In case you missed the March devotions Pastor Thomas posted daily on Facebook and Instagram, we have collected them here for you.
March 1, 2022
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, or ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory (Psalm 24:9-10).
At this point, Athanasius’s contemplation of the cross takes another turn. He has answered every objection that he can think of to crucifixion as the appropriate manner of Jesus’s death. From here on out, he’ll be taking that as a given, freeing him to focus on what the cross means for those who believe—or want to believe—that Christ’s death upon it matters. Writing from this new point of view, the author first considers how crucifixion locates its victims: they are raised up in the air, arms outstretched.
Though he never forgets that he is describing a lethal act of torture, Athanasius nevertheless finds meaning in the posture of the crucified Christ. In the outstretched arms, Athanasius is reminded that no one is beyond the reach of Christ’s saving embrace. In the vertical, airborne location, he sees Christ inviting us to lift our eyes heavenward once again—a call-back to how he first describes the effects of sin—confident that, through Christ’s sacrifice, a new pathway to abundant and eternal life in God has been forged.
You, O God, are lifted up in glory. Help us to lift our eyes to you. Amen.
March 2, 2022
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again (Luke 24:5-6).”
In this chapter of On the Incarnation, Athanasius argues that time is also a meaningful matter when it comes to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as meaningful as he showed place to be in the chapter we covered yesterday. For three days following the crucifixion, Jesus’s body lay dead in a tomb, and that timing, Athanasius argues, was no accident.
If Jesus had been dead for only a very short time, after all, a skeptic might reasonably argue that he had not really died. On the other hand, if Jesus had remained dead for a great deal longer than three days, his life and work would have faded from memory, and the significance of his reappearance would have been lost upon those who encountered him.
Three days, Athanasius argues, was the perfect amount of time: long enough that Jesus’s death was undeniable, but short enough that those who loved him were still waiting for a miracle.
You, O God, keep perfect time. Forgive us when we run slow, or fast. Amen.
March 3, 2022
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).
In some Christian traditions, people are taught to make the “sign of the cross” at certain times: concluding a prayer, receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, hearing the name of the Triune God, and so forth.
You may or may not make the sign of the cross yourself, but as Athanasius points out in this chapter of On the Incarnation, the cross is ubiquitous in Christian imagery. Look around and you’ll see crosses all over the place, adorning everything from church steeples to naves to necklaces.
Why should the cross be so central to our faith? Because, Athanasius argues, it represents the way in which the world has been transformed by Christ’s redeeming love. What was once a fearful instrument of torture and death—one that was still in use in Athanasius’s day—now stands as a reminder that through Christ, death has been defeated. As Athanasius puts it, returning to the image of Christ-as-King, the despot death has been deposed, and the rightful ruler restored to the throne.
You, O God, showed your love for us on the cross. Help us to show our love for you in our lives. Amen.
March 4, 2022
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
As surely as Christ’s death and resurrection have transformed the cross from an instrument of death to a testament of love, so has Christ’s death and resurrection transformed the whole of creation, freeing it from death’s suffocating grip.
This begs the question, though: what does it mean for us that, through Christ, the tyrant death has been run out of the kingdom of creation forever? Human beings still die, after all. How, then, can death be said to have been destroyed?
Athanasius responds to this question by pointing out that death, like any tyrant, maintains its hold on us through fear. Thus, it is the fear of death as much as anything else that allows sin and death to rule in our hearts.
This, then, is the freedom that Christ’s death and resurrection grants us: freedom from fear. If death is the end, it is a fearful thing indeed. If, on the other hand, death is but a part of the journey into life with God, then the evil Emperor has no clothes.
You, O God, have conquered death. Help us to live in hope. Amen.
March 5, 2022
Go quickly and tell [Jesus’s] disciples, “The Lord has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. This is my message for you (Matthew 28:7).”
When we began our devotional study of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, I framed the book as the author’s answer to two interlocking questions: who is Jesus, and why does he matter? If you were wondering, my use of the present tense in those questions is intentional. I might, of course, have asked who Jesus was. That is a perfectly serviceable question, too. After all, Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure who lived and died in a particular setting now lost to time, and that particularity matters.
And yet, Athanasius argues, the question of Jesus’s identity is also a present-tense question. Jesus “is” just as surely as Jesus “was.” This is why it matters that the Incarnate God not only lived and died, but also rose again and lives still. Athanasius has written a lot about seeing God in Jesus, but he makes it clear that Christ’s followers in first century Judea were not the only ones to have that privilege. In the thoughts, words, and deeds of every Christ follower, Athanasius sees Jesus at work in the present tense.
