Thursday, March 4, 2010

Book #3: The Problem of Pain

Book #3: The Problem of Pain

"All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt."
-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite authors, a man I admire both for his strong Christian faith and his superb writing style. In his novels Lewis gives the reader a thorough sense of place and empathy with characters; his plotlines are magnificent. In non-fiction Lewis is equally masterful, and though The Problem of Pain will probably never be made into a feature film, it is a challenging, fascinating read.

Many, many people have confronted the Christian faith with the dilemma of God’s goodness in a world of pain. The argument usually runs something like this, “How can a good God allow such suffering?” This is the problem of pain. In language and reasoning that is at times deep and confusing, but eminently sensible, Lewis proves this confounding subject.

Lewis makes many profound points, I couldn't possibly elaborate on them all and risk repeating the book, so I will concentrate on one of the main subjects of POP: the Fall of Man. The book makes a very good point--why do we blame evil on God? Maybe it is the fault of mankind! God is all-powerful, some say, why doesn't He make us be good and not hurt each other? One answer could concerned with free will. The Christian doctrine of free will states that at Creation the Lord decided that He would not make man a mere automaton to do His bidding, but a creature with the power to choose between right and wrong.

Lewis describes the Fall of Man as due to the sin of pride, perhaps the most basic sin because "from the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the centre is opened to it." Men "wanted, as we say, to 'call their souls their own.' But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own." And so humans fell from a divine, spiritual state to become a spoiled species.

God was not surprised by the Fall. Lewis states it so poetically, "God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula." And so the Lord did the only thing a truly loving God could do: he provided a way out. That way is, of course, through the sacrifice of Christ, who reversed the sin of Adam and cleared the path for the redemption of the whole world.

The Problem of Pain is full of many other arguments for a loving God in the midst of human suffering. For instance, C.S. Lewis insists that God can do anything--except the intrinsically impossible. He cannot create a society of free persons (individuals with free will and the ability to hurt others) and then stop every negative consequence before it happens; this would result in a completely meaningless universe. Another contention: That love is not incompatible with suffering. An utterly kind deity might protect man from all harm, but a loving God will do what is ultimately best for a beloved creature, even if that means that some suffering must be borne.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist. C.S. Lewis is at times baffling, even esoteric, but when I finished the book I felt a little more grounded in the truth of God’s goodness and mercy, even in the face of pain. If you are interested in the never-ending debates on this topic and want a bit of creative, sound reasoning from a respected Christian author, I would whole-heartedly recommend this book for you.

Thanks to a great website resource:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3/04/2010

    Great post Abby. I am currently taking a class in seminary entitled "The Problem of Evil" in which we are discussing the philosophical depths of this issue. Your insight into Lewis' intention is superb. The gospel alone provides hope in a world full of pain and suffering.


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