Lewis begins this essay by defining the type of pain to which he will be referring for the rest of the essay. He refers to pain not just in the physical sense, but also in the sense of anything which is unpleasant or brings discomfort to a person. Lewis sees pain as the most tangible evil. While we can fairly easily ignore other things such as sinful habits and stupidities, when we are in pain, it is something which cannot help but be addressed.
Lewis continues by hypothesizing about God’s reasons for allowing pain to exist in this world. He sees pain as a tool which God uses to awaken us from our sin and draw us closer to himself. He uses pain to take down the guard of the hard and calloused and remind them of their need for him. More often, however, God uses pain to correct those who seem to have their lives pulled together. Lewis says, “We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption.” Many, including myself, find it very easy to fall into an illusion of self-sufficiency when life is easy. We think we owe our success and ease of life to our own accomplishments and hard work. We forget that it is God who is the source of all good things. God often uses pain to remind his people that they are not to owe for the goodness in their lives. It is a method He has of building a stronger relationship with us.
I have seen this phenomenon in my own life. When I was in sixth grade, my grandfather died of colon cancer. In watching his health deteriorate to the point of death, I saw the courage and faith with which he faced every new development of the disease. God used my time of pain and my grandfather’s witness to develop my faith from being something my parents always told me to a real and personal relationship with God. Since that time, I have faced the sudden death of a 17-year-old friend, my grandmother’s stroke and open-heart surgery, a health scare of my own, roommate problems, and the death of my best friend’s mother. All of these experiences have strengthened my faith, and while I can’t say I’d ever want to repeat any of these experiences, I can say that God has used them to bring me into a closer relationship with himself.
Lewis develops this idea even further in saying that pain actually may even be a blessing: “Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed…” He says that it is often only through pain which we learn true obedience to God. After all, it is easy to obey God if our will agrees with his. It is much harder to obey God’s will when it may mean subjecting ourselves to pain and suffering.
Lewis ends the essay with a challenge: we are not to become like puppies that have just had a bath – they run as quickly as possible away from their “suffering” and find the nearest possible dirt in which to role away their cleanliness. We cannot miss the lessons we should be learning from our suffering. When our relationship with God grows through a period of pain and agony, we must work to maintain this level of intimacy when the storm clouds have blown over.