In his profoundly beautiful book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis argues that some (but by no means all) human suffering is necessary if, indeed, God loves us. Lewis uses analogies of an artist’s love for his art, a person’s love for a pet, a father’s love for a child, and a lover’s jealous passion for his beloved.
I thought of his words this week as I’m preparing my sermon on the first three of the Ten Commandments. What does it mean, in Exodus 20:5, that God is a “jealous God” who punishes?
In the following passage, Lewis brings his argument to this rousing crescendo—and sheds light on a possible answer:
When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of the terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artists’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring…†
† C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1940; 1966), 39-40.