You, O God, are with us now. Help us to be with you. Amen.
March 6, 2022
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the [resurrected] Lord. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:20-22).”
Today, we come to the end of our devotional walk alongside Athanasius. With his help, our exploration of those two starting questions—who is Jesus, and why does he matter? —has taken us far and wide.
We have seen creation at its beginning, the work of a mighty, loving God.
We have seen humanity in our created goodness, in our corruption by the forces of sin and death, and in our liberation from those same forces by Jesus Christ.
Most importantly, we have seen God, who in becoming human and living among us has made God’s self visible to us once again, and who in dying and being raised from the dead has reconciled us to God’s sustaining, redeeming love.
I’ll let the man himself have the last word:
“Jesus is the son of God…who in the last time took a body for the salvation of all, taught the world about the Father, destroyed death, granted incorruptibility to all through the promise of resurrection, raising his body as first fruits of this and showing it as a trophy over death and its corruption by the sign of the cross.”
Amen to that. Peace be with you.
March 7, 2022
For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face (Psalm 11:7)
The year was 1940. Europe was at war, with no end in sight. On that continent and around the world, princes, paupers, poets, and philosophers were doing what people do when a crisis comes: trying to explain what it all meant.
Into that lively conversation stepped a professor of English literature named C.S. Lewis, a veteran of the First World War who had not yet become one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century. Lewis knew that the deceptively simple question we all confront during a crisis—why?—could not be wholly answered by morale-building speeches, however eloquent, or by geopolitical analysis, however lucid. “Why?” is a God-level question, and Lewis understood that.
Lewis’s response to that question—why?—took the form of a book with the unnervingly direct title The Problem of Pain. His goal was to present an account of how we, as followers of Christ, are called to understand and respond to the reality of pain, whatever its scale. It is a question that we ask anew each time a crisis obliterates the status quo.
In this season of Lent, I invite you to join me in reading along with Lewis, to look anew at the “problem of pain,” so that we, too, might grapple with a question that makes us uncomfortable only because of how much it matters.
You, O God, delight in God-level questions. Help us to ask them. Amen.
March 8, 2022
Have a unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9)
When reading a book, one is often tempted to skip the preface. Why endure the tedium of table-setting when you can turn over a few pages and skip ahead to the main course? I think, though, that we should dwell for a moment on C.S. Lewis’s preface to The Problem of Pain, because what he writes there is essential to our understanding of what this book is—and is not.
First, Lewis makes clear that, with a couple of exceptions, he has no intention of doing anything but re-stating orthodox—that is, standard—Christian teaching, filtered through his distinct voice. We will get to those exceptions in due course, but they stand atop a sturdy foundation of received wisdom.
Second, Lewis states that his aim in writing this book is “to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering,” not “the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience” in the face of it. In the latter direction, he offers only this: “when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
You, O God, love us. Help us to receive your love, and to love you in return. Amen.
March 9, 2022
Why are times not kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days (Job 24:1)?
C.S. Lewis was a convert to Christianity, and he begins The Problem of Pain by acknowledging that if you had asked him in his pre-conversion days why he was not religious, he would have pointed to the existence of pain in the life of the world and said, “that is why.”
How, after all, can one proclaim an all-powerful and loving God when the evidence of nature tells such a different story? Creatures without consciousness live and die competing for resources. Creatures with consciousness—like us—do the same, with the added “privilege” of feeling existential dread as we do so. All the while, this whole cynical drama is unfolding on an infinitesimal scale, lost in the vast expanse of the cosmos. Not a very loving picture, is it?
Lewis concedes that nature often fails to reflect God’s goodness and love but points out that if nature really is all that there is, then we ought to be content with our lot in it. The description of existence given above is only a bleak one if we have reason to expect more. If that reason and expectation does not come from nature, Lewis argues, then it must come from someplace else—or rather, from somebody else.
Now, we are off and running.
You, O God, are more than the sum of what we can see. Help us to look further. Amen.
March 10, 2022
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:16-17).”
C.S. Lewis’s opening observation in The Problem of Pain—that we only object to the persistence of pain in the world because something beyond nature has taught us to expect more—carries with it an extraordinary implication: that we can have experiences whose source lies beyond nature.
Lewis takes that implication and runs with it. He identifies three types of experience which do not originate in nature as we understand it, each of which he sees reflected in the tenants of the world’s major religions.
