Lewis’s Nuggets of Gold

lewis-letters-volume-3Reading through C. S. Lewis’s letters to Americans during my sabbatical was a genuine pleasure. There are so many nuggets of gold in those letters that I couldn’t include them all in my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis.

On the topic of suffering, for instance, here are a couple of gems. Writing to regular correspondent Mary Van Deusen on this topic, Lewis opines,

That suffering is not always sent as a punishment is clearly established for believers by the book of Job and by John IX. 1-4. That it sometimes is, is suggested by parts of the Old Testament and Revelation. It wd. certainly be most dangerous to assume that any given pain was penal.

I believe that all pain is contrary to God’s will, absolutely but not relatively. When I am taking a thorn out of my finger (or a child’s finger) the pain is ‘absolutely’ contrary to my will: i.e. if I could have chosen a situation without pain I would have done so. But I do will what caused pain, relatively to the given situation: i.e. granted the thorn I prefer the pain to leaving the thorn where it is.

I agree that pain is not what God would want to inflict on anyone. After all, aren’t we told that in heaven there will be no more sickness or pain and that all our tears will be dried? He only inflicts some pain on us when necessary to remove greater problems in our life.

Lewis also made what some might consider a startling statement when he told Belle Allen that the suffering of the innocent didn’t bother him nearly as much as the suffering of evil men. What did he mean by that?

Do you know, the suffering of the innocent is less of a problem to me v often than that of the wicked.

It sounds absurd: but I’ve met so many innocent sufferers who seem to be gladly offering their pain to God in Christ as part of the Atonement, so patient, so meek, even so at peace, and so unselfish that we can hardly doubt they are being, as St. Paul says, “made perfect by suffering.”

On the other hand I meet selfish egoists in whom suffering seems to produce only resentment, hate, blasphemy, and more egoism. They are the real problem.

lewis-front-cover-100These are just two examples why I delighted in studying how Lewis responded to Americans who wrote to him. His wit and wisdom is found not only in his published works, but in these personal communications also.

Since my goal was to see what Lewis said to Americans, I didn’t read all of his letters to his own countrymen. That is something I hope to do at my leisure over the next few years.

I would be remiss if I didn’t close with a reminder that America Discovers C. S. Lewis can be found on Amazon and at this page on my publisher’s website. If you buy a copy, I hope you will be as taken by Lewis’s letters to Americans as I have been.

Lewis: Faithful Correspondent

Collected Letter of LewisIt’s been both a revelation and a joy to be able to sit in my study and systematically go through C. S. Lewis’s collected letters, concentrating on the correspondence he had with Americans. He became quite personal with a good number of regular correspondents, sharing tidbits of his life and offering whatever advice he could when they asked questions regarding the Christian life.

One of those letters, from January 1954, may provide a perfect example of how he combined the personal with the wisdom God gave him. He had a correspondent simply known as Mrs. D. Jessup, on whom there is apparently little information. All I can say about her is that she lived in a town called Rye, New York, and in this particular response to her, Lewis was guiding her through a time of suffering. Here’s what he wrote to her:

C. S. Lewis 2I don’t know whether anything an outsider can say is much use; and you know already the things we have been taught—that suffering can (but oh!, with what difficulty) be offered to God as our part in the whole redemptive suffering of the world beginning with Christ’s own suffering: that suffering by itself does not fester or poison, but resentment does; that sufferings which (heaven knows) fell on us without and against our will can be so taken that they are as saving and purifying as the voluntary sufferings of martyrs & ascetics.

And it is all true, and it is so hard to go on believing it. Especially as the dark time in which you are now entering (I’ve tried it; my own life really begins with my Mother’s illness & death from cancer when I was about 9) is split up into so many minor horrors and fears and upsets, some of them trivial & prosaic.

May God support you. Keep a firm hold of the Cross. And try to keep clear of the modern fancy that all this is abnormal & that you have been singled out for something outrageous. For no one escapes. We are all driven into the front line to be sorted sooner or later.

To me, it’s nearly unbelievable that Lewis would take so much time out of each day to write these letters. He sometimes complained of the need for so many responses, yet he felt the urging from God to be faithful; it was a vital part of his ministry. Reading them now, I am grateful that he chose faithfulness. He has given us a model to follow. May we exhibit such faithfulness, so those who follow us will have models as well.

Pray for the Persecuted

I’m not going to say much today, except to draw attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Latest reports are that even children are being beheaded by radical Islamists. They have no mercy. Please devote at least a few minutes to praying for those suffering this persecution. We need to remember those who are standing for our Lord.

Leaving Mosul

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. . . . If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. . . .

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (I Peter 4)

Lewis: Refreshment on Our Journey

Problem of Pain 2Humans seem to want constant happiness and a sense of absolute security. Neither of those is attainable in this life. According to C. S. Lewis, we should be glad that they aren’t. He tells us why in The Problem of Pain:

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.

We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.

Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

Our secure home still awaits us when we have finished the course in this present world. As the old song goes, “This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.”