Paradox of Suffering

One of the readings this week in Lewis’s “Preparing for Easter” appropriately talks about suffering and its paradox. During Holy Week, we move from a celebratory entry into Jerusalem to the cruelty of thorns, whips, nails and crosses. The reading is from Miracles, where Lewis explains that suffering is not good, in and of itself. The good comes when the sufferer bends toward God’s will and the onlookers commit themselves to “acts of mercy” as a result. Though our world is fallen and sinful, Lewis identifies four helpful ways we can understand suffering even through our hazy reality, partial knowledge, as Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12 –

  1. the simple good descending from God;
  2. the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures;
  3. the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purposes;
  4. the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.

It’s like this. “The crucifixion is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events,” Lewis says, “but the role of Judas remains simply evil.” We can be compassionate and work inside the simple good of loving our neighbors, or we can be cruel and work inside the simple evil, which, unbeknownst to the evil man, is working out a more complex good. In other words, 1-4 work together to accomplish God’s good will, for, “you will certainly carry out God’s purpose,” Lewis continues, “but it makes a difference to whether you serve like Judas or like John.”

We are definitely part of this world. It means we will suffer and have a choice about how we work inside the truth of the simple good we know, or unravel it for our own temporal gains, working inside its corruption, evil and rebellion toward God. We can’t avoid it. Sitting on an aesthetic’s tower and not participating begs the question Lewis asks – “What would be the material for the submission? It would seem self-contradictory to say ‘What I will is to subject what I will to God’s will,’ for the second what has no content.”

Ours is to do the will of God. It means we become active participants in our fallen world that either brings us into further devotion with the incarnate Son of God who came into our mess as Messiah or it slides us away into rebellion. Because the material of our lives is always going to be inside God’s purpose, we can’t win. We can’t hide in our own corner of reality as if we control it. We can’t sail away from Nineveh out of fear and conceit. We are liable to get swallowed up by a big fish in order to return to God’s purpose. If we are patient through everyday life – the joys and suffering – who knows? God may be intricately weaving our devotion into a beautiful plan we could never perceive or imagine.

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