The first is the experience of what Lewis calls “the numinous.” This fun-to-say but seldom used word denotes an experience of the uncanny, those things which surprise us simply by existing. Lewis explains this by noting the difference between being afraid when we see a tiger and being afraid when we see a ghost. Tigers are fearsome because they might eat us. Ghosts are fearsome because they should not exist. God is by nature numinous, and so becomes the object of our wonder.
You, O God, are wondrous. Help us to behold you. Amen.
March 11, 2022
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes (Psalm 19:7-8).
Yesterday, we talked about the experience of “the numinous,” our sense of things that should not be real and yet clearly are. For Lewis, this is the first “jump” beyond empirical reality that humans routinely make, the first suggestion that our sense of what is true has a source beyond what is obviously visible in nature.
Today, we turn to the second “jump:” the notion of morality. Nature, Lewis observes, is governed only by primal desire, by what we must do to get what we want and need. Yet there also exists in every human culture a sense of right and wrong, of what ought to be done. Nature gives us no reason to worry over whether something is right or wrong, good or bad, and yet we do.
Furthermore, Lewis observes that we have a curious habit of creating moral codes that we know we will break. Instead of making rules that are easy to follow, we set the bar so high that we are doomed to fall short of our own chosen standards. Where in the world did we learn to do that? Lewis’s answer: nowhere.
Your law, O God, is perfect. Help us to follow it more perfectly. Amen.
March 12, 2022
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).
With C.S. Lewis as our guide, we have talked of the “numinous,” our sense of a power which lies beyond our capacity to quantify and catalog. We have talked of morality, our sense that there is a right and a wrong way to live, not just a more and less efficient way to satisfy our needs and desires.
Lewis calls our acknowledgement of these phenomena “jumps,” because our belief that they are real and true does not come from nature. Remarkable as they are, though, the first two “jumps” pale in comparison to the third: the notion that jump #1 and jump #2 are intertwined, that the higher power is also the “guardian” of our morality.
Lewis concedes that not everybody ties the two together. There are religions with amoral gods, as well as moral codes that make no mention of gods or religion. For those who do, though, it seems the most natural thing in the world that God is good, and that good things come from God. What Lewis reminds us here is that this idea is a very long “jump” indeed, one that we could scarcely have made on our own.
You, O God, are righteous. Help us to love righteousness. Amen.
March 13, 2022
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…The Law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 17).
There are jumps, and there are long jumps. At this point in The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis comes to what he considers to be the longest jump of all, the proclaimed truth which lies farthest afield of the observable natural order.
It is the notion that the “numinous” God, the “guardian” of all that is good, once sent a person who was “one with” God to live among us, to die, and to be raised from the dead, so that our good relations with God might be restored.
This “jump,” of course, is the main truth claim of Christianity. It is also the last thing that anybody would have expected, and this is what Lewis wants us to see. More so than even the three previous jumps he identifies, the idea that some guy named Jesus of Nazareth reconciled us to God through his life, death, and resurrection two thousand years ago is an affront to the “natural” order of things, which is exactly why it could only have come from somewhere—or rather, from somebody—else.
You, O God, are the source of our hope. Help us to cling to you. Amen.
March 14, 2022
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves their crushed spirits (Psalm 34:17-18).
Right about now, you may be wondering what all this talk of “the numinous,” morality, and God’s defiance of our expectations has to do with pain. Why does C.S. Lewis begin his book about the Christian understanding of suffering by exploring the “unnatural” experiences and convictions that pervade the lives of humans in general and Christians in particular?
Lewis answers this question by returning to the observation that started us down this path: we would not be dismayed by the suffering inherent to the natural world unless something beyond nature has given us reason to expect something more, to want something better.
Each of the “jumps” that Lewis has named does just that. If God is a higher power, then God has the capacity to influence our world. If God is good, then God will surely want to influence our world for good. If God has reconciled us to God’s good self through Jesus Christ, then goodness should reign in heaven and on earth.
So, what gives? This, friends, is The Problem of Pain. Stay tuned.
You, O God, call us to something more. Help us to want something better. Amen.
March 15, 2022
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it: the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place (Psalm 24:1-3)?
Now that C.S. Lewis has laid out the “problem of pain,” he invites us to take a closer look at each of its parts. The first link in the chain is the Christian belief in God’s “omnipotence.”
Lewis notes that when we describe somebody or something as “omnipotent,” we usually mean that they “have power to do all, or everything.” If God has such power, it seems reasonable to ask why God does not order the universe in such a way that evil and pain are not a part of our lived experience.
