Part 18: The Problem of Pain

Letters on Spiritual Formation #18

The Problem of Pain

This is article is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. To read the previous letter in the series, click here.


The wisdom of C.S. Lewis

God’s love towards us can be pictured in metaphor. In his classic book "The Problem of Pain," CS Lewis makes the case that what we call pain can in fact be God’s love. Love does not settle for a meager expression of its care, love cares for the whole individual. As such, God cares for our well-being, and oftentimes, painful situations are the only recourse he has in order to bring correction to our faulty identity.

Regarding God’s love, he states,

“I do not think I should value much the love of a friend who cared only for my happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest.”

As Hebrews states, God disciplines those he loves. The temporary pain of our condition betrays the eternal love of God. He is more concerned about your eternal destiny, and making you in his image, than he is in your temporal comfort. To make sense of the pain life brings, Lewis identifies four metaphors for the benefit of pain in our relationship with God.

The painter and the painting

In the creation of a work of art, a painter may use broad brush strokes, finer strokes, soft strokes, and occasionally rough strokes to create the image he desires to capture. If the painting were alive and aware, it may find itself under the constant rubbing and buffing of the painter. Not understanding the pain of creation, the work of art does not see the end goal of the beauty desired. If the painting was aware that the master was forming a beautiful piece of art it would be far more inclined to pay attention to each stroke. Pain misunderstood can breed contempt for the source of pain.


Lewis states,

"We are...a Divine work of art...with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character."

The dog and master

A master disciplines his young pup not in order to harm the animal, but in order to create a disposition that is better able to receive his love. The master’s end goal is desirability, not pain. However, the puppy is not aware that the moment by moment pain of discipline has a grander purpose for his benefit. CS Lewis states, “ interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature.” If the animal knew the temporary pain it was experiencing was derived from the love of its master. it would be far more grateful for those fleeting moments of pain designed to form something deep within.

dog master

The child and father

There are many reasons a good father disciplines his child; to spur growth, to create within the child depth of character, to teach the child resolve, love, discipline, work ethic, morality, etc… The discipline of a good father is not intended to harm the child, but there will be pain involved. Parents discipline their children to prepare the child to become all that they envision the child is capable of accomplishing. Without discipline, many lessons would be left unlearned, and the child would be ill-equipped to accomplish anything of meaning later in life. The parent has an end goal that includes long term benefit for their children, but a child may only fleetingly notice that as they focus upon the pain of punishment.

child father

The husband and wife

Husband and wife, when married, do not begin to care less about the one they are now covenanted with, their care and concern for the well-being of their other only increases. An attentive spouse will do all in their power to enable their other half to become all that they are to become. Sometimes your spouse sees the things about your character that you do not, and when those things are pointed out it can be painful. But that type of pain can lead to phenomenal growth.

husband wife

In these four examples, pain plays an important part in individual growth. Pain can help form within you the very thing you were always created to become. These moments of pain can allow us to see the places in our life that lack the light and life and God. Regret, loss, rejection, the sting of embarrassment, etc…all can cause us to dive deep within out hearts as we discover the very thing that God is forging within us. It is in the moment-by-moment relationship with Christ, that we, like Mary, realize how radically in love with us Jesus actually is.

Continue Reading Part 19…