LIBERTY UNIVERSITY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

C.S. Lewis on Suffering and Pain in the Christian Life

Submitted to Dr. William Donelson, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course

SEMI 500 – B19 Introduction to Seminary Studies

by

Joseph Fadul February 23, 2014

Table of Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................................................. 2 Perceived Suffering ..................................................................................................................................... 4 Divine morality ......................................................................................................................................... 5 Necessary Suffering .................................................................................................................................... 6 Biblical Evidence ...................................................................................................................................... 7 Communication through Suffering ........................................................................................................... 8 Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................. 11 Bibliography .............................................................................................................................................. 13

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Introduction Throughout scripture, Christians are not only told to expect suffering in their lives, but are guaranteed to suffer much for their faith in Jesus Christ. Suffering and pain are essential aspects of the Christian life which many Christians struggle with. One reason being that the true gospel is not preached to people when they seek Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Many are drawn to faith in Jesus in the midst of some trial or tribulation in their lives in hope that that he will deliver them from it. This false gospel, known as the “prosperity gospel” is one being preached in America today under the false pretense that submitting to Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life guarantees that you will live a prosperous and pain free life from that point on. This is a dangerous message to preach as suffering and pain are necessary aspects of the Christian life and any belief that God will keep you from suffering while you live on earth will ultimately result in questioning his love and goodness. The Christian faith teaches us that “…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”1 What the Bible actually tells us is that by submitting your life to Jesus Christ, he will comfort you through times of trials and tribulations and use those trials and tribulations to draw you closer to him. However, by no means does it serve as a guarantee that he will keep you from experiencing suffering of any kind. As John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, writes that “All experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether from persecution or sickness or accident have this in common: They all threaten our faith in the goodness of God and tempt us

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1 Peter 5:10 ESV

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to leave the path of obedience.”2 Without this fundamental understanding of the role suffering plays in the Christian life, the temptation to leave the “path of obedience” becomes greater and the ability to accept and endure the pain becomes less. The simplest and most logical explanation as to why Christians must experience suffering is because the primary call of the faith is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship, in its biblical definition, implies that “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”3 This teaches us that since the goal of a Christian is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ (the teacher), and the goal of a disciple is to become like his teacher, then the expectation of a Christian is to live a life marked by suffering for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God just as Jesus Christ did. Furthermore, since a disciple is not above his teacher4, and Jesus Christ himself suffered, then one cannot logically conclude that a disciple would not or should not experience suffering as well. In establishing that suffering and pain are guaranteed to followers of Jesus Christ, the question now turns as to why this must happen? The works and theology of Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis are an invaluable resource to helping explain why suffering and pain are essential parts of the Christian Life. In 1940, he published The Problem of Pain, which addresses the question of why a good and all-powerful God allows his creatures to suffer. Several years later, Lewis published a much more personal work known as A Grief Observed in which he documented his grieving process over the loss of his wife to cancer. Through his grief, Lewis was able to redefine his characterization of God.

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John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1986), Luke 6:40 Matthew 10:24

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This paper will show that suffering and pain are not only essential characteristics of the Christian life, but are actually a greater blessing to the Christian than prosperity is. Perceived Suffering A key reason that many question God’s goodness is due to a lack of understanding that the morals of a sinful human are not the same as the morals of a holy God. C.S. Lewis explains that by definition, divine goodness differs from the human definition of goodness in stating that “It [the definition of divine goodness] differs from ours not as white from black, but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel.”5 This means that while we do not have a complete opposite perception than God on what is good and what is bad, our sinfulness and lack of divine knowledge does change our understanding of morality into one that is not nearly as holy and pure as that of God. This disconnect between human morals and divine morals is precisely why we misinterpret suffering and pain. We have a creator in God who is pursuing his creation relentlessly,6 while we remain sinful beings unworthy of His kingdom. It is during this relentless pursuit done only out of a love that is so superior to our capacity to understand it that we enter into suffering. It is a suffering that His whole creation experiences in hopes that we will one day be with the creator in heaven. The apostle Paul writes about this very concept in comparing human suffering to childbirth in the book of Romans where he writes “…For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits

C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: The Problem of Pain. (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 385
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Revelation 3:20 ESV