Lewis begins to answer this question by observing that while God certainly can order the universe in any way that God likes, God has ordered the world in such a way that the solution proposed above is actually impossible, not because it is beyond God’s power, but because it would undermine God’s vision of creation—including us. Starting tomorrow, we will explore how this is so.
You, O Lord, see all things in heaven and on earth. Help us to see with your vision. Amen.
March 16, 2022
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
So what is God’s vision of creation, and what about that vision conflicts with the call for God to rid the world of evil and pain by force? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis argues that God’s vision of creation demands that all conscious parts of that creation—including us—have a will which is truly free and distinct from God’s. Only then can our association with God rightly be called a relationship—because, by God’s grace, we choose it.
Lewis asserts that this vision of creation would be undermined if God were to avert all causes of pain before they have a chance to affect us. Such a creation, after all, would not be remotely free. Instead, God would be keeping the thoughts, words, and deeds of all who dwell in creation under tight control, forcing us to live according to God’s will.
Depending on one’s situation, this may or may not sound like a price worth paying for the absence of pain, but for Lewis, that is beside the point. We were not created to be blissful automatons. We were created to be in relationship, with one another and with the God who created us.
You, O God, love us enough to make us free. Help us, in our freedom, to love you. Amen.
March 17, 2022
Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done (Genesis 2:1-2).
God’s desire to preserve freedom of choice is one thing, but C.S. Lewis raises another possibility. Sure, it makes sense that conscious beings like us should have free will so that we might be in relationship with God, but what about the rest of creation? What should prevent God from altering inanimate matter to prevent pain; from, say, literally transforming our swords into plowshares before we have a chance to use them?
Lewis responds by offering two observations. First, the problem that we explored yesterday still applies because God’s constant manipulation of matter would, in effect, prevent us from acting upon our will and so curtail our freedom. Second, Lewis argues that if we are to be in relationship with one another and with God, we require a materially consistent world, a “neutral” environment whose internal logic (i.e. fire will burn you if you get too close) is the same for everybody in it.
“But what about miracles?” you might be asking right about now. Fear not; Lewis has thought of that. Stay tuned!
You, O God, govern all creation. Make us more perfect stewards of what is yours. Amen.
March 18, 2022
The steward tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it came from […] Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:9, 11).
So, what about miracles? As we saw yesterday, C.S. Lewis argues in The Problem of Pain that a world in which God manipulates our reality to avert all instances of suffering is not a free world, and therefore not the sort of world that God desires for us.
How, then, does Lewis account for miracles? After all, a miracle is an instance of God doing exactly that: manipulating our reality and defying our understanding of what is possible. Belief in such occurrences is, as Lewis notes, a “part of the Christian faith.”
Lewis explains himself by arguing that he is not denying the miraculous but instead asserting that for God’s vision of creation to be realized, miracles must remain the exceptions that prove the rule. To be clear, this is NOT an expression of divine vanity—as with a showman who “always leaves ‘em wanting more”—but of our human need to share in a “common life” which allows us to relate to one another and, finally, to God.
You, O God, interrupt normalcy with the miraculous. By your Spirit, make us ever more aware of your disruptive love. Amen.
March 21, 2022
The Lord passed before Moses, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).”
Having considered The Problem of Pain in light of God’s omnipotence, C.S. Lewis turns to the next link in the chain: God’s goodness. As we recall from the opening chapter, the Christian faith contends that God not only governs creation, but also seeks to influence its inner workings in such a way that it yields forth goodness. What, then, are we to make of pain, which, one presumes, is surely never a good thing?
Lewis starts by remarking how tough it is to get a handle on what it means for God to be good. After all, because God is surely wiser than any of us, God must understand the difference between good and evil better than any human being ever could. At the same time, though, God’s goodness cannot be totally foreign to our goodness, or else God would be little more than an “omnipotent fiend” that Christians worship only out of fear.
The solution to this puzzle, Lewis argues, is that human goodness and divine goodness are, in fact, related: the former is an imperfect version of the latter. Our understanding of goodness provides the starting point; to get “better” is to reflect God’s goodness more perfectly.
You, O God, are good. Help us to be better. Amen.
March 22, 2022
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
Now that C.S. Lewis has established that we mortals can speak with some authority about the goodness of God, he takes a moment to define his terms, or rather his term: “good.” What, Lewis asks, do we mean when we talk about the goodness of God?
