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The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed

I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. Many of you may be familiar with his children’s stories, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I can still remember the excitement I felt reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” for the first time. I was in third grade. After reading for hours, my mother told me it was time to go to bed. So I read with a flashlight underneath my covers. Ever since then, I have been drawn to Lewis’ work. And today I would like to discuss two of them; “The Problem of Pain,” written in 1940, and “A Grief Observed” in 1961.

Lewis was no stranger to pain when he wrote “The Problem of Pain.” His mother died when he was nine years old. He was wounded in the trenches during WWI. His father died when Lewis was a young man in 1929. He knew what it was like to experience pain, so when he was asked to address this topic, he asked for a caveat. He claimed and I quote, “the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all” (Preface). The rest of the book goes on to explain why we experience suffering and pain. He essentially says that pain is God’s megaphone that He uses to get through to us when we need to learn how to rely on Him. It is a valiant effort, and much can be learned, but it is not very helpful for those who are in the midst of pain, grief, or suffering. This book addresses the head rather than the heart.

Two decades later. Lewis experienced the loss of his wife, as well as the deterioration of his own health. “A Grief Observed” records his struggle following the death of his wife. I would like to share a few snippets from the book that I have found to be helpful. It is my hope that by listening to one man’s experience of pain and loss we might all receive some comfort that we are not alone in our suffering.

At times Lewis felt as if God had abandoned him. He no longer saw pain as God’s megaphone to make us turn to him. He asks,

“Where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence…. Why is God so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?” (5).

Psalm 13 says it this way, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? Sometimes it feels as if God is absent when we are in the midst of pain, grief, or suffering.

Lewis goes on to express his anger with God about the loss of his wife by asking how we know if our loved ones are really in a better place. He imagines someone saying that we know that our loved ones are in a better place because they are in God’s hands. To which he replies,

“But if so, [my wife] was in God’s hand all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body? And if so, why? If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. If it is consistent with hurting us, then He may hurt us after death as unendurably as before it. Sometimes it is hard not to say, “God forgive God.” Sometimes it is hard to say so much. But if our faith is true, He didn’t. He crucified Him.” (31).

Lewis questions how God can allow bad things to happen to good people, but also recognizes that God knows what it is like to suffer. While we may not be able to explain why bad things happen to good people, we can trust that we do not suffer alone. Our God knows what it is like to suffer. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are not alone in our suffering. Christ came to live with us, die for us and he rose again so that we might be with God both now and forever. We have hope because someday, “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Toward the end of the book, Lewis says,

“I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear” (53-54).

Psalm 13 says it this way, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.After all is said and done, there is no adequate answer for all of the pain we are experiencing. It is good for us to try to wrap our heads around the “Problem of Pain,” but it is more important for us to open our hearts to “A Grief Observed.”

Please pray with me,

Gracious God,

We do not always understand your ways, but we trust in you. We do not always know why certain things happen, but we trust that you are with us. God, help us when we are unable to trust. Help us when answers do not come. When we are in pain, we ask that you would surround us with those who love us and care for us. Make your presence known to us, especially when we suffer. God, we ask that you would ease the pain of those who are suffering this day. Comfort those who are mourning. Support those who are caring for others. Bless us all and help us to be a blessing to others. Amen.


Hi Kenny, just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your thoughts and insight.  I am reading them all at once, to try to catch up, but a lot to consider.  It'll be nice to re-read and absorb, after a bad day; I find them encouraging.


Sean B. Hahn

Keep the Light and God Bless!!