I love to re-read books. Familiar stories refresh my tired soul like a cool stream. So when I picked up C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra once again, I expected comfort. I hoped the book would distract my mind from the knifelike pains that endometriosis has been delivering to my pelvis since January. Instead, Perelandra bowled me over with questions about the goodness of God.
Much of the book seems at first like a snooze if you’re not a fan of philosophy. Ransom, a professor of language, has been sent from Earth to the watery planet Venus (“Perelandra”) to prevent the moral fall of the Green Lady. He attempts to address her curiosity about his world without corrupting her innocence. Imagine trying to explain the concept of evil to someone who has not only never had a negative emotion, but who also is in perfect communion with God. The Green Lady responds to Ransom’s efforts with the kind of faith I can barely comprehend, and which often frustrates me as much as it confounds Ransom.
“But how can one wish any of those waves not to reach us which [God] is rolling towards us?”
I’m sure it’s easy to welcome all circumstances when your mind isn’t darkened by sin, but it’s pretty hard for my fallen heart not to wish that God had not sent these waves of pain.
I’ve had two ER visits and one surgery in the past five months, with another surgery coming up. I can’t stand or walk for more than a few minutes at a time without agony minutes or hours later. Friends and family often have to do our dishes, cook our food, wash our clothes, and care for our son. I feel useless. What kind of a wife and mother am I if I can’t accomplish anything? I mourn because I can’t go running, take my son to the splash pad, go on nature walks, or add beauty to our home. Pain is a thief of experiences. Illness is a heavy wave.
Since the Green Lady knows only good, she processes Ransom’s arguments in terms she can understand. All experiences are gifts from God; some may be unexpected, but all are beautiful:
“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given.”
Tears fell down my face when I read those words. I expected many joys this year: teaching a new high school summer writing curriculum, expanding our church music ministry, practicing regular hospitality with friends and neighbors, exploring our city with my two-year-old. How can my illness be the “real good”?
“And have you no fear,” said Ransom, “that it will ever be hard to turn your heart from the thing you wanted to the thing [God] sends?”
“I see,” said the Lady presently. “The wave you plunge into may be very swift and great. You may need all your force to swim in it. You mean, He might send me a good like that?”
A good like that.
Yes, He might send me a good like that.
He might send me a riptide that pulls my useful feet out from under me and tosses me into buoyant dependence.
A good that drowns my idolatry of comfort in the infinite depths of His own compassionate suffering.
“Yes – or like a wave so swift and great that all your force was too little.”
“It often happens that way in swimming,” said the Lady. “Is not that part of the delight?”
Is it possible to delight in my lack of control? To trust the Sender enough that a towering wave leads me to worship, instead of fear?
Can I see the unexpected postponement of my upcoming surgery as an invitation into joy, each additional day of pain and exhaustion an opportunity to for God to provide endurance and strength?
If I run headfirst into these crashing waves, they might knock me over. I might be buffeted against rocks, held under until my lungs nearly burst, and spat onto the shore: hair in my mouth, seaweed around my neck, and faith shattered beside centuries of seashells.
Or I could be transported by the power of the ocean, lifted by the solid promises of God’s presence, fully trusting Him to hold me up as I relax onto my back and begin to float. I could loosen my white-knuckled grasp on comfort at all costs and trust my pain to the One who knows the meaning of suffering. If He sends the waves, and He loves me, what have I to fear?
Yes, He might send me a good like that.