An associate who experienced the death of a parent, followed by the shocking death of a spouse, which was followed by yet another tragic loss, asked, “Why is God doing this? If he is not doing it directly, why is he allowing it to happen to me, time and time again? How much suffering is enough?”
Each person’s pain is unique, but all humans experience pain, and many have asked similar questions.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), known to the general population for his renowned “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and known to Christians for books such as “Mere Christianity” and “The Screwtape Letters,” also wrote much about the problem of suffering, such as experienced by my associate — and of evil, such as exhibited this week in the Boulder mass murders, and last week in the Atlanta killings.
Labeled by many as “20th century’s greatest defender of God and Christianity,” Lewis searched for God’s goodness in the midst of pain, specifically so in his books “The Problem of Pain” and “A Grief Observed,” the second written after his wife’s death. In these books Lewis writes with a deepness that most of us can’t comprehend, but yet he writes with a clarity that causes us to think deeper than usual.
Since we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, and since we have “free will” to make decisions and choices, Lewis writes of suffering due to natural causes and suffering caused by ourselves and others. His view of suffering changed somewhat between “The Problem of Pain” published in 1940 and “A Grief Observed” 20 years later. The first was more of an outsider looking in. The second was more of an insider view.
I dare not attempt to express Lewis’s theological arguments regarding evil, sin and the nature of things in this brief column, but I do share his thoughts regarding the fact that while God gives us “free will” he does not at the same time withhold from us the ability to use this “free will” in order for him to prevent evil from happening. However, God can miraculously intervene, lead and guide us in our decisions and actions.
I recall evangelist Dr. Billy Graham writing, “Someone asked me if I didn’t think God was unfair, allowing me to have Parkinson’s and other medical problems when I have tried to serve God faithfully. I replied that I did not see it that way at all. Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to him in trust and confidence.”
This leads me to think of Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
This is not a spiritual Band-Aid. Rather, to me it means that God does not cause the suffering, but can use it for the good to draw us closer to him to restore us and to strengthen us during tragic times.
People of various faiths — or with no religious faith at all — ask, “How could a good God allow these things to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to terrorize, and the wicked to escape without a trace? How can a good God allow a disease or accident to take from me the ones I love?
C.S. Lewis points out that our conception of “goodness” is different than God’s conception.
Lewis writes, “How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask — half our great theological and metaphysical problems — are like that.” He goes on to write, “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness.”
Pain and suffering on earth will never go away — but neither will faith, hope and love. To this end, Lewis advises, “Do not make the problem of pain worse by tallying up the sum total of earthly miseries.”
Carl Mays is a National Speakers Hall of Fame member and author of over a dozen books, including A Strategy For Winning (foreword by Coach Lou Holtz). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org