Exploring the topic of pain and suffering. I would suggest that C.S. Lewis is greatly misunderstood by many evangelicals. In this post I explain why. I also look at a couple of differing ways to view pain and suffering by Scott Hamilton, Ben Petrick, and both Derek and David Carr. Each Christian needs to face the issue of pain and suffering and wrestle through it themselves.
“Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes. To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life“
“There were many times that I resented the perspective Parkinson’s gave me. But now I thank God for it. There is no way I’d understand the awesomeness of a seemingly fractional moment like this without this disease; without having my first DBS surgery fail to the extent that I almost lost it all. This is why I feel that God is at work in my life …”
Ben Petrick on Parkinson’s Disease
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.
Isaiah 53:7-9 NLT
C.S Lewis is one of the most loved Christians, and one of the individuals most often referenced when it comes to the topic of pain and suffering. However, I would also suggest that he is one of the individuals most misunderstood and taken out of context. Pain and suffering is a serious and formidable challenge to the Christian faith and its one we all must wrestle with. Life is painful and life is hard. In an evangelical Christian faith system that has often married an Americanized version of the Christian faith as well as the “American Dream” the problem of pain and suffering is often magnified. We don’t now how to deal with the topic. It often results in driving people away from the Christian faith because as they suffer they often do so alone and without support, love or grace. In other cases people believe that being moral can help people avoid pain and suffering, that is not true at all. In the past few years there have been a number of articles about preparing people for pain and suffering. For example at The Gospel Coalition a while back I read this article by Cameron Cole about preparing kids for suffering. Then there is this article at Desiring God by Jonathan Parnell about how Christians are to prepare for suffering. Finally there is also this talk about suffering from John Piper at Desiring God.
While those articles or talk about pain and suffering are well intentioned in the end I believe they are ultimately foolish. Here’s why…I don’t believe there is a way to prepare someone for pain and suffering. Can you honestly prepare someone for a loss of a job? Can you honestly prepare someone for stage 4 pancreatic cancer? Can you prepare a mother to process the news that her only son was killed in an automobile accident? Can you prepare a young married couple for a miscarriage? I would suggest that no…a person will never be prepared for suffering. To make my case I would like to use C.S. Lewis.
In 1940 C.S. Lewis published a landmark book called “The Problem of Pain.” This book is an intellectual response to the issue of suffering. It is his attempt to reconcile why a loving, and just God would allow suffering, pain and evil in the world simultaneously. It was during my faith crisis that I stumbled across this quote from “The Problem of Pain” in which Lewis said, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Since I used to be a John Piper Kool-Aid drinker I thought of what Piper taught and came to the conclusion that God is %$&^ing sick. That’s my thought exactly during the 2009 to 2013 time frame when I rejected Christianity for years. An idea of a God that creates cancer, that created September 11, or that creates all other maladies just made my stomach turn. Indeed if that is how God operates than I will gladly bolt to the atheist camp, as its healthier in the long run. After all a God who is a monster is a God who doesn’t deserve worship at all. This is how I felt for years. While Christians pass around and quote C.S. Lewis on “The Problem of Pain” there is a problem in their approach. I learned this in the course of time. That is not the only book that Lewis wrote that dealt with the problem of pain. He wrote another book that was done anonymously that many Christians are not as familiar with, and I think often ignore. Why? In a faith system that is composed mainly of formulas and an approach that is nice and tidy this second book is too raw. It overturns the way many evangelicals deal with this topic. But before I get into it, let me describe the situation that led to its publication.
Later in his life Lewis wrote Joy Davidman Gresham. Gresham was separated from William Gresham. William Gresham, who was known as a novelist was an abusive husband and alcoholic. To stay in the United Kingdom Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham entered into civil marriage. They both were intellectual and they both came from similar backgrounds, they both converted to Christianity from atheism and during this time they fell deeply in love with each other. Joy developed pain in her hip and she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. They decided to enter into Christian marriage and did so, the ceremony was done bedside in the hospital on March 21, 1957. Gresham’s cancer went into remission and the couple lived together. In October 1959 Joy’s cancer returned, and by March 1960 it was not responding to radiation. In April 1960 Lewis took Davidman to Greece which was her lifelong wish before her death. Her health took a turn for the worse upon their return to the United Kingdom, and she died on July 13, 1960.
