Necessary Torture


After his wife died, C. S. Lewis processed his sorrow with pen and ink in what was eventually published as A Grief Observed. Among other gems, his fertile mind came up with this picture:

Suppose that the earthly lives she and I shared for a few years are in reality only the basis for, or prelude to, or earthly appearances of, two unimaginable, supercosmic, eternal somethings. Those somethings could be pictured as spheres or globes. Where the plane of Nature cuts through them—that is, in earthly life—they appear as two circles (circles are slices of spheres). Two circles that touched. But those two circles, above all the point at which they touched, are the very things I am mourning for, homesick for, famished for. You tell me, “She goes on.” But my heart and body are crying out; come back, come back. Be a circle, touching my circle on the plane of Nature. But I know this is impossible.

Losing touch with those who have profoundly touched us is life’s greatest torture. Such loss makes us long for the extra dimensions Lewis suggests. We want there to be more than this flat plane to give our pain a higher purpose; we want there to be more than random motion behind it all.

In this regard Lewis posits only two possibilities:

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.

Such logic may placate the mind, but it takes a while to percolate down to soothe the heart—if it ever does.

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