The Problem of Pain

The Problem of PainThe Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

Though my study of philosophy included a few courses in the philosophy of religion, I don’t feel qualified to really discuss the theology that C. S. Lewis presented with any competence. I can offer a few observations, though. So here they are.

What I got out of this book, primarily, is that pain and suffering are evils, and that inflicting pain and suffering on other people is itself evil, God always directs pain and suffering to good. The primary good of pain, in Lewis’s view, is that it brings people closer to God; when we are happy and comfortable is when we are most in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God. The purpose of pain, Lewis says, is to help us refocus our attention on God and on God’s purpose for us.

Knowing that God uses the pain that we inflict on other people, however, does not excuse us and does not justify the fact that we do cause pain. It is still God’s will that we not only avoid doing injury to others but that we help others overcome their own pain and suffering, since pain and suffering are not the only routes by which God brings us to Him. He also expects us to act with charity and kindness, as Jesus instructed us.

One of the reasons I have always admired C. S. Lewis is his admission of his own limitations; there are times, he admits, when he doesn’t understand God’s will or God’s plan, and I think that this is admirable, especially in a philosopher and theologian. Indeed, Lewis found these limitations to be sources of creativity for himself. Perhaps there are other worlds, he speculated, where God performs salvation in a way utterly different than he did to humanity on Earth; and this is, basically, where the Chronicles of Narnia came from, as well as his Space Trilogy (where he included a race which had never actually fallen the way that humanity has). Lewis recognizes the authority of Scripture, but concedes that Scripture is not to be understood as the only means of revelation, nor even God’s complete revelation of Himself.

From this, he suggests that there are questions about pain and suffering which we cannot know the full answer to.

Personally, I’m comfortable with this. When I studied philosophy, I was taught to eschew any system of thinking which suggested that there are answers forever beyond the reach of the human intellect. However, in the time since I completed by degree, I’ve come to believe that some questions will never be answered by human reason and intellect; this doesn’t mean that we should abandon reason and intellect, only that we understand that it is not a universal tool useful. Lewis understood this, I think, and this is one of the reasons why I appreciate his writings so much.

In this book, Lewis also touches on questions of Heaven and Hell as well as our relation to animals, and speculates on the possibilities of pre-fallen humanity and the role of prehistoric beasts. He writes that part of humanity’s purpose may very well have been to help repair the world that had fallen before we arrived, and that instead of doing so properly we went and became part of the problem.

In short, for such a small book, there is a lot of meat. Highly recommended.

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