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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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C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Two: The Role of Reason | Seminary Student Blogger

March 25, 2014

Josh Kluth

C.S. Lewis had the ability to look at particular issues from different vantage points. In the previous entry in this series, we explored how C.S. Lewis’ personal experience helps explain why Christians continue to look to him in times of pain and suffering. However, we also see that Lewis had a knack for thinking rationally about sensitive issues, which became a particular point of concern for him. Lewis’ close friend, Charles Williams, warned him that writing intellectually about pain could be construed as nothing more than a reflection of Job’s worthless friends in the biblical story. In fact, when Lewis was asked to contribute a book on the Christian view of suffering, he requested that the book be published anonymously in order to avoid accusations of being cold. His request was denied and The Problem of Pain was published in 1940. However, Lewis’ use of reason emphasized three particular themes that are especially helpful in times of pain and suffering.

1. The problem of suffering does not challenge the existence of God, but affirms it.

Lewis maintained that belief in God is what actually allows people to talk about the problem of suffering in the first place. He believed that belief in God actually creates and frames the issue. He wrote, “Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, ‘Why do you not believe in God?’ my reply would have run something like this: ‘Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold.’” However, he changed his position on this issue because his concern about the issue of suffering represented metaphysical concern, but his atheistic worldview reduced all questions to material. In other words, existential questions can be asked only if one’s worldview accommodates a metaphysical understanding. Lewis’ point is that in an atheistic worldview of suffering, pain should not be a problem. The problem of suffering is not solved by turning away from religion. Lewis maintained that for the problem of suffering to exist, God must exist. In fact, belief in God might be the most reasonable way to begin to understand the existence of evil.

2. The possibility of suffering is necessary to our purpose and design.

Lewis actually argued for the necessity of suffering, given the reality of God. The existence of suffering is not a mistake on God’s part at all. In a provocative statement, he writes, “Perhaps this is not the ‘best of all possible’ universes, but the only possible one.” Lewis reasons that to exclude the possibility of suffering would be to exclude life itself. At the very center of his model was a concern that we recognize our purpose to glorify God as creator. He writes, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” To worship God freely means the possibility to dismiss him as well, and in so doing, introduce something counter to God—namely, evil. The reason for our self-directed love is sin. Lewis concludes that our sin introduces “a new kind of man—a new species, never made by God” that had “sinned itself into existence” with a gravitational pull towards self-centeredness. Lewis believed that “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love,' and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake.”

3. Christians are saved from suffering by suffering.

Finally, Lewis develops the idea of suffering as an instrument in the hands of God for the purpose of change and redemption. Although he did believe that the majority of human suffering was self-inflicted, he believed that suffering could also be remedial. Pain was often the direct result of God breaking through humanity’s self-imposed illusory condition. Pain was used in order to express God’s “intolerable compliment” as he corrects our idolatrous posture. Lewis underscores this point with number of helpful images—including one in which pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. In another, pain is the implanting of the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. He describes the rebel’s will as “inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation.” Indeed, Lewis is clear that God’s work is painful because it is correcting the comfortable illusion of rebels who think they are safe. Lewis writes, “I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” In this, Lewis recognizes that the difficulty of suffering does not go away and the use of reason does not make it easy.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis lends his reason to the reality of pain and suffering. Although he knew it was treacherous to do so, we see the benefit that he provides to the reality of suffering. In an age where many think of Christianity as an unreasonable position to the problem of evil, Lewis responds that it might be the only reasonable position. What’s more, because of Lewis, we begin to better understand our purpose and the means to which God willingly in order to shatter our self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we witness this at the cross of Christ. 