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of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”7 Paul is explaining that God puts us through what we interpret to be an unfair period of trial in our lives so that we will one day be free of pain and receive the greatest possible reward – eternal life in Heaven. Divine morality The Beatitudes also highlight the issue of a misalignment of divine morality and human morality when Jesus declares a blessing for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and so on8. In one’s natural state, they would not witness someone being persecuted for the sake of righteousness and be inclined to use a word such as “blessed” to describe the current situation. This is simply because human morality and divine morality are misaligned and it is only until God can adjust our morals with His that we will continue to experience a “labouring” process described by C.S. Lewis. Lewis describes this process in The Problem of Pain when he states, “To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be

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Romans 8:18-25 ESV Matthew 5:3-11 ESV

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impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us, He must labour to make us lovable.”9 Lewis is explaining that it is not God’s definition of love that needs to change, but it is ours. Until that change occurs we will continue to experience this process of God’s “labour” of making us lovable in attempt to reshape our definition of love. For Lewis, this revelation came in the wake of the untimely death of this wife. Lewis was ultimately able to realize, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”10 When considering the concept of suffering in this way, it becomes clear that suffering is given from God purely out of love; however, we are often unable to perceive it correctly since our morals are not perfectly aligned with those of God. It is only after we are willing to alter our definition of what is “good” that we will finally be able to begin perceiving suffering as a blessing rather than a curse. Necessary Suffering Another key reason for the necessity of suffering and pain in the Christian life comes due to the fact that it shatters the illusion that all is well. Since the original sin of Adam and Eve, mankind has a natural tendency to sin against God. Given a human being’s misaligned morals it is not only possible, but entirely likely, for them to develop an expectation of a life free from

C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: The Problem of Pain. (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 388
10 C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: A Grief Observed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 456

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suffering and full of prosperity, which can ultimately cause them to adopt an attitude of contentment with their sinfulness. In living in a broken and fallen world, ignorance to sin due to a lack of suffering and abundance of prosperity will create the illusion that this world is not broken and life on earth is pleasant. C.S. Lewis addresses this very notion in stating that, “The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.”11 In the midst of trials and tribulations, the notion that a life lived in sin is satisfying and fulfilling is transformed into the realization that a life lived apart from God is not only unsatisfying, but impossible. It is suffering that allows us to recognize that God is necessary, whereas, a life lived free of suffering will create the illusion of a life that can be lived joyfully apart from Him. Biblical Evidence The scribes and Pharisees from Jesus’ day are the perfect example of those who lived a life full of earthly pleasures and in doing so, fell victim to the blinders of their sin. In referring to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus used the term “woe to you” several times and referred to them as “hypocrites” and “blind guides”. 12 The problem that caused Jesus to rebuke them was the life of luxury and royalty they allowed themselves to live under the false pretense that they were living according to the law. Without suffering and pain to make them aware of their sin, they were unable to see the need for a savior in Jesus Christ. Even as Jesus rebuked them, they were unable

C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: The Problem of Pain. (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 406
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Matthew 23 ESV

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to see their own hypocrisy due to the illusion that God was pleased with them since they had many earthly pleasures and few hardships. The apostle Paul writes “…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…”13 In following the logical path from this verse, it becomes clear that suffering produces hope. Furthermore, since hope is the product of suffering and it does not put us to shame, logically it can be deduced that a lack of suffering does put us to shame. The shame experienced due to a lack of suffering and pain emerges from a life lived in sin and under the false pretense of said sinful life being satisfying in some way. Suffering and pain shatter that false pretense and allow God to break into a person’s life and open their eyes to their sinfulness that they may not see in the midst of prosperity. Communication through Suffering C.S. Lewis writes that “…pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts it in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”14 In response to this very statement, Philip Yancey, best-selling evangelical Christian author, writes that “the existence of suffering on this earth is, I believe, a scream to all of us that something is wrong. It halts us in our tracks and forces us to consider other values.”15 In correlation with the theme of God using suffering to shatter the illusion that everything is well, God chooses to use suffering over all other aspects of life due to the fact that it speaks most

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Romans 5:3-5 ESV

C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: The Problem of Pain. (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 406
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Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 68

