13 May 2013

The problem of pain

CS Lewis wrote two books that may help us to understand pain and suffering. The article includes some quotes from one of the books and then offers some advice for those intending to spend time with a person suffering emotional pain or loss.

A shocked and grieving womanThis month's Synchroblog is on being with those suffering pain.

(The list of links to the Synchroblog contributions is available at the bottom of this post.)

CS Lewis wrote a book entitled 'The Problem of Pain'. In it, Lewis explores pain as it relates to an omnipotent and loving creator.

The book was popular in his lifetime and has since become such a classic that it's still in print and available as an e-book too.

What follows below is a series of quotes from Lewis's book with short comments from me.

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say 'My tooth is aching' than to say “My heart is broken.
CS Lewis was no stranger to pain. Long after writing these words his wife, Joy Davidman, died (just four years after their marriage). He wrote another book about that experience, 'A Grief Observed'. Both books are worth exploring.

Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.
Lewis correctly sees that this is true of all love, both human love and the love of the eternal Father.

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.
This, I think, is profoundly true. We need to remember this wisdom when we are suffering pain, and we need to remember it even more when we are free from pain.

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
This connection between pain and free will is extremely deep. The universe is predicated upon chance events and freedom to act independently. But this freedom is essential and makes love possible. If we are to love we must choose to do so, if we had no choice it wouldn't be love at all.

...when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.
I think Lewis has this absolutely right, do you?

Helping others in their pain - The synchroblog for May 2013 asks how we might best respond to the pain that others suffer. In particular it asks, 'As followers of Jesus, how are we to respond in such situations?'

The first essential is surely that we must approach every person with unique sympathy. Sym-pathy... the 'sym' part of this word means 'with' and 'pathy' is 'suffering'. If I cannot 'suffer with' you in your pain I have no sympathy. It is better for me to come and cry with you than to come saying, 'Cheer up, put a smile on your face, it could be worse'.

Job didn't need speeches from his friends, he needed them to sit there on the ash heap beside him.

And the idea of leaving the person alone is not a good one either! Just because it's better to be quiet and not attempt to 'fix the problem' doesn't imply that it's best to be absent.

I would suggest that the right way to respond includes being there and that it includes listening. It may well involve offering an arm or a shoulder or a hug. And it may involve simple practical things like making a cup of tea, bringing a meal, looking after a child or a household pet. It probably doesn't include giving advice, being cheerful, or finding distractions.

It does require understanding without necessarily intervening, and it also demands patience and gentleness and the wisdom to speak, be silent, act, or remain inactive in appropriate ways at the right moments. It will not involve cajoling or nagging, theorising or explaining.

All of this sounds complicated and difficult. But the essence is simple, it is to understand without needing to be understood in return.

Prayer is good, but pray for yourself as much as for the other. Pray for insight and for prompting from the Spirit. Be prepared to pray inwardly much more than aloud.

You will help just by being there. But be sensitive and alert for signs that you should leave and return later. Aim to be a blessing, not an additional burden or an irritation.

Carol Kuniholm writes from deep within her heart about this topic, don't miss what she has to say in 'Like a motherless child'.

Questions:

  • Have there been painful times in your own life?
  • Can you draw on those experiences to enrich your sympathy for others?
  • Do you see why your presence and listening might be so helpful?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

3 comments:

  1. Very thoughtful article. Thanks Chris. I agree that too often we try to fix things when just being there and being available is the better course of action.

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  2. Thank you for focusing on the word "sympathy" - grieving "with." It is so difficult to focus on the other long enough to really do that, yet isn't that how we show love: being "with" in times of pain, or joy, or whatever else the other is feeling.
    Thanks for the encouragement for my own post! And for your encouraging comments there and elsewhere.

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  3. I love CS Lewis. Everything he wrote is so on target. He says it clearly and succinctly. These quotes were perfect for this topic. I haven't read A Grief Observed, but I own it, and will start reading it soon.

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