For the last few weeks, I have been sharing parts of a paper I wrote on C.S. Lewis, and how he communicated, especially around the topic of pain. Lewis’s main point was that God uses pain to grow us, to wake us up from our selfish blindness to see reality. Lewis himself experienced pain with a hard childhood and terrible experiences in the trenches of World War I. His greatest pain, though, would come when he lost his wife.
C.S. Lewis wrote, in many different genres, about how a loving Father allows pain to grow human beings. But he would experience his own point on pain in a much more personal way when his wife died. He journaled about this experience; this journal was published in 1961 as A Grief Observed. Lewis wrote that The Problem of Pain was written to solve only the intellectual problem of pain. A Grief Observed is the personal problem of pain, experienced from the inside. This book is important because it gives readers an intimate look at how Lewis interacted with his own points on pain while he was suffering the loss of his wife. It shows how Lewis wrestled with his faith and the goodness of God. A Grief Observed was written towards the end of Lewis’s life, and serves as a bookend, with The Problem of Pain, on the topic of pain.
The book begins with sorrow and questions. Why is God so absent in our time of trouble? (p.3) Why did God allow Lewis to crawl out of his shell, in love with his wife, if only to be sucked back in? (p.13) Early in the book, Lewis calls God the Cosmic Sadist. He later says he does not mean it; he was just hitting back at God (p.30). Torture brings out the truth; it knocks down the house of cards of faith. If God is good, these tortures are necessary. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal (one of Lewis’s oft-repeated points on pain), the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness (pp.33-34). He says there is nothing to do with suffering but suffer it (p.25). God was not testing Lewis’s faith because God did not know it – it was Lewis who did not know and the pain helped him realize (p.41). Pain shatters the illusions: he wants his wife, not just his memories of her; he wants Christ, not just his illusions of Christ. Pain – even the horrible pain of losing his wife – helped him grow in his faith and get closer to Christ.
A Grief Observed is Lewis living out, and holding onto, his beliefs in a loving Father while suffering immense sorrow. Lewis puts God on trial. This is reminiscent of his essay entitled, “God in the Dock” in which he says that in the ancient world humans approached God (or the gods) like an accused person approaches the judge. Those in the modern age have reversed the roles: God is on trial. Lewis had his faith in God put on trial and he made it through. For many years and through many different literary genres, Lewis made the same points about pain. A loving God allows pain to grow humans. A Grief Observed allows us to see that he truly believed, and was personally transformed, by the points about pain that he taught and wrote so much about.