I once knew a guy (no longer with us) who could stop a conversation with the question, “But what good is it?” An infomercial, telemarketer, invention, or new idea simply needed to pass under his scathing “But what good is it?” to be vaporized. If it wasn’t helpful in a practical way then it was a waste of time and money.
We didn’t have any philosophical conversations (I knew better) but it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on suffering. I’m sure he suffered, we all do. I wonder what he made of his difficulties. I wonder if he was able to answer his own question.
In September of 1951 C. S. Lewis and Mary Van Deusen were corresponding back and forth on the topic of suffering and specifically on vicarious suffering. This is the suffering we experience on behalf of others. It’s what we do as we lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling or while filling out the paperwork in the hospital waiting room.
Lewis invites Ms. Deusen to reflect on two New Testament passages: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24) and “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). Suffering on behalf of others is not only human, it’s Christlike. Lewis ends the letter this way,
“God bless you all. Be sure that Grace flows into you and out of you and through you in all sorts of ways, and no faithful submission to pain in yourself or in another will be wasted.”1
What good is it? I don’t always know. But I know it’s never wasted.
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” – 2 Corinthians 1:5.
1. Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 135.