The Purpose of Suffering

This is a translation of a scriptural meditation from the Russian book, “Day by Day”. Lewis connection follows:

"Scripture: ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?..neither this man nor his parents, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’ (John: 9: 2,3)

“Are sorrows sent to us as punishment for sins? In ancient times people thought so. But the Savior gives another explanation. He said that the man was blind in order that the power of God be revealed in him. His blindness brought him to Jesus and thus brought him a double mercy: he acquired sight both physically and spiritually. He probably would never have met Jesus had he not been blind, and would not have experienced this miracle.
Very often great mercies also come to us through our sorrows. Lazarus’s sickness led to ‘God’s glory’, according to Jesus’s words, – ‘so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ (John: 11, 4). There is no doubt that any sickness can be an occasion for the sick person or those around him to receive a blessing from above. The Lord often glorifies those who suffer through trials sent to them. Every loss should open our eyes to a deep truth, and every disappointment in life is meant to bring us something much better than the happiness we expected.”

In letter 20 of “Letters to Malcolm” Lewis writes: “most real good that has been done me in this life has involved [suffering]”. For me, these are strange words coming from Lewis. My primary impression from Lewis’s works are light, beauty and gaiety. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and suffering does not come across as a significant factor in his life or work.
The first thing that comes to mind with regard to those words of Lewis about suffering is his devastation after Joy’s death, as described in “A Grief Observed”. I think the “good” that came from it was, first of all, toward the end of that diary, his feeling that God was gazing at him in not an unkindly way and saying “Peace, child, you don’t understand”, and secondly, as he writes: “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” And in “The Problem of Pain”, Lewis himself had admitted that he was not very good at dealing with the practical consequences of pain. But the consolation in all this is that Lewis never had any doubts about God’s goodness after his recovery from Joy’s death.
Are there other incidents in Lewis’s life that could be associated with his assertion that “most real good that has been done me in this life has involved [suffering]”? Examples from his literary works include, of course, Aslan’s death, Eustace’s “undragoning”, and the Ghost fighting off the lizard of lust in The Great Divorce. And I think that from our own lives we probably know of such examples as well.


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)