When Joy Davidman died of cancer in 1956, C. S. Lewis was devastated.  Towards the end of his raw, unnerving ruminations on his grief over the loss of his beloved wife, Lewis began to reflect upon how his mental perception of God had been gradually changed through his unbearable suffering.  He came to believe that God’s goodness was both more unbendingly ferocious and more sweetly life-giving than he had previously dared to imagine.

Lewis came to recognize that human suffering was a necessary means–if one receives and encounters the experience from the posture of faith, looking to God desperately time and again in our darkness and pain and confusion–to having our eyes opened to what God is really like.  No more childish games of fantasy, so disconnnected from reality, are possible.  Or desirable.  And we also begin to have the blindfold removed as to what we are essentially like.  There is no other path to true sight, with respect to both God and self.  Consider the progression of thought and insight in the following exerpts from A Grief Observed, as suffering opens Lewis’ eyes to his distorted views of his deceased wife Joy, of God, and of himself.  God, in turns out, is in the business of smashing down false images and replacing them with concrete reality, no matter how much it hurts to get us there:

“Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be–or so it feels–welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.  You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in windows.  It might be an empty house.  Was it ever inhabited?  It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?…

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not, ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.’

…Already, less than a month after her death, I can feel the slow, insidious beginning of a process that will make the [Joy] I think of into a more and more imaginary woman.  Founded on fact, no doubt.  I shall put in nothing fictitious (or I hope I shan’t).  But won’t the composition inevitably become more and more my own?  The reality is no longer there to check me, to pull me up short, as the real [Joy] so often did, so unexpectedly, by being so thoroughly herself and not me.  The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant–in a word, real.  Is all that work to be undone?  Is what I shall still call [Joy] to sink back horribly into being not much more than one of my old bachelor pipe-dreams?  Oh my dear, my dear, come back for one moment and drive that miserable phantom away…The image has the added disadvantage that it will do whatever you want.  It will smile or frown, be tender, gay, ribald, or argumentative just as your mood demands.  It is a puppet of which you hold the strings.  Not yet of course.  The reality is still too fresh; genuine and wholly involuntary memories can still, thank God, at any moment rush in and tear the strings out of my hands.  But the fatal obedience of the image, its insipid dependence on me, is bound to increase…

If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine…Come, what do we gain by evasions?  We are under the harrow and can’t escape.  Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable.  And how or why did such a reality blossom (or fester) here and there into the terrible phenomenon called consciousness?  Why did it produce things like us who can see it and, seeing it, recoil in loathing?  Who (stranger still) want to see it and take pains to find it out, even when no need compels them and even though the sight of it makes an incurable ulcer in their hearts?…[But] my real fear is not materialism.  If it were true, we–or what we mistake for ‘we’–could get out, get from under the harrow.  An overdose of sleeping pills would do it.  I am more afraid that we are really rats in a trap.  Or, worst still, rats in a laboratory.  Someone said, I believe, ‘God always geometrizes.’  Supposing the truth were ‘God always vivisects’?…

Sooner or later I must face the question in plain language.  What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, ‘good’?  Doesn’t all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite?  What have we to set against it?

We set Christ against it.  But how if He were mistaken?  Almost His last words may have a perfectly clear meaning.  He had found that the Being He called Father was horribly and infinitely different from what He had supposed.  The trap, so long and carefully prepared and so subtly baited, was at last sprung, on the cross.  The vile practical joke had succeeded…

Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game, ‘or else people won’t take it seriously.’  Apparently it’s like that.  Your bid–for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity–will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it.  And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world.  Nothing less will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs.  He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses.  Only torture will bring out the truth.  Only under torture does he discover it himself.  And I must surely admit that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better.  And only suffering could do it.  But then the Cosmic Sadist and Eternal Vivisector becomes an unnecessary hypothesis…

[My subjective] mood is no evidence [of God’s intentions for my suffering].  Of course the cat will growl and spit at the operator and bite him is she can.  But the real question is whether he is a vet or a vivisector…

The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist.  The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness.  A cruel man might be bribed–might grow tired of his vile sport–might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety.  But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good.  The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting.  If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.  But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us?  Well, take your choice.  The tortures occur.  If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one.  If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary.  For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Either way, we’re for it.

What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’  Have they never even been to a dentist?…

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality.  He knew it already.  It was I who didn’t.  In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once.  He always knew that my temple was a house of cards.  His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down…

Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind [as I reflect on my process of suffering and grief].  One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forbode.  But the other, that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’…

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.  I want [Joy], not something that is like her.  A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle.

Images, I must suppose, have their use or they would not have been so popular.  (It makes little difference whether they are pictures and statues outside the mind or imaginative constructions within it).  To me, however, their danger is more obvious.  Images of the Holy easily become holy images–sacrosanct.  My idea of God is not a divine idea.  It has to be shattered time after time.  He shatters it Himself.  He is the great iconoclast.  Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?  The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.  And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not not.  But the same thing happens in our private prayers.

All reality is iconoclastic.

The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her.  And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness.  That is, in her foursquare and independent reality.  And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.

But ‘this’ is not now imaginable.  In that respect [Joy] and all the dead are like God.  In that respect loving her has become, in its measure, like loving Him.  In both cases I must stretch out the arms and hands of love–its eyes cannot here be used–to the reality, through–across–all the changeful phantasmagoria of my thoughts, passions, and imaginings.  I musn’t sit down content with the phantasmagoria itself and worship that for Him, or love that for her.  Not my idea of God, but God.  Not my idea of [Joy], but [Joy].  Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbor, but my neighbor…

He will knock down [my house of cards] as often as proves necessary.  Unless I have to be finally given up as hopeless, and left building pasteboard palaces in Hell forever.” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 4-5, 19-20, 23-24, 31-34, 43-44, 46, 49-51, 61, 75-78)

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