Pain shatters illusions

In the sixth chapter, “Human Pain,” from The Problem of Pain (1940), C.S. Lewis writes:

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We “have all we want” is a terrible saying when “all” does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somewhere “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.” Or as a friend of mine said “we regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.” Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call “our own life” remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make “our own life” less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness? It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise.


4 thoughts on “Pain shatters illusions

  1. Thank you for posting this and keeping me (and others) updated on your current reading of The Problem of Pain. I would say that when we things are going well, things really aren’t going well. For example, the past year has been an “agreeable” year for me. I have enjoyed classes, started a new and exciting job, experienced deep growth with friends. Yet, what happens when things go well, as you and Lewis say, we forget God. So in the period of our lives where all is agreeable, we forget God, and thus it isn’t going well for us. So when things seem good, our situation really is grievous.
    In addition, when things go horribly for us, when tragedy slaps us, we remember God, and thus we find rejuvenation in our Father who strengthens us. And so, when our situation is excrement, things are possibly less grievous than when we feel “okay.”

    Maybe I’m mistaken, but this has, for the most part, been my experience.

    • So, then, the big questions are these: how do we turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us? How do we practice self-surrender when life is agreeable?

      What’s your answer? Try to be as practical and specific as possible.

      • I don’t have a tangible answer for you really. The last 6-12 months for me has been a living example of everything going well and becoming disinterested in spiritual matters. By the grace of God, I continued returning to Scripture and praying, and I continued fellowship with fellow Christians. These three things are the most important practices to keep when life is “agreeable.” Other than that I think it might be helpful to follow paths of interest that can lead one to God – this is something I don’t feel I did well. Another practice to keep in agreeable times would be to constantly evaluate the self, in very specific ways. It would be helpful to take an inventory of your life regularly (in agreeable and disagreeable times). Again, this is something that has been lacking until recenlty.

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