Lewis argues that by “goodness,” we usually mean “lovingness.” This seems right enough; a good God is a loving God. But what do we mean by “lovingness?” Here, Lewis writes, we run into trouble, because by “lovingness,” we usually just mean “kindness.” Kindness is a part of who God is, but Lewis points out that reducing God’s love to mere kindness suggests “a senile benevolence” whose only concern is that a good time be had by all.
Lewis argues that God’s love is “sterner and more splendid” than this, which means that God’s goodness is, too. As anybody who has ever had a difficult conversation with a loved one knows, loving somebody sometimes means helping them to face a difficult truth. We might be having a good time during those moments—no matter which end of them we are on—but they are good ones all the same.
You, O God, truly love us. Help us to love you, and all that you have made. Amen.
March 23, 2022
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-5).
What, then, is the nature of this “sterner and more splendid” love which constitutes the goodness of God? Answering this question is no easy task because to do so, God—and our relationship with God—must be defined, and God is blessedly tough to pin down.
Lewis concludes that although God’s love is to some degree unknowable, key analogies can give us some sense of it. The first of these is “God as artist.” In this analogy, God is likened to a potter, a stone mason, and the like, while we are likened to clay, uncarved stones, and the like.
As Lewis points out, this analogy has its weaknesses and strengths. On the one hand, by likening us to inanimate objects, it does a poor job of conveying that humans are living, conscious creations. On the other hand, by conjuring the image of the artist laboring to create and perfect, it does a superb job of conveying just how much God fusses over the business of our growth and transformation.
You, O God, are perfect. Perfect us by your Spirit. Amen.
March 24, 2022
Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O, that today you would harken to his voice (Psalm 95:6-7).
Lewis now turns to the second analogy that he identifies as helpful for understanding the nature of God’s goodness and love: “God as guardian of creatures.”
Here, God is likened to somebody who has charge over an animal—a dog owner, for instance. This has definite advantages over the “God as artist” analogy. First, both parties are sentient beings this time around, yet there is still no question about which one has the greater power and authority.
Second, the nature of the love between dog and owner reflects our relationship with God in this important way: if the relationship is to deepen with time, training is required.
This is where the matter of divine goodness comes in. For a dog owner, training is an expression of love because it makes the dog more lovable and unlocks the fullness of its potential, but for the dog, at first, it will not feel “natural.”
Lewis argues that the same is true of God and us: opening ourselves up to God’s transforming love might not always feel like the “natural” thing to do, but that is precisely how we become our fullest, best selves.
You, O God, call us to be transformed in you. Help us to heed your call. Amen.
March 25, 2022
“[Jesus said to his disciples] Pray, then, in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).”
Two analogies down, two to go. At this point in The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis comes to what is perhaps the most common way of understanding who God is relative to us: “God as parent.” This is the vision of God’s relationship with us that we affirm every time we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven…,” just as Christ, the son of God, commanded us to do.
By this point, you might be picking up on a theme that connects each of the analogies that Lewis unpacks here: all of them emphasize how involved God is in shaping the trajectory of our lives. “God as parent” is no different, and Lewis makes clear that God’s approach to parenting is very “hands on.” God knows who we may yet become, and will do all that is proper to God to aid in our becoming.
This theme of an involved God is an important one, especially where the question of divine goodness is concerned. Lewis argues that for God, goodness entails intimate investment in our development. No “senile benevolence” here. God cares, which means that God is at work in our lives.
You, O God, are our heavenly parent. Help us to live as your children. Amen.
March 26, 2022
Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest (Jeremiah 2:2-3).
At last, Lewis arrives at the fourth and final analogy that he would like us to consider, cautioning us that it is “full of danger,” but nevertheless “most useful” for our current purposes: “God as lover, or partner, or spouse.”
The danger of this analogy, Lewis argues, is that one might be tempted to infer from it a God who is merely a frustrated romantic, a deity who loves by “enduring all things” so that we might be free to pursue our own fads, fancies, and flaws wherever they may lead.
Such a view, Lewis asserts, is simply not a full account of what it means to love. Love may indeed “endure all things,” as the Apostle Paul puts it, but love also “rejoices in the truth,” even if that truth is inconvenient or convicting. As Lewis puts it, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them, but love cannot cease to will their removal.”
Such is the case with God, who loves us in order to better us, so that we might, in turn, draw closer to God in love.
You, O God, have devoted yourself to us. Help us to devote ourselves to you. Amen.
March 27, 2022
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).”