C.S. Lewis struggled deeply with grief. He struggled with his faith and even a belief in God during this time. He published a book called “A Grief Observed” which was done under a pseudonym of N.W. Clark due to the questions he was asking. The grief he was dealing with was so overwhelming and it was during this time that he struggled to regain his faith. In a strange twist of faith after the book was published under a pseudonym some of Lewis’ friends gave it to him to read.
What I think Lewis story would feature and where I want to take this is that each person will deal with grief differently. Each person deals and responds in a different fashion. You cannot have a one size fits all. The idea for this post came while grabbing dinner in a bar in the DC area and watching something on ESPN. It’s with that in mind that I would like to feature some differing ways to look at grief by four differing individuals. I didn’t expect to write about the third and the fourth but I stumbled across it while researching this post.
Scott Hamilton and Cancer
Scott Hamilton was born in Toledo, Ohio, and is one of the most talented American figure skaters. He has also been an Olympic Gold medalist. He won four consecutive U.S. championships and world championships from 1981 to 1984. In 1984 at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics he won the Gold Medal. In this video Scott talks about the health challenges he has had to deal with in his life to include testicular cancer, and two brain tumors. In the video he talks about his doubts, and his fear of cancer especially after his mother died of cancer. But he also speaks to how the brain tumor he had since birth is a gift. Why? It is a gift in the sense that it made many other parts of his life possible. If the brain tumor had not had happened, and stunted his growth would he have been an Olympic figure skater? Would he have had a career in figure skating? No. Now please note I am not saying these were foreordained by God, that’s the reason why I reject Neo-Calvinism. However, I do believe that God can redeem and use situations. That is the difference…God doesn’t foreordain evil or suffering but he uses it. So that I would suggest is one way that a person deals with their suffering. They look at the blessings that came about in other areas of their life.
Ben Petrick and Parkinsonism
Ben Petrick was one of the most gifted catchers that played in Major League Baseball. In high school in the Portland, Oregon area he soared in both baseball and football. He was called up to the Colorado Rockies where he started in 1999. His talent was raw and he was quite gifted. If you want to read more about Petrick at the Rockies you can do so here and here. His career struggled and in 2004 he went to the Detroit Tigers. While he was with the Tigers he announced that he was going to retire from baseball at the age of 27. He had dropped a bombshell in that in 1999 he was diagnosed at the age of 23 to have the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, or parkinsonism. He left the Portland area in peak health, and returned to the Portland area in defeat crushed to have baseball taken away from him at 27. All he wanted to do was be a baseball player…that was Ben Petrick’s dream. Ben’s father also was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and the suffering of both father and son drew them close. Ben married and his wife, Kellie worked as a teacher while he was at home. After the birth of his daughter Ben was encouraged to try a treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation. He underwent that and all appeared well, until about 9 days after the surgery he started to have violent seizures. He was rushed back to the hospital where it was learned that there was an infection in his brain. The electrodes that were implemented were removed, his family didn’t know if Ben would survive. A year later Ben decided to try the surgery again and it worked. Through this entire ordeal his faith grew and he was challenged in many ways. For example in a post called “Night Becomes Us” written after the second Deep Brain Simulation procedure Ben wrote the following:
My 3-year-old daughter’s voice woke me up at 2:30 last night. It was a moment I’d been waiting for since the day she was born.
At night I don’t take any medication for my Parkinson’s disease … ceding to my wife all nighttime duties, as I lay there, useless and feeling like not much of a man.
Most fathers think about walking their daughters down the aisle. I only dreamed of walking mine back to bed. …
Since my DBS surgery, I have improved enough so that off medication I am still able to walk around, get food and drinks, and do the little things my daughter might ask of me. But I hadn’t had the chance to do the one thing I’d always wanted to …
Last night, I woke up and heard my daughter walking down the hallway. The sound of those footsteps sent me into action. I got up and walked to our door, where I met her with a “Shhhh.” She had her little turtle night-light, which was emitting tiny glowing spires that set off her sparkly Tinker Bell pajamas. Her hair was a massive confusion of yellow curls. Just looking at her for the first time in that “confused middle of the night” moment, I felt my heart lift.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Can’t sleep,” she replied. “Just can’t.”
