by Ed Derby
The eternal cause of pain is not clear; it wears a mask. But because God is good, we have hope of a ‘good’ eternal cause to our temporal conflicts. The Apostle Paul writes that we should not mourn like those that have no hope. Lewis says that this command must certainly be “addressed to our betters,” because, “What St. Paul says can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves.”
Perhaps the difficulty of pain gives way to God’s reason for it. Lewis says that it’s not that God comes with consolation for us, but rather, “the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive… and this process cannot be without pain.”
We know that God is the giver and sustainer of life and that our life and breath are borrowed from him.
Yet, pain was not originally part of human life, says Lewis. It came as a result of the Fall. It’s also not our choice, most of time. Pain comes by way of our environment or our genes but we often stand unaware until it produces a crisis. No matter if it’s our own making or one we’ve fallen into, the gravity of death is something we can’t fix. Lewis, in fact, talks about pain as a gift from God because it spurs us toward reconciliation with him.
In A Grief Observed, Lewis relates God to a surgeon, dentist, and vet, using pain to awaken his creation to dependence on Him. Labeling pain as a gift is something that we can do if we believe that God is orchestrating our life for a higher good. Lewis believes that God does not project our neediness without filling the void. He quotes George MacDonald in The Problem of Pain, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” It’s not easy to swallow but suffering, then, is a shared experience with God himself, through Jesus. Depending on your view of the crucifixion, Jesus suffered to pay the penalty and open the doors of heaven to us. Perhaps our suffering ushers forward the same sort of consciousness. That’s what Lewis seems to be saying.
Lewis asks, “What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, ‘good’?” His answer: “We set Christ against it.” In another place he says, “The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events…”
We’re left with the truth that God knows our pain. Christ’s death and the dark afternoon that followed it are proof that the universality of pain climbs above the stars and skirts close to God himself. Even with this familiarity, a stubbed toe hurts and our hope still appears hollow at times. That’s the point.
Lewis learned the truth of the two sides of Psalm 23. King David starts out, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Up to this point, the perspective is arm’s length. The pronouns suggest it, but as Lewis experiences with the death of his wife, when the salt of life gets mixed up in its wound, it becomes personal. The remaining part reads, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
God may not fix the pain when the rope breaks and we fall into valleys as thick as thieves, but he will commune with us in our suffering and hope that it helps to fit and form us into dependent souls - dependent on his grace as Lewis so often returns to on both The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed.