Earlier this year when I travelled to Egypt to visit with suffering believers, I brought along C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. At the end of each day as I attempted to process the difficult stories I had heard, I would read through several passages from the book. Lewis’s words helped me bring perspective to the terrible hardships endured by the believers I met with and reminded me that their suffering was not meaningless.
I return to these pages from time to time, as they give me encouragement to carry on when the task is daunting and the reality of the cost of faith feels too heavy to bear. I hope these words will encourage you as well.
There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by ‘judgement’ (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying from city to city, and may pray to be spared it, as Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and acts of mercy to which it leads.
The Perfect Man brought to Gethsemane a will, and a strong will, to escape suffering and death if such escape were compatible with the Father’s will, combined with a perfect readiness for obedience if it were not.
The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.