C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Pain - page 1


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From the Fall 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Pain

by Jana Harmon
Teaching Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute - Atlanta

 

he problem of pain is inescapable, its effects profound. No one can deny it. Many use it as a way to remove God from reality. It fuels the flame of doubt and sometimes undermines the believer’s faith. It empowers the atheist’s argument. To be a follower of Christ and to live in the world, one must determinedly, intentionally face the issues and difficulties that lie inherent and obvious in the problem of pain.
  C.S. Lewis, a frontline witness to evil in the world, was not immune from personal pain. As a boy, he experienced the death of his mother followed by the emotional abandonment of his father. As a young man, he directly encountered the ugliness of war. As a brilliant Oxford don, he suffered rejection from academic colleagues. As an older man who finally discovered young love, he endured the painful loss of his wife. In 1940, at age forty-two, Lewis penned The Problem of Pain accompanied by a humble, written admission. Fully realizing that he might be underestimating the reality of serious pain, he was compelled to intellectually address the issue, for he understood its profound implications toward belief, or disbelief, in God. After all, Lewis reminds us early on in this writing, it was the problem of evil that foundationally motivated his prior atheism.
  The Problem of Pain seeks to understand how a loving, good, and powerful God can possibly coexist with the pain and suffering pervasive in the world and in our lives. Indeed, the problem of pain could not exist without the reality of a good and loving and powerful God. Without a transcendent creator God who ultimately defines good and evil, there are no grounds upon which to substantiate the difference between the two, much less the effect of either. Lewis states that “pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”1 The innate relationship between the existence of God and pain must be rightly understood if we are honestly to confront the difficult issues that lie therein. Without such an understanding, faith is at risk of crumbling.
  Theodicy, derived from the Greek words for “deity” and “justice,” “refers to the attempt to justify the goodness of God in the face of the manifold evil present in the world.”2 It begs the question, if God is good and powerful, why does God allow bad things to happen? It speaks to the heart of the issue—the very nature of God, who He is, and who we are in relationship to Him. Lewis asserts “the problem of pain, in its simplest form”: “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.”3
  According to Peter Kreeft4 and basic rhetorical analysis, the veracity of an argument is based upon the soundness of its individual terms, the integrity of each premise or statement, and its overall logic. On its face, this argument against God appears to have power and logic on its side. The terms, premises, and reasoning appear robust and convincing. God is good and powerful. He desires good things for His creatures. But pain and suffering remain, and we are not happy, but miserable.
  Confronting this dilemma, Lewis takes issue with our popular understanding of the terms good, loving, and powerful, and what it means to be happy. For it is there, along with our vigorous desire for and understanding of free will, that Lewis makes his case for defeating the apparent contradiction in the problem of pain. Since God is indeed loving, good, and powerful in light of the reality of pain and suffering, it is “abundantly clear” that our conception of those attributes “needs correction.”5 Lewis assures us that proper understanding of the terms bring the co-existence of God with pain and suffering into alignment “without contradiction.”6 He also challenges our discernment of what exactly makes us happy, what satisfies us. When these notions are rightly understood, the argument is emptied of its persuasive power.

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