5 purposes of pain (C. S. Lewis)

“There are few things more common to the human experience than pain and suffering. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) their universality, there are also few things that seem more incompatible with the human experience. This is why a period of suffering, and especially a prolonged one, causes us to ask God why – to question the purpose behind our pain.”

“C.S. Lewis, the famed atheist-turned-apologist, was himself intimately acquainted with suffering – essentially orphaned at the age of 9 when his mother died and his father shipped him off to a strict boarding school, physically and mentally wounded while serving in the trenches in World War I, and tragically widowed when he finally married following a long bachelorhood. Unsurprisingly, considering his experience, his literary works are filled with references to, meditations on, and explanations of the problem of pain. How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the existence of pain and suffering? What possible purpose can pain have?”

“What’s interesting is that while Lewis agrees that pain is undoubtedly evil, he insists that it is sometimes a necessary evil (God in the Dock, 224-25). He goes even further in The Great Divorce, an allegory about the afterlife, when George MacDonald, his guide through the purgatory-like state in which the story takes place, tells him “that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory” (The Great Divorce, 69). He doesn’t actually explain how one’s pain results in glory, beyond saying that “the good man’s past begins to change so that his … remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven (The Great Divorce, 69), but based on the rest of the Lewis canon, there are at least 5 ways that this “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17) (Noah Long)

Five purposes for pain 

  1. Pain captures our attention – “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain, 91).
  2. Pain cures our sense of independence – “it is good for us to be cured of the illusion of ‘independence’” (Collected Letters, Vol. III, 359).
  3. Pain crumbles our pride – “Man has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses” (A Grief Observed, 28).
  4. Pain creates opportunities for our sanctification – “the redemptive effect of suffering lies chiefly in its tendency to reduce the rebel will” (The Problem of Pain, 112-13).
  5. Pain confirms our faith – “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” ― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed).

I would add that pain equips us to be agents of divine comfort: II Corinthians 1:3-4

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in C. S. Lewis, Evil in the world, Pain, Suffering, Trials and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 5 purposes of pain (C. S. Lewis)

  1. Reblogged this on Wisdomforlife and commented:

    How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the existence of pain and suffering? What possible purpose can pain have?”

  2. Judith Bauman says:

    An excellent article with a succinct summary of C.S. Lewis writing on pain. I forwarded it to all my friends who are suffering as we can all benefit from our struggles with pain. Blessings to you for writing it and sharing it.

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