The Problem of Pain

problem of pain The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. Orignaly published in 1940.

It’s a question as old as time and religion themselves: How do we reconcile the truth that God is good with the counter truth that life is often filled with pain?

“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.- p.26

With this statement at the beginning of the second chapter of his short book, C. S. Lewis begins to take his readers on a mental exercise in which we arrive at the ultimate conclusion that God is good, even when life doesn’t appear good. Good that is, from the context of what the human creature defines as good.

Lewis makes it clear that any acknowledgement of God as all knowing, all loving and all powerful must necessarily coexist with an acknowledgement that we can’t possibly be so arrogant as to assume our definitions of good, bad, right or wrong can ever perfectly match God’s. Selah.

Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that greater men and Biblical writers before him have reached, and anyone who reads here certainly knows the answer.

However, Lewis does -in contemporary language- offer many notable thoughts we can take with us as we round out our journey with him through the “problem” of pain. Pain serves a purpose and a loving one at that:

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.

He points out the inherent problem with assuming that God’s allowance of pain speaks to some limitation of His goodness or power:

If you choose to say, “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do  not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix them with the two other words “God can”.

On the nature of pain Lewis writes:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.
In the end we all have a choice to make whether to glorify God in the midst of this seeming paradox which is not. The conclusion of the matter remains the same regardless of our choice:
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.
The Screwtape Letters has no been supplanted as my favorite C.C. Lewis work on the nature of the relationship between human frailty  and the Divine.
 I always appreciate the opportunity Lewis affords me to think about things from vantage points and in ways I hadn’t considered.* Even if I had considered them, Lewis expressed it so much more eloquently.
Grade: B+
* Speaking of eloquently expressed questions of life and faith, I will leave y’all  with the question my husband asked me today on the nature of pain and grief:
“How much more time would any one of us need with our  loved ones where we would say was ‘long enough’ before they leave us? How much more would we be satisfied with?”




5 thoughts on “The Problem of Pain

  1. hearthie says:

    DH and I were discussing the blessings attendant on the foot-break just today, which were substantial and lasting – for both of us. On the other side of a LOT of pain (which continues, in a small way, to this day) I would say it was well-worth the cost… but on that side, would I have consented to pay such a price? (Yes).

    Part of Christian maturity is knowing this, but one can only know from experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    Yes. There have been trials and pain that have yielded many blessings on the other side in our lives as well.

    Among the things we gain besides -hopefully- besides a deeper faith, are heaps of perspective and gratitude .

    Liked by 1 person

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