a child corrected by a parent, or even spouses living together, we must all forgo some desire and endure discomfort so love can be more fully expressed within a relationship.

Lewis makes a point to also remind us that unlike human relationships God is our creator,  His love is unselfish,

“. . . all His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give and nothing to receive.”

 

I appreciated Lewis’ thoughts but struggled with the underlying theme that all  suffering leads to good. Even when “good” means bringing the sufferer into submission to God and His love.  His approach works well in my life.  I have an easy existence, I am safe, well fed and loved by the people around me. Certainly if I were given my own way all the time it would lead to my detriment. On the occasions when I must suffer I have reason to find comfort in and draw nearer to God.

But what about the Syrian refugee? The prostitute in Boy’s Town? What about those whose daily life is torment. Does that suffering still please God? Do 9 year old Yazidis girls being raped by ISIS know the love of God more for their agony?  Does not this violence only lead to more violence?

It is an excruciating reality to recognize that in the Christian worldview we believe that all things hold together in God,  good and evil are both under His authority. And we need only look at our Old Testament scriptures to find a long history of destruction and savagery much of which happened under God’s direct command.

C. S. Lewis The Problem of Pain, Liturgy of Life Reading Group

Faced with the devastation of the world I am incredibly tempted to call God a hypocrite. But as much as His ways mystify me He has made no space for hypocrisy. Instead He has brought us into a unexpectedly beautiful story of redemption where the  pinnacle moment in history rests on an innocent man’s torture and murder.  God indeed has created a world with intense suffering and in Christ He implores us to join Him in it, we no longer suffer alone or without purpose.  In Christ suffering becomes a baffling, mysteriously divine place of new life which we cannot fathom and yet we know to be true. From the words of St. Mathew . . .

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.”

 

 

 

This year in the Liturgy of Life reading group we are meditating on ideas of suffering and faith. Please join us in our current book, The Problem of Pain in another week. For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for occasional updates and emails (usually about one per week), like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group.

 


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