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C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Three: Severe Mercy | Seminary Student Blogger

April 17, 2014

Josh Kluth

Now that we have looked at Lewis’ use of reason and experience as it relates to suffering, I want to demonstrate how Lewis conceived of hope amidst suffering. In the next and final post of this series, I will explore ways in which Lewis helps pastor-theologians as they confront the problem of suffering in their congregations.

Lewis believed that correct belief devoid of experience could, in fact, be false belief. The belief itself might be genuine, but “Only a real risk tests the reality of your belief.” In describing the distinction, Lewis said, “The reason for the difference is only too plain. You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” Lewis believed that our relationship with God is not simply made up of facts and argument. Knowledge is, in fact, incomplete without experience. One of the many things Lewis does well is provide helpful imagery. His illustrations capture the tension created by suffering. The examples below show how Lewis conceived of suffering in light of reason and experience of what he called the “severe mercy” of God.

  • Suffering often challenges the foundation of our faith. Lewis wrote that the experience of suffering often makes our untested faith look like a “house of cards.”
  • Suffering is often used by God to destroy false ideas about him. He describes God as the “great iconoclast.” God shows us that our ideas about him are not in themselves divine and must be “shattered time after time.”  
  • He describes the loss of a loved one as being similar to the experience of an amputee. “At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I show never be a biped again.” In a culture like ours that labels faith a crutch, Lewis finds the crutch to be God’s demonstration of care toward the wounded; a crutch is a necessity, not a fantasy.
  • He illustrates the silence of God in suffering. “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
  • Lewis describes some pain as being that which one undergoes at the hand of a good. “What you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more exorbitantly he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”

Lewis remarked that that the answers are ultimately found in God. This truth simultaneously preserves mystery and creates hope. The mystery of God’s omniscience is better than the thought of God’s indifference. His gaze is mysteriously compassionate towards our suffering. Lewis says that there is a strange comfort in mystery. “Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.” Philosophical and theological discussions seek to demystify that which is mysterious. But experience reminds us that there is more than just detached argumentation. Ultimately, God is not indifferent. He cares enough to pursue us in pain. He cares enough to undergo the pain of the crucifixion. Pain is the severe mercy of God.

Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).


Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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