This week on the blog we’ve explored heavy topics. Suffering. Pain. Death. Heaven. Hell. Where is God? How do we navigate brokenness? I want to take a slightly different track on pain and suffering… the kind that comes from sanctification.
God’s Word promises that He doesn’t punish our sin with suffering (Romans 8:1), but He does sometimes use pain and suffering to peel away our layers of self and expose the sin nature, one that we can fight with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the fifth book of seven in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Though the first time I read it was in middle school, there’s one passage that I come back to over and over, and I want to share it with you today because it has shaped the way I think about pain and suffering and the role they play in salvation and in our ongoing sanctification in a really helpful way.
Let me set up this passage for you…
There’s a boy named Eustace, who is a particularly unpleasant character. One day, he sneaks off while everyone else is working and stumbles into a dragon’s cave filled with treasure, and his greed runs wild. He falls asleep in the cave and when he awakes, finds that he has been turned into a dragon himself. As a dragon, he begins to understand that his previous behavior was simply atrocious and longs to be a boy once again, but doesn’t know how to accomplish such a transformation. He eventually is turned back into a human and this passage is where he describes to his cousin Edmund how it happened.
“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it – if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”
“You mean it spoke?”
“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and around the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well. I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells – like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy – oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I, as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”
Pain that brings joy.
I can’t read this passage and not see the saving work of Jesus. Peeling of our old worn, sinful, skin that we can never be rid off, and making us clean. But I also can’t read it without seeing the sanctifying work of Jesus. Peeling back the layers of our sin nature over and over. Bringing awareness of our sin and self that we hadn’t previously noticed and providing the remedy we need.
Sometimes it hurts like crazy. “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.”
It’s never something we can do on our own. “…he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times…”
And that pain brings joy. “After that it became perfectly delicious…”
What skin is He peeling off from you, dear one?
Are you resisting?
Have you stopped allowing Him to work at the very first tear?
There is JOY to be found when you let Him complete His work!
In fact, the end of that tearing away promises to be perfectly delicious. You can trust Him to turn your pain to joy.