I recently read The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, and it shattered some of my old ways of thinking about life’s troubles.
If you’re anything like me and have thought, “God, why are you doing this to me?!” when faced with hardship, this book is for you! Though I don’t share all of Lewis’ doctrinal views, he was a gifted philosopher and has done much to bring people closer to God through his apt writing.
My biggest takeaway from the book is that the pain in our lives serves a purpose. I am guessing you are a busy person who has time to read a blog but might not take hours to read a philosophy book, so let me share some of those purposes of pain with you:
1) Pain is a wake-up call. The most well-known quote from The Problem of Pain is this: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”*
All too often when times are “good,” it is easy for us to forget about God. We skip church. Our Bibles gather dust. Our prayer lives are reduced to mumbles at mealtimes. But suddenly—when a terrorist attack happens, churches are full. A loved one’s death has us searching for comfort in the pages of Scripture, or a diagnosis brings us to our knees, begging God for help. Pain—be it physical, spiritual, or mental—cannot be ignored!
God does not punish us for our sins, though that’s what we deserve. Our heavenly Father took all our punishment and put it on his Son, Jesus, who perfectly bore all that pain as our substitute. Still, we are human as long as we live on this earth, and our loving God allows pain to touch us at times in order to “wake us up.” We all need reminders to turn away from our sin and turn instead to Jesus, as 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” Pain is one way that God rouses us from the slumber of apathy.
2) Pain refines us. As Christians, we daily want to be imitators of Jesus out of thanks for his grace, but becoming more like Jesus can be painful. C. S. Lewis agreed with this idea when he made this analogy: “Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life . . . he will take endless trouble—and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute.”*
Hard times refine us, grow us. First Peter 1:6,7 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Growth is never pain-free, and difficult seasons of life help us gain empathy, perspective, trust, and a deeper relationship with our Savior. God is always developing our character!
3) Pain shows us that heaven is our home. When life is easy, we wish we could live here forever. But when life is hard, we long for a way out of our suffering. That longing for heaven is imprinted on each of our hearts, and we won’t be content until we’re there with God forever. Lewis alluded to this desire for heaven on earth when he said, “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”*
God loves us so much that he sent his Son for us—not so we can just enjoy the temporal, broken joy of this earth but so we can live in perfect joy forever! Like the wonderful Father he is, God is always working for our eternal good and allows pain in our lives to keep our eyes fixed on the prize of heaven.
It’s not easy, but the next time you run into a painful season, instead of yelling at the omniscient Creator of the universe, remember your Lord is working, even in your pain. Your pain has a purpose—and it’s always, ultimately, to bring you closer to God!
Think about a hard time in your life. Can you see how God used it to give you a wake-up call, refine you, or remind you of your heavenly home?
* C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).