Each of the four analogies for our relationship with God that Lewis has named in this chapter of The Problem of Pain—God as craftsman, God as master (of a pet), God as parent, and God as lover—have their uses as well as their drawbacks; as we discussed some days ago, it is beyond the capacity of language to describe God perfectly. However, they all make the same basic claim: that God loves us in an active manner with the aim of transforming and perfecting us. The kind of disinterested “love” that merely desires to insulate us from harm could not be farther from what God has in mind.
Lewis makes this point so forcefully because it must be understood in order to usefully explore the question that started this whole thing off: how does one reconcile a good and loving God with a suffering world? If God was actually the placid “grandfather in heaven” that Lewis described earlier, then the answer to this question would be “one cannot.” If, on the other hand, God loves us so that we might be perfected as Lewis contends, we have the makings of a worthwhile conversation, a conversation that Lewis is positively aching to start.
You, O God, never confuse love with benign disinterest. Help us never to do so, either. Amen.
March 28, 2022
What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor (Psalm 8:4-5).
Lewis begins this new phase of his argument by wondering—for our benefit—if he has not contradicted himself. After all, he has just concluded that the problem of pain in light of a loving God is only an “insoluble” one to those who do not understand what “love” actually means, and that God loves us by transforming and perfecting us. But recall that at the outset of this chapter Lewis insisted that God’s idea of goodness is not—cannot be—simply our idea of goodness turned upside-down, and is that not basically what he has argued here: that what we call “love” God calls “indifference,” and what we call “possessiveness” God calls “love?”
No, Lewis writes, it is not. The difference, he explains, is that we love and receive the love of others because we need it. God, on the other hand, “needs” nothing. God’s love cannot, then, be described as “possessive” or “selfish” because unlike us—who lose much when others fail to love us—God loses nothing by our failure to love God. That God loves us all the same, Lewis writes, is the wonder of it.
You, O God, love us though you do not need our love. Help us to better love those who do need it. Amen.
March 29, 2022
This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10-11).
Lewis now presses further still into the question of how God’s vision of goodness and love differs from our own. As we observed yesterday, he has already argued that God’s “hands-on” approach to love cannot rightly be equated with human possessiveness because unlike an overly possessive person, God is not motivated by need. All the same, Lewis asks, is there not still something unpleasantly “despotic”—and thus neither good nor loving—about a God who wants what God wants, regardless of what we might want?
Again, Lewis answers “no.” The difference this time, he explains, is that what despots want for their oppressed subjects are hardly ever in the subjects’ best interests. What God wants for us, on the other hand, is always in our best interests because it is what we ought to want for ourselves. Wanting what God wants, Lewis argues, is what we are made for, and so it is freeing, not oppressive, to do so.
You, O God, want us to live in the fullness of your love. Help us to want that, too. Amen.
March 30, 2022
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22).
As we reach the end of The Problem of Pain’s chapter on “Divine Goodness,” C.S. Lewis sums up what he has been driving at for lo, these many pages. God, he argues, may indeed be called good, but not simply because God is loving, kind, and merciful, though God is all of those things and wants us to be all of those things, too.
At the end of the day, God may be called good because growing in the knowledge and love of God is the greatest, highest good there is–for us, and for all that God has created. God is the creator and sustainer of all things, and God sustains creation so that God might love it. We can choose the degree to which we receive and reciprocate God’s love, Lewis argues, but we cannot be sustained by anything else. We, like all creation, are made for relationship with God, and it is in this relationship that the life-giving, transformative goodness of God can be found.
Okay, so God is good. Are we? Lewis has some thoughts. Stay tuned.
By your will, O God, we were created and have our being. Help us to be transformed by your goodness. Amen.
March 31, 2022
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror (Psalm 6:1-2).
You will recall that in the previous chapter of The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis argued that God’s love for us is of a perfecting sort. God may be called good, in part, because God means to make us better. Lewis is presuming, then, that we need to be made better, a presumption which brings him to our present topic: human wickedness.
“Wickedness” is a strong word, and Lewis begins his exploration of the subject by answering the question that he supposes to be lurking in the backs of our minds: are we really as bad as all that? Lewis responds by inviting us–if we feel that we are, in fact, good by nature–to examine that feeling and see how well it is borne out by the way we live. “Everyone feels benevolent,” Lewis notes archly, “if nothing happens to be annoying them at the time.”
The kind of wickedness that Lewis is writing about, then, does not look like a witch chanting incantations over a bubbling cauldron. Instead, it looks like the way we are tempted (by our nature) to respond to the challenges and opportunities of life.
You, O God, offer us healing. Help us to acknowledge that we need it. Amen.