C.S. Lewis puts his wages on a God who holds goodness and pain in a paradox. The Problem of Pain demonstrates a more distant, less emotional reaction to humanity’s situation, while A Grief Observed reads like a psalm of lament from within pain itself. The two texts compliment one another by identifying parts of our struggle, the intellectual and physical difficulty life will bring, and how pain can bend us toward a loving God if we let it.
From the loss of his mother at a young age to the untimely death of his wife Joy, Lewis experienced pain as God’s megaphone, as he says, to rouse a deaf world. Pain leads us somewhere – to something. That something is a life of faith. Just as there is importance placed in a strong rope when you’re dangling from a precipice, faith is the only way to pull ourselves out from a life of desperation, a life of anxiety and need, a life of doubt and insecurity.
But how can faith be present if we don’t realize we need something beyond our own person? How do we believe unless we recognize how frail our efforts have become to maintain everything just so?
Lewis says that we must understand our fallenness. He interprets the fall of humanity not only as an opportunity for evil to thrive, but also the choice to ignore the purpose of pain. Christianity creates the problem of pain because it provides hope for righteousness and love. Without the revelation that God loves us, the painful world would make sense. Pain would have no cause. Let’s face it: it’s much easier to dismiss God or to regard him only as an airman regards his parachute, as Lewis says, there only if he needs it but he hopes he never does.
When we run headlong into God, Lewis contends that pain is demanded. Why? “How impossible it is to enact the surrender of the self by doing what we like,” he says. The truth is that at the heart of God’s love is a suffering Messiah and followers who take up crosses and follow in like fashion.
“If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it,” Lewis writes. “I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made “perfect through suffering” is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.”