Tuesday, December 13, 2011

C. S. Lewis on the Value in Suffering

I'm working on a devotional for Lent, "Faith, Hope, and Love in a World of Hurt," which reflects on how God forms these three virtues in us when we suffer. I'm scouring great insights from Christian thinkers throughout the centuries. Here are two gems from St. Clive. The first is when the senior devil, Screwtape, writes to his junior tempter, Wormwood, about how to lead a human astray. The second is one of Lewis's most famous.

Together they lead to a quote from the 19th pastor and writer, George MacDonald, that might be a summation of Lewis's insights into the value of pain and suffering, 
The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might become like his.
So here are the two quotes from Lewis:

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
What do you think? Do those help, confuse, or do something else? 


Anonymous said...

The typical cosmopolitan view seems to be that SUFFERING (not death) is the great enemy. Sam Harris in his book, “The End Of Faith,” highlights suffering as the defining element for evil when considering a rational formation of ethics. He is on no account alone.Talal Asad speaks of the "calculus of pleasure and pain" that motivates secularism...pain is unredeemed and irredeemable...and they therefore embrace death. Death is considered a “friend” largely BECAUSE it ENDS suffering.

Suffering is touted as the prime evil. But scripture makes no such claim for suffering. Scripture hold suffering to have high value. It tells us we are told to “rejoice” in our suffering. While suffering may not be an inherent good, suffering is NEVER considered an enemy of faith. Suffering is presented as a way to enlarge our capacity for compassion. It is suffering (NOT the prospect of death) that the bible consistently links with our development of compassion.

Suffering is a challenge to ANY faith in the VALUE of life. Suffering brings to the surface the alignment of our true values. It shows what we will bow to and what we will stand up to. Enduring makes us question our end. The bible links, not death, but suffering with our ability to “Care.” Suffering is the great bond of humanity…not death.

I picked up a book by Bart Ehrman that referred to suffering as “God’s Problem” and it lead the author to reject God. But it’s not “God’s Problem.” In fact, a few pages into the book the author admits it’s not even a problem for his wife or Christian friends. Those who read the book of Job closely may note that suffering wasn’t even the main issue for Job. The issue was, “Where is the intimate relationship I had with God. I thought he was my friend.” All suffering is bearable with meaning and especially where relationships are involved (Eccl 4:3).

A defining characteristic of love is ”long suffering.” The question is an intimate one, not academic. The sight of a suffering world has turned many away from faith in God. But the prophets call to repent focused on the suffering of God.

One of Lewis' most powerful lines for me: “Sometimes it is hard not to say ‘God forgive God.’ Sometimes it is hard to say so much. But if our faith is true, He didn’t. He crucified Him.”

Here is an old poem of mine on suffering

A Severe Love ('81)

In the pain of own sinful throes,
We lash against mere silence.
And hid in a world no one knows
Is the wrath of our defiance.
But blest is the pain
That brings health again.
Blest is the need that
Makes us grow.
And blest is the gain
You find when you lose
To the severe kind of love
God can show.

-William David Jackson, Oroville CA

GCootsona said...

Bill, I don't have much to add, except this is good stuff. Thanks for your comments.