Book Review: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

“The Problem of Pain” was written 73 years ago by the much beloved author C.S. Lewis.  He was prolific in writing about and defending the Christian faith. For many years, during the expansion of book printing, C.S. Lewis was a dinner table conversation piece. In preparation for writing about suffering, I wanted to read through his thoughts on pain and suffering.

C.S. Lewis, and Englishman, had a great testimony of his conversion and apologetics during a time when Nazi Germany, across the channel in mainland Europe from England, was about to cause the greatest pain and suffering the world had ever seen. “The Problem of Pain” was written at a time when people had many questions regarding this. He addressed God’s power and goodness and man’s wickedness and fall, before transitioning to pain itself and concluded by addressing heaven.

While C.S. Lewis wrote more as a philosopher than an expositor, he made many pointed observations and comments. He wrote, “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’” (p. 40) That is very insightful, because we often think we know what is best and we just want to get along having a good time, not realizing the Divine plan for the ages or our particular purpose in life – especially if that includes suffering.

He addressed the relationship between the Creator and the creature with astounding import to the understanding of pain. He wrote, “He makes, we are made: He is original, we derivative. But at the same time, and for the same reason, the intimacy between God and even the meanest creature is closer than any that creatures can attain with one another.” (p. 41) His keen insights require slower reading, just to grasp all that he is conveying in his case.

Regarding “Divine Goodness,” Lewis writes,

You asked for a loving God: you have one…not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog…it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. (p. 46-47).

We struggle with pain and Lewis focuses on the culprit – free will. He wrote, “The Christian answer—that we have used our free will to become very bad—is so well known that it hardly needs to be stated. But to bring this doctrine into real life in the minds of modern men, and even of modern Christians is very hard.” (p. 55) And man stumbles in “Sentimentality” and “Humanitarianism” as Lewis clarified, “Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that ‘his heart’s in the right place’ and ‘he wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.” (p. 56)

I appreciate that He focused on the source of pain as free will. If Adam and Even had not sinned, pain would not have entered the human race environment. He wrote, “This hypothesis is not introduced as a general “explanation of evil”: it only gives a wider application to the principle that evil comes from the abuse of free will…” (p. 135)

“The Problem of Pain” is a often difficult to follow as Lewis would philosophize and write with lengthy paragraphs, but it is a great read nevertheless!

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