In “The Problem of Pain,” published in 1940, Lewis offered the reader this overly humble confession: “You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess for I will tell you; I am a great coward.” In a letter to his brother Warnie, written while working on the book, he claimed: “If you are writing a book about pain and then you get some actual pain […] it does not either, as the cynic would expect, blow the doctrine to bits, nor, as a Christian would hope, turn into practice, but remains quite unconnected and irrelevant, just as any other bit of actual life does when you are reading or writing.” Neither the confession nor the claim stood the test of time. In 1961, Lewis wrote about pain again, this time about his own. In “A Grief Observed” he inadvertently satisfied the alleged curiosity of his readers. But he did not come across as a coward; nor did his firm grasp of “a theory of suffering” prove altogether irrelevant. True, his faith in God was challenged; he uttered blasphemies; he doubted God’s existence; he went through the very objections to God’s goodness which he had refuted in “The Problem of Pain” All of those complaints seemed valid in the midst of his hurt. But then, as a good southerner would say – he thought better of himself: “Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense? Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?”
When feeling disguises itself as intellect, nonsense is possible. Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain. Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a feeble glimpse of Paschal Mystery. Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a ponder the Mystery.
Lord we feel pain in so many ways in this life and we fail understand why you don’t protect us more. Today, we pray, that you will give us a deeper understanding of this journey through life. Help us to see the way that our pain has , and continues, to make us who we are and who we hope to be. May God give us the handles we need to navigate the sometimes very difficult path that is set before us.
Twentieth century existential psychologist Rollo May said, “It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.” The more I think about that statement, the closer I get to full agreement with Dr. May. We often think that the faster we work, the quicker we can solve a seemingly unsolvable problem. How many times do we find ourselves lost in our problems and never stop long enough to evaluate our options? In my life I can recall times that I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing there, but I continued to busy my life with frantic activity.
After a very tiring day of ministry, Jesus said to his disciples; “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” He had found himself in a situation where rest was necessary for more ministry to follow. In the same way, we can lose ourselves in good things, works that make a difference, and literally become exhausted and unable to accomplish our goals. In these times we are lost, and hurried activities will not solve our lostness.
We must allow ourselves “breathing space” to think, to rest and to find ourselves. Never have I heard a story of a lost person who found his way by moving faster, but often we find our center as we slow down. If you find yourself feeling lost or overwhelmed, take time to do an inventory. Breathing space can make all the difference in the world.
One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the old men who saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, ‘John, your vessel is full of poison.’ Abba John said to him, ‘That is very true, Abba; and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?’
—-Abba John the Dwarf
We only reveal to others what we want them to see. All of us have to deal with the jealousy of people who envy us for one reason or another. This saying deals with just such a situation. I cannot know what it was that motivated the brother to be jealous of John, but I do admire John’s answer. He is saying, “You ought to see how really bad I am on the inside.” We all have filters that limit what we let others see of our true selves. God sees all and offers grace to us.
The lesson is one of refraining from jealousy, envy and judgment, because we can never really know. Our worse bouts of jealously and envy come from only what we can see – the outside. God, on the other hand, sees the in and out of all of His creation. Even though He knows the worst of us, He gives us the best of Himself. That sort of servanthood is something that we are taught by the sacrifice that God made through Jesus. God knows us and loves us. God sees all and yet He finds the grace that allows forgiveness rather than the jealously that we harbor toward one another.
In Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” he finally acknowledges the worth of a servant by saying..
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ God that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
It takes an awful lot to acknowledge the true worth of an individual, but God does.
Dear Lord help me to stop looking at the exterior of persons around me and using that criteria to deem myself as more worthy. Release me from the bondage to jealously and envy and set me free to soar with you. Help me to see in others what you see in me. Give me the humility necessary to be a servant and the confidence to carry out the task.
Breaking new ground is a very difficult task for us. The old, the familiar, the comfortable are always preferable to the new and different. I believe this is even true if God tells us to change. The Israelites were on a great journey. They had escaped from the clutches of the harsh Pharaoh, they had experienced hardship, rebellion and suffering on their journey, but the journey had destination and purpose.
Moses sent out spies to survey the land and they brought back a good report. Many years would pass before they occupied the land but they always knew that it was a good land, a land that God had promised them and one day they would enjoy its fruit. They needed to keep the vision alive.
We too, must keep our vision alive. So many of our days are beset with pain and trouble, but God says, the best is yet to come. Let us try – this day – to see the abundance of God and live with the expectation of being blessed by Him.
Survey the land – IT IS GOOD
Lord help me to keep my focus on you while I toil though the tasks of this life. Keep me free from the temptation of the evil that leads to rejection of your plan for me. Cover my sins with your grace and fill my heart with the joy that comes from knowing you.