“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy, therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. That is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”
With a remarkably vast comprehension of multiple disciplines, all of which he can speak of with intellectual soundness, the Christian author C. S. Lewis weaves the various objections into an impeccable logic of God in one of his bestselling books, one I think every Christian must read, The Problem of Pain.
Providentially, the COVID situation began in Manila a few weeks after I finished reading it, which helped me find peace, joy, and love in a time when suffering is so prevalent. In hopes that you would have the same, I share with you my reflections inspired by the book.
Let us go back to Genesis: God is the Creator; we, the created. This means God has dominion over us, like artist over artifact, man over beast, and more softly, father over son. He, as our Creator, made us out of love, with a specific creative purpose: for us to love and worship Him as our Creator. To fulfill that objective, He had to give us free will to choose to love Him, and for a time, Adam and Eve did just that. Pretty soon, something whispered to them that they can, like God, know good and evil. So, to satisfy their desire, they did the one thing God told them not to do. That was the Fall that separated God from man.
In a nutshell, that is what free will does. It gives one the illusion that she has full control over her life. Multiply that by six billion people, and we have a world full of wickedness, which causes suffering. But what if suffering is not caused by human actions? What if they were caused by natural means? I’ll get to that in a bit.
Now, we know that God’s love is of a completely different nature. When He loves, it is not mere kindness: the wish that we are happy, safe, and well-fed. His love is far higher than that because it seeks the Highest Good of His beloved. And for us to welcome that Good that only God can offer, we must be constantly trained, disciplined, and molded, and these are only possible when He allows pain.
“What then can God do in our best interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?”
Here’s how the cycle goes: I would be smooth sailing, even resting on my laurels, until pain, ranging from a slight pang to an irreparable burden, shatters my sense of being and troubles me existentially. In the process, my soul regenerates, like a snake shedding its skin, to become something more favorable to God. I am reminded that my purpose rests beyond this earthly life. My treasure is in Heaven.
“And here is the good news: pain has no tendency, in its own right, to proliferate. When it is over, it is over, and the natural sequel is joy.”
Unlike the death toll, no statistic can tell how many hearts have turned, or returned to Him in the midst of this pandemic, for the gift of Christianity comes only through a deep and personal relationship between Creator and Created. For all we know, the number of spiritual rebirths — the shedding of the self-righteous self — might be at an all-time high; but we can only welcome this possibility if we accept God’s redemptive love. When we do, we will never run out of reasons to rejoice.
“Suffering naturally produces in the spectators no bad effect, but a good one — pity.”
As we witness the suffering of thousands of lives, it is natural to feel awash with sorrow. The beautiful thing about sorrow is that it allows virtue to have its way. In the past weeks, we have shown more affection for loved ones than we have in a long time. We have stretched our kindness farther than we ever thought we could. We have held on to our faith more tightly than ever before. Our wicked and selfish ways had to stop for a time so that we can remember to be human. Maybe God is trying to show us a tiny glimpse of what Heaven could be like.
Many of us have lost our loved ones. There are no words to describe the situation in the front lines. Grief calls us day after day, if not hour by hour, but to stop there would be the real human tragedy. In stopping on grief we lose sight of the only cause worth pursuing when our world is troubled — a cause that is not of this world. When we fix our gaze on Eternity, we see the Grand Orchestrator at work. For all we know, Heaven might be recruiting an army of glorified souls who have abandoned their sickly bodies on earth to join the eternal march to the land of a thousand joys, where not a drop of suffering nor pain exists.
“And as to God, we must remember that the soul is but a hollow which God fills. Its union with God is, almost by definition, a continual self-abandonment — an opening, an unveiling, a surrender, of itself. A blessed spirit is a mold ever more and more patient of the bright metal poured into it, a body ever more completely uncovered to the meridian blaze of the spiritual sun.”
God is anything from absent, and to see Him at work is to use our free will in choosing to delight in His love every day. We do this actively, for instance, by feeding our minds with righteous thoughts, and by being mindful of the information we absorb. For “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
The call to share the gift of salvation is pressing upon us, too. Because of the quarantine, God presents us with apparent opportunities to share His word through our talents, resources, and time.
We must welcome each day with the hope that God will carry out His plans for the remainder of the crisis. In prayer, we yield ourselves to Him, knowing that He does what is needed to bring us back to our original creative purpose.
A tragedy on earth may be a victory in Heaven, and only when we truly know God can we share in this joy.