by Jan 28, 2015

I’ve been reading Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis.  He spends a chapter describing his years in an abusive boarding school.  Day after day, he was trapped.  Trapped under a tyrannical headmaster who would frequently beat the students.  Trapped, learning nothing but what he managed to teach himself through extracurricular studying.  Trapped in fear.  Trapped in despair.  Trapped in a seemingly endless and inescapable system of fruitless suffering.

However, it was in this trap where he was surprised by joy.  He wrote that the years of fear and suffering prepared him for the Christian life. The suffering of the semester seemed so real and unending at the time, but when summer came, all the torture seemed as but a distant memory.  In the end, he realized that everything passes, no matter what it feels like in the moment.  He lived in hope of better, brighter summer days, far from the tyrannical headmaster and the dreary dungeon.  Likewise, in the Christian life, he says, we live in hope.  We do not take the present at face value, because the world and its desires are passing away.  What is seen is transient, but what is unseen is eternal.  All suffering will eventually be swallowed in the radiance of the glory of God that is Christ.  That ideal is permanently stamped in Lewis’ writings.

I think about how I would’ve responded in Lewis’ shoes.  I would’ve fought.  I would’ve ran.  I would’ve done everything I could to avoid the suffering.  Then I think about my own life, and the lives of those around me.  All of us, like Lewis, feel trapped to some degree— for some of us, we feel trapped in a bad job or the grueling process of getting a degree.  Some of us feel trapped in a bad relationship, or trapped in our singleness.  Some of us feel trapped by our financial situation or a health issue.  Some of us feel trapped by our packed calendars.  And if you’re like me, you’re always looking for a way out.  Or at least a way to improve the situation.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, many times, I think it is a good thing.  However, in all of this, I fear that we lose sight of the value of difficult circumstances. I fear that our priority shifts from conformity to Christ towards a relieving of uncomfortable circumstances.  Tim Keller said that Christians do not pursue suffering like masochists— but when suffering comes, we see the value in it.  Unlike Lewis, we often miss the value in suffering by expending all of our effort to avoid it.  Instead of appreciating the value of these seemingly bad things, we scorn it in our efforts to escape it.

Let us see the value in the circumstances that feel like prisons.  Let us see that conformity to the image of Christ is more important than our immediate well-being.  Perhaps Thomas Cranmer’s Palm Sunday prayer states it better than I ever could:

“Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”