118) Making Good Use of Our Troubles

This piece is from a 1944 interview with C. S. Lewis.  It can be found in the book God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, by C. S. Lewis, pages 51-52.


C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)


     Many people feel resentful or unhappy because they think they are the target of unjust fate.  These feelings are stimulated by bereavement, illness, deranged domestic or working conditions, or the observation of suffering in others.  What is the Christian view of this problem?

C. S. LEWIS:  

     The Christian view is that men were created to be in a certain relationship to God, and if we are in that relation to Him, the right relation to one another will follow.  Christ said it is difficult for ‘the rich’ to enter the Kingdom of God, referring, no doubt, to ‘riches’ in the ordinary sense.  But I think it really covers riches in every sense– good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.  All these things tend– just as money tends–  to make you feel independent of God, because if you have them you are happy already and contented in this life.  You don’t want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness as if it could last forever.  But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness.  Consequently He may have to take all these ‘riches’ away from you:  if He doesn’t, you will go on relying on them.  It sounds cruel, doesn’t it?  But I am beginning to find that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run.  I used to think it was a ‘cruel’ doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were ‘punishments.’  But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a ‘punishment,’ it becomes easier to bear.  If you think of this world as a place intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable.  But think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

     Imagine a set of people all living in the same building.  Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison.  Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable.  So that what seems the ugly doctrine is the one that comforts and strengthens you in the end.  The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.


Matthew 19:23-24  —  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Deuteronomy 8:1-14  —  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 

Hebrews 12:7…10-11  —   Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?…  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.


Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley
and 17 other children