How do we make sense out of pain and hardship?
I recently read about a boy who was born without the ability to use one of the joints in his thumbs. On the surface, this might seem to be a relatively small disability. But taking into account how often we use our thumbs, and the complex movements we sometimes require them to make, we might begin to see what a difficult trial this would have been for a young boy. And this is particularly true of one who, in his words, “longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard and pairs of scissors I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears.”
I’ll admit that I find stories like this one hard to hear. Perhaps it’s because I have three kids of my own, and I reflexively imagine what it would be like for one of them to face the same difficulty. It would not be easy for me to see one of them crying with frustration and sorrow after failing again and again to do what most of us can accomplish with relative ease.
Of course I would hate it. Of course I would question God. Of course I would wonder why it had to be that way.
And this was far from the greatest hardship that this individual faced in his life. While still a teenager, he found himself fighting in World War I. The horrific carnage of that war claimed the lives of many of his friends. And while he survived, he wasn’t left unscathed. He was wounded by an artillery shell—the same shell that killed a sergeant who had become “almost like a father” to him. Even more tragic, the shell had been fired by his own army, having fallen well short of enemy lines.
In the midst of the mud and blood and fallen friends of those terrible battlefields, wouldn’t anyone ask why it had to happen?
Of course I couldn’t possibly know the full answer to that question in either of the situations I’ve mentioned. But I do know a bit more about this man’s story. As it turns out, his physical impediment only encouraged his natural bookishness, and it forced him to create in another way: he began to write, “little dreaming to what a world of happiness I was being admitted.”
And because of his service in the war, he was exempted from a university entrance exam that, due to its math requirement, he would likely never have passed. And at that university, as a student and later an instructor, he would encounter several of the ideas and people who would be instrumental in leading him to faith in Christ.
Soon after, he would begin to draw upon his immense reading (including his love for imaginative stories), his academic training (in philosophy, ancient history, and literature), and his rare talent for writing to become one of the greatest proponents of the Christian faith the world has ever seen. His name? C. S. Lewis.
By now, it’s fair to say that a great many people know Christ, or know him better, because of Lewis. Generations have had their minds sharped, their imaginations awakened, and their hearts reoriented and strengthened by reading his works. Their lives, their eternities, have been immeasurably changed for the better.
Not that this covers all the bases and answers all the questions. Not that it makes the pain and suffering he went through any easier, particularly at the time. But when I consider what God did in C. S. Lewis’ life, and even more, continues to do through it—in no small part because of his suffering—I’m reminded that the Bible repeatedly affirms that God doesn’t waste hardship and tragedy, but somehow weaves them all together for both the good of his people and his own glory. And as in the case of viewing Lewis’ life from the vantage point of today, I’m convinced that God gives us an occasional look behind the curtain to help us walk in faith when the picture isn’t so clear.