I stuck my hand out and enveloped hers, and escorted her back to her room.
I lied down with her, nose to nose. “Close your eyes,” I said. “Try to go back to sleep with me.”
She followed my example for about two minutes. Then for the next hour she tickled my face as I pretended to sleep.
I ultimately surrendered and made my 4:30 a.m. march downstairs, this time with her in my arms. We got some cereal, folded our bodies into my chair, watched Tangled, and for two hours were a thicket of giggles.
There were many times that I resented the perspective Parkinson’s gave me. But now I thank God for it. There is no way I’d understand the awesomeness of a seemingly fractional moment like this without this disease; without having my first DBS surgery fail to the extent that I almost lost it all. This is why I feel that God is at work in my life …
There we sat in our glowing house as night became day. I smoothed her hair. I smelled her neck. I heard her laugh. I closed my eyes. And I said, “Thank you.”
ESPN did a write up of Ben Petrick. Ben wrote a book about his experience called “40 Thousand to 1“, and he also writes a blog called “Faith in the Game” which deals with sports, his Parkinson’s and other athletes have written posts about their suffering. It is the story of Ben Petrick that I saw in a bar here in the Fairfax, Virginia area that led me to want to write about this topic. To hear what Ben Petrick says about faith, and his suffering in light of his Parkinson’s you can listen to that in the video below. It starts around the 5:42 minute mark.
In the case of Ben he talks about how Parkinson’s and his experience has resulted in him appreciating his life, and family. He doesn’t take life for granted. He speaks about his attitude and not focusing on the negatives. In this case he appreciates small things that many other people take for granted.
Brothers Derek and David Carr
This next part of this post is actually a gem to write, I’ll explain why in a second. Derek Carr who used to play football at Fresno State and is the current Quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. In this video above at 2:04 the Carrs talk about a serious, and threatening medical condition with their son Dallas. In it Derek suggests that the way he just dealt with the suffering is to be open about, and weep when necessary. I have to tell you that I was surprised to see that video as I never expected to touch on this aspect. Plus in researching more about Derek Carr I found this post from ESPN. In the article it also discuss the career problems his brother, David Carr had. Before I continue let me explain a few things for you to understand. I grew up in Fresno and attended Fresno State for a year before transferring to Marquette University in Milwaukee. At the time David Carr was the quarterback and was the player to watch. I was in Wisconsin when Fresno State played the University of Wisconsin about a week before the September 11 attacks. I remember being in Camp Randal and watching the game and watching David Carr lead the Bulldogs and defeat the Badgers. To be so far from home and to not only watch a Fresno State football game, but to watch Fresno State play so well was amazing. It was a unique experience in my life. After college David Carr was picked up by the Houston Texans and sadly over the course of time his career did not go as planned. In the ESPN article it discuss the way his career as a starter ended. On the day he was losing his job with the Texans he went out and threw a football with his brother. He then tried other teams to include the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants to the San Francisco 49ers and then back to the Giants. He decided to push back from pro football to take care of his daughter when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Suffering takes place in many forms some of it can be unfulfilled career problems or jobs not going the way you intend. How many people in life could identify with that aspect? Is that the reason why movies like Office Space are so popular? In the case of David Carr I would think most people in his shoes would be bitter or angry, and honestly who can blame them? With the way his career went he looked at it in another light he accepted the results and said the way it went as how God wanted it. Look at this section form the ESPN article
THE ONLY FAMILY that’s produced as many gifted throwers as the Carrs is the Mannings, which is fitting because the only precedent for the beating that David Carr suffered in Texas is what Archie Manning endured in New Orleans. Surrounded by expansion-draft castoffs, David absorbed 249 sacks in his first five years. He never complained, even to family. But as years of hits set in, David began to look at the rush before he looked downfield, a quarterback’s death spiral. “You try to rack your brain and ask, ‘Why?'” he says now when asked about his career. “It was God’s plan.”
