A three-weeks-long-and-counting bout of diverticulitis has prompted me to pull The Problem of Pain off my shelf. In the preface, C.S. Lewis notes that “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.”
While my illness causes me more fatigue and inconvenience than pain, Lewis’s insight certainly applies.
Yesterday at the clinic, I was taken to the X-ray technician so that she could schedule me for a CT scan. This technician happens to be a dear friend of mine, a true sister in Christ. Just to see her and sense her deep sympathy and desire for my well-being lifted my spirit into a realm where illness lost its power to define my experience. Lewis is right. True human sympathy is true help.
And the “least tincture of the love of God” is Help of the highest order.
When I was sent back to the lobby to wait to have blood drawn, it occurred to me that it was Monday morning and I hadn’t yet checked the memory verse for this week, so I got out my phone and opened the Fighter Verse app. The designated verse for this week is Isaiah 46:3-4, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age, I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”
How alive and personal is the Word of God! How continually surprising is his timing.
If I hadn’t been in a public place, I would have broken down in grateful sobs. To think the God of the Universe, the One who made me, has such tender and personal love for me. To think he is actually carrying me, his helpless and daily-aging child. His strength for my weakness. His ability for my inability. His real presence. These gifts are sweeter than health or strength.
The epigraph at the beginning of The Problem of Pain is from an unspoken sermon of George MacDonald: “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” What does that mean?
I’m not sure what it means that our suffering might be like Christ’s. Dietrich Bonhoeffer probably knew. In one of his letters from prison, he wrote, “Please don’t ever get anxious or worried about me, but don’t forget to pray for me—I’m sure you don’t. I am so sure of God’s guiding hand that I hope I shall always be kept in that certainty. You must never doubt that I’m traveling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I’m being led. My past life is brim-full of God’s goodness, and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified.”
I would like to be able to write to you, my friend, the same message, that I am “traveling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I’m being led.” And, in order that I may write it, I have determined to live it. I trust you are traveling your road in the same manner. Keep me posted on your journey.