The Haunting Problem of Pain

My dear Wormwood,

Must I do everything for you? You complain you can’t get your patient to stop praying, and you insist, like so many young tempters, that we can accomplish all through debauchery and other distorted pleasures. But I write to you today to remind you of the power of suffering to damn a human soul. The Enemy wants to use suffering to build trust; we can use it to undermine it. Our research department has done us wonders by developing an effective conundrum called the problem of evil. Let me show you how to use it.

First, begin by reminding your patient of the problem. Don’t make it philosophical. See if you can have the discovery seem accidental. For instance, cause him to come across a tweet that reads, “Why would a good God let such horrible things happen? #bostonbombing #9/11 #holocaust.” The point to hit home at this stage is that the Enemy is culpable for this suffering.

Used effectively, this can plant a seed of doubt as to whether a good God can exist. Granted, there is no reasonable way to get from the statement “it doesn’t seem fair,” or, “it doesn’t make sense,” to the conclusion, “he doesn’t exist.” But that doesn’t matter. Your patient simply needs to feel that it makes sense. The problem of evil then becomes the problem of God.

And this problem has fertile soil to grow in because of the widespread assumption that the Enemy promises “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Already, your client holds to the idea that he should always have a paycheck, that he will get married when he’s ready, and that accidents shouldn’t happen to his family.

But once suffering hits, he will be shaken. The introduction of pain into his life will confuse him. In his bewilderment that the fiery trials actually came to him, convince him that in order to trust the Enemy he must know exactly what he is up to and why it is happening.

Along his journey of questioning why me? whisper to him in the silence. If you do your job well, he will graduate from suspicion to blaming, and from blaming to bitterness, and from bitterness to rage. He will berate the Enemy for not using his power to stop the suffering. He may even begin to doubt that he has the power to do so.

Then he will stop praying.

At that point, he is only one step away from rejecting the Enemy entirely. If we can get him to stop talking to the Enemy, only our voice will remain. Then we have him.

Now remember, in this pitiful state, you must avoid fueling the helplessness that cries out for a helper. Poke the helplessness that feels betrayed, the kind that converts trust into hate.

Wormwood, I must remind you to be extra cautious. We have sustained some of our greatest losses dealing with the tricky subject of suffering and loss. I have seen some of our greatest tempters lose their heads at just the wrong moment.

One day they have their patient refusing to give a nod to the Enemy; the next their patient is gone. Just when they thought they could go and revel in their own success, the prey escaped their trap. Their own plan turned in on itself — all because they let their patient get on about this whole idea that it’s best to find shelter in the Enemy — even when they don’t understand why he let the storm come.

Above all, remember the goal: condemnation. They think we spend all our time nurturing unbelief, but we are just as happy with hate. With this in mind, you can’t over-suggest the word fair when it comes to a human’s suffering.

Your affectionate Uncle,