As many of you certainly know, Lent is the 40-day pilgrimage that Christians take every year as they look to Easter. Last week it was introduced by the solemn reminder that we are dust (and to dust we will return) on Ash Wednesday. Our breath and being are animated by God and in his image, for his glory.
But, often the struggle hides the Truth of God. I was reading through Lewis’s letters this week and came across a letter to his good friend and fellow Inkling Owen Barfield. The date is September 12, 1938, as the tumult of World War II was kicking up. Lewis says, “I had so often told myself that my friends and books and even brains were not given me to keep: that I must teach myself at bottom to care for something else more (and also of course to care for them more but in a different way) and I was horrified to find how cold the idea of really losing them struck.”
Lewis was a veteran of World War I, wounded and sent home in 1918. He knew what war meant. It was, in the least, an interruption to daily, peaceful life. In The Problem of Pain, written in 1940, he says that pain is God’s megaphone and it, “gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.” Many of us echo the idea that God is like a parachute to an airman–always present but we hope not to use it. But if we claim that we are the owners of our life, we won’t abandon everything for God. “What then can God do in our interests,” Lewis writes, “but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?”
In the letter to Barfield, Lewis suggests that we often take these sorts of sufferings–small or great–as interruptions, and long for our real work: to return to “the happy bustle of ones personal interests.” Isn’t that why we’re here, to create a life-plan to peace, happiness and prosperity? Not according to the Gospel. Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly,” but it’s paired with, “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you can have no part of me.”
The Problem of Pain begins with a quote from MacDonald, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his.” Why? Ask God’s love like Lewis, and you might agree with what he says later in the book, “To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us loveable.”
Lent is the journey we take with Jesus to his cross, to our cross. He paid the sacrifice so we might sacrifice ourselves and be made pure, blameless. It’s not easy. Lewis says to Barfield, “As you said in that essay of yours one cannot in the Simon of Cyrene moment see the cross from the Joseph of Arimathea point of view, but one can remember that the other side is real.”
As you know, Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross before it was accomplished; Joseph of Arimathea offered a tomb once it was finished. Sometimes suffering, both personal and what we see happening in the world, makes it difficult to see through Lent, to Jesus’s crucifixion, and into his bodily resurrection, but it is the hinge that holds the world in God’s grace. It’s more difficult still to see through God’s story of redemption into the forthcoming story of a new Heaven and a new Earth, but we are indeed sojourning, since the Gospel is True and we’ve been bought with a price.
May Lent bring all of us suffering, anguish, and reflection so we might stare deeply in the face of our Messiah and be changed, broken and redeemed.
(The letter cited can be found in C. S. Lewis Collected Letters, Vol. II, published by HarperOne.)