I highlighted the part that I wanted to feature. With his brother coming of age and following in his footsteps David was able to use his pain and learn from his mistakes to be able to guide, and shape his bother to help him go a different path. As David Carr said, “If I had to take some bumps so that he doesn’t have to, so be it.” This is another way to look at suffering, to use your experiences, tragedies, and misfortune to the betterment of others. Julie Anne Smith does this everyday when she writes at Spiritual Sounding Board. The pain she endured in being involved in a fundamentalist church and enduring a lawsuit against her family; well that pain drives her to protect others and make sure others aren’t hurt in that manner. As a Sunday school teacher Dee Parsons was at ground zero in an alleged child sex abuse cover up in David Horner’s Providence Baptist in Raleigh, North Carolina. The church tried to discipline them when she and her husband tried to leave. Today she uses that experience and knowledge to write, support and help others. I am one of the many people she has helped along with individuals like Julie Anne Smith, Karen Hinkley, Todd Wilhelm and countless others. Before I move on from the Carrs I have to say this, and this honeslty baffles me. When many evangelicals were enamored with Tim Tebow I wonder…why have the Carrs not been discussed or raised? Both David and Derek have been noticed for their faith and my question is this why has the church not noticed them nearly as much? From what I have read I am impressed with all the Carr brothers. Any church that has them involved is one that is blessed. It will be interesting to see what happens at Bakersfield Christian especially with David being the assistant while Darren coaches.
Pain and suffering is a difficult issue to grapple. Evangelicals love formulas and simplicity. Unfortunately that is not how life operates, as life is complex and hard. In the stories above I illustrated how differing people responded to pain and suffering. In the course of time Scott Hamilton accepted and was grateful for his brain tumor as it gave him a life he would not have had otherwise. Ben Petrick has used his experience with Parkinson’s to appreciate life and to speak out about the disease and help others. In the situation with the Carr’s their suffering was different. Derek is open about the suffering he and his wife endured in regards to their son. He talks about his humanity and how he cried. In the case of David Carr a career that imploded and didn’t go the way that he wanted he now accepts and is using those mistakes to guide and mentor his brother. In the stories above each person had to face their owns suffering and how to deal with it.
I would suggest there are two main stages when it comes to pain and suffering. C.S Lewis’s life reflects this in both. There is the stage he was at when he wrote his book “The Problem with Pain” in 1940. Then there is the second stage when he dealt with the death of his wife. As I have said, its in this context that I think many of the articles above from The Gospel Coalition or Desiring God are foolish in this one context,
You can not prepare a person for pain and suffering.
Each person suffers in differing degrees and deals with the issues in their own way. Some will not react well and others will be numb to it. Others will walk away. When I was in my faith crisis Andrew commented once as to how I must not have been a Christian since I walked away from the faith. I remarked as I recall that his time of suffering is coming. And its not just for him, it’s for everyone reading this post. Your time of suffering is coming. In my life I experienced a loved one’s schizophrenia. I also experienced my mother’s pancreatic cancer and my father’s brain tumor. I had a close call with my life in 2012 with a bacterial infection in the hospital. I’ve suffered a lot and yet I know more suffering is to come. Why? It’s humanity…it’s broken, flawed and that is just how it is. So if you cannot prepare a person for pain and suffering then what do you do? The answer is you love them, you hold their hand and help them walk through it. You don’t walk away from them, instead you get in the trenches and walk alongside and help the person during this time. You go into the storm with them. You support and you love them in their own way. I’ve tried to do this for others and I have seen others do this for me. Two examples that stand out is the way James Crestwood opened up his home to me in the middle of the night when my father had his medical crisis which turned out to be a brain tumor. He didn’t try and pontificate and speak about the Lord’s sovereign will. Instead he just hugged me at 2 or 3 in the morning. The one danger I would say is that when Christians make universal declarations and apply them to others. Each person is different and each person reacts differently. The second example is when Andrew showed me this kind of love in how he came to a hospital room when I was in the midst of a medical crisis. While the relationship is estranged I still do appreciate that fact. Then there is this thought that I feel needs to be addressed. Even the son of God wasn’t spared from human pain and suffering. The ultimate form of suffering happened at Calvary. Since Jesus wasn’t immune from suffering what makes us think that we will not have pain and suffering? Very few people go through life without pain. And for those who have not experienced pain and suffering I have to say this…your time is coming. I am not trying to be glib, or arrogant, it’s just that we are all going to experience pain and suffering. No one is going to escape it in their life.
In closing I will leave you with this song from Nicole Nordeman about the seasons of life. Thanks guys I love you!