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loudly to us. Suffering breaks us down so that we can finally reach the point of anguish where we realize things are not perfect and something needs to change. Since the natural tendency of mankind is to sin, and the natural mindset of mankind is legalistic, suffering and pain are the most useful means of communication from God to man. The moment the apostle Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was left blinded for three days16 as The Lord knew it was his most effective means of getting Paul’s attention and ironically opening his eyes to the truth. Paul was promised a life marked by suffering from Jesus Christ in order for him to accomplish great things for the kingdom of God. Jesus told Ananias “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”17 For this reason, Paul was able to rejoice in his life of suffering as he could accept that it was given from God as a constant reminder that the state of the earth was (and still is) not as it should be and that glorification is awaiting the one repents of sin. It was his constant suffering and thorn in his flesh18 that allowed Paul to live a life of humility and accomplish great things for the kingdom of God. In C.S. Lewis’ own experience with suffering, he wrote that, “Nothing less will shake a man – or at any rate a man like me – out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover himself.”19 Lewis personally understood and documented the need for God’s megaphone-like call of suffering in his life as this was written
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Acts 9:1-9 Acts 9:15-16 ESV 2 Corinthians 12:7

19 C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: A Grief Observed . (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 453

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following the death of his wife in the midst of the greatest trial of his life. Often times referring to his life as a “house of cards” throughout his journal entries, Lewis understood that God had to knock it down in order for him to hear God calling out to him. In this example, Lewis is an illustration of how a personal understanding of God and what it means to live as a Christian can only be obtained through personal experience, and more often than not, experiences involving suffering. C.S. Lewis published The Problem of Pain in the year 1940, which is revered as one of his great works explaining the answers to many questions on why Christian suffering must occur. It wasn’t until his wife passed in 1960 that C.S. Lewis was able to redefine his understanding of suffering through his journal entries in A Grief Observed. Lewis had sound theology and did not live an entirely pain-free life as he experienced the death of his mother at age 9 and the death of his father at age 31, as well as the death of many friends over the years.20 According to his son-in-law, however, the devastation over the death of his wife was much greater due to the fact that Lewis himself was older in life and facing the reality of living out his remaining years alone. It was this great devastation that ultimately allowed Lewis to personally understand Christian suffering. Through his writings and life experiences, C.S. Lewis defined and redefined the necessity for Christian suffering. He demonstrated faithfulness in God even in the midst of trial. God used Lewis’ suffering and experience for the purposes of His glory just as is promised by the apostle Paul in the book of Romans in stating that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”21 As his son-in-law states, regarding Lewis’ publication of his grieving over the loss of his beloved wife “What many

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lbid., 439 Romans 8:28 ESV

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of us discover in this outpouring of anguish is that we know exactly what he is talking about. Those of us who have walked this same path, or are walking it as we read this book, find that we are not, after all, as alone as we thought.”22 God has used C.S. Lewis’ intellect and capacity as a brilliant Christian writer to provide comfort and wisdom to those experiencing the very same suffering documented in his personal journals. While in the midst of an incredibly unfortunate and deep pain, the promise of Romans 8:28 was fulfilled in the life of C.S. Lewis and his suffering was used for the good of God. Conclusion It can now be understood that suffering and pain are not some arbitrary aspects of the Christian life, but rather are essential for growth and oneness with God. In living in a fallen world, mankind will continue to suffer many things, especially once living faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ. His followers will suffer because he suffered and his followers will be glorified through suffering because he has justified them through his suffering. Attempting to live as a sinful human and follower of Jesus Christ at the same time will inevitably be marked by suffering as the spirit and flesh are at odds with one another. Understanding why this suffering must occur, however, is essential in order to maintain faith and endure hardships. Christians suffer for many reasons. On the most basic level, following the logical order indicates that Christians must suffer because Jesus suffered. In explaining the perceived illogic that suffering is a greater blessing than prosperity is, it is understood that Christians must suffer in order to reshape their morals to become more closely aligned with those of God, as well as experience suffering so that they are not content in their sin. It is “God’s megaphone”, as C.S. Lewis

22 C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: A Grief Observed . (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 442

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phrased it, for calling out to His people in order to make them realize that life on earth is not the way it is supposed to be and that the world we live in is a fallen one. Suffering allows for joy to be a meaningful experience and is a useful indicator that a greater, pain-free life awaits that will nullify all suffering experienced by followers of Jesus Christ.

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Bibliography Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: The Problem of Pain. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Collection: A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Yancey, Philip. Where is God When it Hurts? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990. Piper, John. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1986. Piper, John and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006 Moore, John M. “Book Review: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.” Journal of Bible and Religion 12, no. 2 (May, 1944): 123-124. Como, James. “Mere Lewis.” The Wilson Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 109-117. Petrik, James M. “In Defense of C.S. Lewis’s Analysis of God’s Goodness.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 36, no. 1 (Aug., 1994): 45-56.

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