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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C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part One: The Role of Experience | Seminary Student Blogger

February 27, 2014

Josh Kluth

C.S. Lewis has always been a close ally to Christians struggling with the reality of pain and suffering. Fifty years after his death, one would be hard-pressed to find another outside of Scripture who is more often quoted in times of suffering. His statements are well-regarded for their clarity, poignancy, depth, and care. Consider just a couple of his famous quotes:

  • “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
  • “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.”
  • “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”
  • “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”

What is it about his writings that makes Lewis’ perspective so helpful? In this post, I want to suggest that it was Lewis’ own experience wrestling with the reality of suffering. He was not immune to the pain and suffering of life. He did not hide away in the ivory tower of academia observing the facts of suffering while absent from their touch. Many are unaware that it was suffering that initially drove Lewis to abandon his Christian heritage and embrace atheism. Here is a short list of his varied experience with suffering:

  • As a child, he lost his mother to a painful death brought upon by cancer despite his prayerful expectation that she would be healed
  • He was estranged from his father most of his life and considers an inability to reconcile to be one of his biggest regrets
  • He suffered from feelings of insecurity and physical deformity
  • He attended a school he called “Belsen” (naming it after a Nazi concentration camp) attesting to his miserable experience under a “maniacal” headmaster
  • He faced a severe and disturbing hierarchal system at school that produced “a world of fear, compromise, and anxiety” for young students, like himself, who were victims of cruelty
  • He served in the trenches of World War I and was discharged due to an illness called trench fever
  • He was obliged to care for his best friend’s family (after his friend died in the War) for much of his life despite a heavy emotional and financial toll
  • He lost his wife to cancer
  • He was repeatedly overlooked for positions due to the way many of his colleagues frowned on his Christian fiction and apologetics

Lewis wrote two books addressing the issue of pain, both of which he purposed to write anonymously. This in itself could be instructive. The Problem of Pain, written in 1940, addresses the complex issue of the existence of suffering alongside a belief in a good and all-powerful God. He wrote A Grief Observed in 1961 following the death of his wife in which he focuses on the sense of suffering. These works belong together because of how Lewis addresses the suffering differently in each book. He wrote The Problem of Pain to address theoretical and cerebral questions on suffering; he wrote A Grief Observed to address experiential and personal nature of suffering.

The role of experience is incredibly important if we are to understand why Lewis continues to be helpful to those who suffer. In a day and age where there are books and blog posts on every subject imaginable, Lewis serves as a reminder of the importance of sympathy, empathy, and understanding. This comes through experience and understanding. We would do well to learn what experience could teach us prior to trying to coming alongside those who experience suffering. I would like to believe Lewis was simply trying to model our Savior. As Hebrews 4:14-16 points out,

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

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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Introducing Josh Kluth: Seminary Student Blogger

February 04, 2014

Introducing Josh Kluth, our newest student blogger! Josh previously contributed two guest posts (view his first here and second here), and we're excited to officially welcome him to the Gordon-Conwell Voices team! 

Name: Josh Kluth

Degree: Master of Arts in Religion & Master of Arts in Theology

Hometown: Bremerton, WA

Where were you before seminary? Working in communications at a non-profit in Poulsbo, WA.

Favorite hobbies? Being outdoors, enjoying culinary delights and beverages, being engrossed in a book.

Favorite food? Oh man, I like food. If it is related to fine cheese, meats and carbohydrates, I’m probably sold.

Favorite hero of the Christian faith? After those in Scripture, I am drawn to C.S. Lewis.

Favorite book? Uffda. That’s a toughie. I’m uncertain. Some of the most formative have been: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Roald Dahl); The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis); The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas), The Mission of God (Christopher JH Wright), Simply Jesus (N.T. Wright) and Creation Regained (Albert Wolters). That’s just what came to mind in this moment.

Interesting fact about yourself? I was certain I would never go to seminary.

Issues you are passionate about? Fighting for joy.

Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger

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Three Ways the Internet May be Stunting Your Christian Growth | Seminary Guest Blogger

November 19, 2013

Josh Kluth

The Internet is an incredible example of technological innovation. The resources at our fingertips are countless. The way social media mimics real life keeps us “refreshing” our updates and “connecting” with people. Our behavior often mimics our technology—quickly downloading information and outputting data. Our digital interactions make communication almost too easy with all of the posting, commenting, linking, liking, sharing, etc. As people made in the image of God, we can forget that our hearts and minds are much more, well, human. How does our use of the Internet affect our Christian growth? Are their inherent dangers? I’d like to suggest three ways the Internet can stunt our growth as Christians.

