Beyond Pain: C.S. Lewis and Finding Faith

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“It’s not supposed to be this way.”  We’ve all thought this at some point, at some injustice in our life.  As long as our life is relatively free from pain and loss as we’re growing up, we have no problem believing in the “goodness” of God.  But this is a fragile, understanding of God, a theology that has not been tested by the dark realities of this world. And all it takes is bad things happening to good people for anyone to start to question God.  Imagine living through the “War to End All Wars” which we now call World War I, and then in your lifetime having everything fall apart again in World War II.  The World Wars wrecked many, many Europeans’ concept of God. If God is good, how could all this happen?  And many gave up on God.  For many of us, the idea of national tragedy might seem distant.  But personal tragedy is no less devastating. So, how do you hold on to faith in a world of so much pain?  How does faith survive tragedy?

C.S. Lewis survived firsthand the frontlines of trench warfare in WWI, watching the same artillery shell that wounded him take the life of two friends right before his eyes.  As an atheist who paradoxically was “angry at God for not existing,” Lewis found a way to go on with life.  He had given up on God before the war (especially after the death of his mother when he was a child), but as an academic, he had friends whom he respected greatly, notably author J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings).   Through conversations with these friends and his own nagging sense of the possibility of God’s reality, he found his faith in 1929.  In his own account of this dramatic moment, he paints a vivid picture:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised by Joy).

Despite his reluctance to enter the faith, he spent the rest of his life defending it, answering many of the most difficult questions that can be asked about God, or providing stories which gave a metaphorical understanding of such difficult concepts.  He went on to author over 30 books selling millions of copies worldwide.

Perhaps his fame was due to his efforts in WWII.  He volunteered to serve, but after his request was denied, he found a way to contribute by giving wartime radio broadcasts.  From 1941 to 1943, in a world struggling to come to terms with the powers of evil and death all around, C.S. Lewis spoke on “religious programmes broadcast by the BBC from London while the city was under periodic air raids. These broadcasts were appreciated by civilians and servicemen at that stage. For example, Air Chief Marshal Sir Donald Hardman wrote:  ‘The war, the whole of life, everything tended to seem pointless. We needed, many of us, a key to the meaning of the universe. Lewis provided just that.’ The broadcasts were anthologised in Mere Christianity” (Wikipedia).  His faith tested, he came out stronger, even helping others hold on to their faith.

Knowing that others have traveled down the road of doubt before you might not be much comfort, but when I travelled that road in 2006, I found answers in C.S. Lewis.  They’re not easy or simple (they won’t fit in this short blog post, for example), but they are profound. So I say, Keep searching.  Keep asking questions.  Don’t give up on God. God hasn’t given up on you.  And when it comes to pain, I’ll let C.S. Lewis speak to that:  “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 Problem of Pain).  Pain can define us or refine us.  May we all find the right path. ~Justin