C.S. Lewis wrote many essays, and more than one of them dealt with the themes of pain and suffering. We will focus on his essay, “The Trouble with ‘X’”, written in 1948 (published in the book God in the Dock). In the article, Lewis asks his readers to imagine they could have all the possessions they wanted. If they had everything they wanted, would they be perfectly happy? The answer is easy: no, they would not be happy, because of people. It would not be enough to even have people just do everything you asked, because you would still have to ask. What you would really need, to have this perfect world, would be for people’s character to change. As you imagine this scenario, says Lewis, you are starting to glimpse a little of what God must see (p.162). God has given people a beautiful world to live in, filled with wonderful things. He has given them intelligence to use. But they ruin all His plans. They take His gifts and hoard them or argue about them. Our solution may be to alter people’s character by force, but this is something God will not do. He CAN do it – if a human being will allow Him.
Lewis then takes the turn in the essay, and it reminds us that he is an apologist who saw his primary goal in writing as helping people get closer to Christ. He says that God sees all the problems in people that you see – and He sees one more: you. You have a fatal flaw in your character that is ruining the lives of all the people around you. God also loves all people, including us, even though He lives with all of them all the time. God even hears all their vile thoughts. Lewis encourages his readers to imitate God and love all people. He further challenges readers to abstain from thinking of other people’s faults, which most people love to do, and focus instead on one’s own faults. This recalls a scene in The Screwtape Letters when the demon Wormwood is encouraged to have his human patient focus as much as possible on the nagging of his mother; the goal is to have the human “know” that she does it intentionally to annoy him (p.13). Lewis says, in “The Trouble with ‘X’”, that much of the nagging that others do is their attempt to inform us about our fatal flaws, of which we are often blind. Humans must allow God to change their character. God does not send people to hell. “In each of us something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud” (p.165).
Though a bit obscure in this essay, Lewis’s point about pain (that I have been writing on for the last few weeks) is being repeated: our frustration with the character of others can be used by the Lord as a way of growing our own character. We can learn, through our suffering the faults of others, to love them more like God loves them, and we can allow the Lord to root out our core faults. Pain is a tool used by the loving Father to help humans change their character.