Recently I read C.S. Lewis's last novel 'Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold'. This book was written in 1956 and co-authored with his wife Joy Davidman.
He considered this his most mature novel. The novel is a retelling of the novel 'Cupid and Psyche', a story set in the fictional context of the kingdom Glome, with the main character as Orual the eldest daughter of the King of Glome.
The story, or much of it, serves as a back story for the main character's charge against the gods, especially the one who resides on the mountain. Orual believes that she has suffered greatly at the hands of the gods who took her little sister Psyche from her whom she loved greatly. This sister was sacrificed to appease the 'god of the mountain Ungit'.
I found this book to be quite enjoyable and very engaging. It stimulated my imagination and caused me to think a great deal about the hidden issues it dealt with. One such issue was one very close to my heart, one I have mused on for quite some time: the topic of loss and suffering. I appreciated the vicarious nature of Orual, because seeing her throughout the novel struck a chord on what I believe to be the central issue in suffering, the question of "why".
This is wrapped up in Orual's statement "Let them answer my charge if they can. It may well be that, instead of answering; they strike me mad or leprous or turn me into beast, bird or tree. But will not all the world then know (and the gods will know it knows) that this is because they have no answer?"
Isn't that like us when we experience loss? We seem to be full of questions with no answers following. I see this character as a biblical Job come to life. Though we may not say it explicitly we are at times Orual. We have our charges written against God, ready to call Him to account.
When suffering comes
When suffering comes it casts a dark and gloomy feeling over life. You find yourself struggling to grasp what you held to be real and true all these years, awaiting the bright light of truth to shine illuminating and pushing back the darkness of mystery only to be met with disappointment.
We have our complaints not only because we thought God should triumphantly ride in and deliver us, but because we expect Him to provide an answer, to tell us why. This particular issue has shipwrecked the faith of believers; they either say there is no answer because there is no God or they grow bitter and disappointed because He seemingly chooses not to, either way, it registers to us as the absence of a loving God.
I sympathize with anyone who suffers, but we also have to be careful not to be ruled by feelings to the exclusion of reason, and reason must be guided by a proper support and basis. Let us look to the scriptures as a basis to survey such an emotional topic. There are two questions I believe that need to be answered here.
First, does God choose not to answer us? I believe this is seen the wrong way. He does answer us. How he answers is a separate issue. To take it further, we must look at the fact that scriptures tell us "He is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34 verse 8 ESV).
The scriptures also tell us in Philippians 2 verses 5-8 "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross"; based on this consistency I do not see a God reflected here as one who is distant from our cries and doesn't engage, or care enough to answer.
The second question is, are there answers? To that I say yes, but I will qualify right now that the answers the scripture provides does not clear away full mystery; there are aspects I will admit that I do not know.
That being said it is important to remember firstly that the scriptures indicate in Romans 5:12 "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned". Suffering comes through the fact that we live in a broken world however, through God's redemptive plan the evil that is meant, turns out to be God's plan.
Joseph's life is a perfect example of suffering and loss and he was able to say "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive". (Genesis 50 verse 20 NKJV)
C.S. Lewis in his book 'A Grief Observed' says, "well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't".
You see we don't live in a world where as the main character reveals in the heart of her complaint "...you're a tree in whose shadow we can't thrive. We want to be our own". In the true world as painted in Psalm 100 verse 3, "Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his".(ESV)
Because we are his, he calls us to himself and goes about conforming us to himself as it says in Romans 8 verse 29 "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son......" (NKJV).
Horatio Spafford's hymn 'It is well', a song befitting this topic shows a man who suffered loss: businesses destroyed by the great Chicago Fire of 1871 and his children dying in a shipwreck. Reflecting on the tragedy of the circumstances, he pens in one of the verses "...Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate...". God has not abandoned us, the hymn writer trusted and found comfort in God. He is a God who has not only answered but has done so demonstrating His great love.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Inter School's Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci
Paul Lewis' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/paul-lewis.html