1. The Internet can short-circuit your Christian development. Online resources can give the impression that difficult questions have simplistic answers. Christian development does not occur via mouse click. We are meant to wrestle through issues in the Bible. Sometimes, though, the only struggle today is how long it takes us to find thoughts from our favorite online pastor or blogger. No real need to think, wait, fast, struggle, ponder, trust or meditate. Just a steady diet of regurgitation. Alan Jacobs alerts us to this when he remarks that the internet is “the friend of information and the enemy of thought.”

2. The internet can demonstrate your idolatry. Have you ever met someone whose personality changed depending on who they spent time with? This can happen among well-meaning Christians impressed by an influential speaker or writer. The internet allows us access to endless hours of podcasts and blog posts. If we’re not carefully, we begin to mimic the vocabulary, tone and style of someone else as if they are our own. G.K. Beale says, “We resemble what we revere.” It’s almost as if we want to be perceived in the same way we perceive those who have tremendous influence over us. It may be the case of misplaced worship when we become image-bearers of those with whom we spend the most time.

3. Social media can short-circuit your friend’s Christian development. It’s amazing how fast social media allows us to share and respond to others, especially if there is an opportunity to offer advice, answers, counsel or issue a challenge. But simple answers often numb our hearts. Our tone, concern and thoughtfulness often touch hearts deeper than words typed out. The Internet may not be the best place to post deeply personal questions and thoughts, but it certainly isn’t the best place to offer care and concern. Pixels on your computer are a poor transmitter of grace. Sometimes it’s best to get offline and talk in person. I sometimes fear our desire to look smart eclipses our desire to actually demonstrate care.

The Internet is not bad. It is a gift. However you use it, I pray that you would find yourself more satisfied with God, not less; more excited to spend time in prayer, not less; more influenced in our study of Scripture, not less; more physical time spent with people, not less. After all, our goal is to be conformed more to his image. May all of our online activity (reading, posting, sharing, listening, commenting, liking, following, quoting etc.) be a means for making much of our Lord. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36).

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 , guest post

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Trusting Jesus With Seminary | Seminary Guest Blogger

October 22, 2013

Josh Kluth

I used to think life transitions were moments that connected the different stages of life. These life stages include the different social statuses that define many: student, single, married, divorced, employee, enlisted, parent, grandparent, retiree, etc. Or life stages could be identified as emotional seasons of difficulty, joy, maturation or loneliness. However we define them, transitions are like bridges that connect the peninsula to the mainland. The point is to get over them and on to “real life.” The older I have gotten, the more difficult it has become to identify a period of transition from the main road. At times, I wonder if we can even identify the main road.

For some, life seems to be a never-ending connection of transitions that we trust are heading somewhere. However, I’m not so convinced there is a point of arrival at having “made it” this side of the New Heavens and New Earth. After all, what does “making it” look like? Retirement? House paid off? White picket fence and the 2.5 healthy (and perfectly polite) kids? Which of these are the main road and which are the isolated transition points? My wife and my journey to Gordon-Conwell has illustrated this for us.

I first heard of Gordon-Conwell as a junior in college from a mentor of mine who was an alumnus. Curious as to what seminary was all about, I sent off an inquiry and received a packet in the mail describing the different programs. Sheer curiosity. That was 10 years ago. I got a job after college, served in ministry, got married, tried to find better jobs, switched careers, etc. In fact, my wife remembers me telling her that I was determined not to pursue a life in full-time ministry. Seminary wasn’t a consideration. And yet, through a long process of being led by the Lord, encouraged by friends, miraculous provisions in finances, scholarship opportunities and Semlink distance classes, we came to Gordon-Conwell. We left our home in the Pacific Northwest and arrived in the dead of winter in January 2013 just in time to be greeted by Hurricane Nemo. And to be honest, the transition hasn’t been all that easy. Moreover, it hasn’t been altogether clear where God is taking us in the future. However, we feel confident that God’s orchestration has led us to this moment.

We aren’t confident of how to distinguish between a life transition and a life stage. But we are confident that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. As pilgrims in this world, we are confident that life itself may continue to produce transitions. As people being conformed constantly to the image of Christ, we are determined to transition well until the day he takes us home to glory. But for the time being, we are here at Gordon-Conwell determined to lean on Jesus. He is the gate, but he is the way. He is not just the beginning point. He is not a life stage and he is not a transition. There is just no getting over him.

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 , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , future students , guest post

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