This is the title of a book I am currently reading by C.S. Lewis (the author of the now really famous "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe"). C.S. Lewis, though raised protestant, struggled for many years with religious doubt. But he eventually became a Christian; a fervent, vocal, and evangelical Christian.
This book is lofty. In it he discusses St. Augustine, Aristotle and Kant. And he seeks to answer this question for us:
"If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?"
That is a general synopsis. I wish to simply share some thoughts in regards to one very small excerpt from this book.
In chapter six, entitled Human Pain, he discusses the issue of motivation and "tests". He quotes as an example Abraham's trial when he was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac. Lewis was not concerned with the historicity or the morality of the story. He was concerned with what he called "the obvious question". That being "If God is omniscient He must have known what Abraham would do, without any experiment; why, then, this needless torture?" In response to that question Lewis says this: "But as St. Augustine points out, whatever God knew, Abraham at any rate did not know (emphasis mine) that his obedience could endure such a command until the event taught him: and the obedience which he did not know that he would choose, he cannot be said to have chosen. The reality of Abraham's obedience was the act itself; and what God knew in knowing that Abraham 'would obey' was Abraham's actual obedience on that mountain top at that moment. To say that God 'need not have tried the experiement' is to say that because God knows, the thing known by God need not exist."
My conclusion, therefore, is that testing is put forth not that we can prove ourselves to God, but so that we can prove ourselves to ourselves. Pain, therefore, because of it's outcome, is not to be bemoaned nor railed against, but embraced and met head on. And, since our greatest pains are born out of human relationships, it then stands to reason that we need to accept others and the pain they cause us as an opportunity, and conversely, we need to be mindful of the fact that for others, we just might be that instrument of pain. This is not an excuse for purposefully causing pain. Neither is it an invitation to cause pain. Rather just a reminder that we are all IN the process, and part OF the process as well. It is an intricate tapestry that God weaves to bring just the right people together at just the right time. I do not put forth that we should SEEK pain. That simply goes against human nature. But when it is neither right nor prudent nor possible (as in the case of the pain of physical illness) to avoid the pain, it needs to be evaluated and acted upon. None of these conculsions are Lewis'. They are simply ideas that I am mulling over in my mind.
This is only one aspect of pain that is discussed in this book which is rich in its explanation of the nature of pain, the results of pain, and the purposes of pain. It is a book that anyone who struggles with understanding the goodness of God in a painful world should certainly read. It will serve to cause deep reflection if not a better understanding.
Remembering always that in the midst of pain and suffering, we can still find joy…
(Because of the informal nature of blogging I am not providing footnotes and references. However, if you are unfamiliar with the story of Abraham and Isaac you should read it):
1And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
2And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
3And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
4Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
5And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
7And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
8And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
9And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
10And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
11And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
12And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
13And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
14And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
15And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
16And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
17That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
18And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.