C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Pain - page 3

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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


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  For God knows that we are most contented when we find that our desire and our love are for Him, not for ourselves. God gives love because He knows we need it. If God chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed. He loves and needs us for our sake, not His own. “When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.”14 “Whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want.”15 His goodness and love are ever altruistic, desiring the good of His creation, of us.
  But this begs the question, aren’t I already good, already lovable? Lewis exposes our self-deception. We no longer see ourselves as sinners, but sin’s reality surfaces through our own sense of personal guilt, which we tend to transfer toward corporate responsibility or try to reduce over time. Both strategies are vain attempts to prevent personal culpability. Or we attempt to lower our moral and ethical standards, to reduce them to mere kindness, yet we recognize a higher moral standard exists across time and cultures. This recognition of an ultimate standard in God compels us to either admit our sinfulness and surrender to Him or reject Him. Regardless, we cannot blame our sinfulness and its consequent evils upon God. We are either the perpetrators of sin or the victim of others’ sin against us. Sin, then, becomes the ultimate horror to both God and man.
  God created good. Man chose against God, against good, and introduced evil into the world through his rebellion. God did not create evil but knew that the offering of free will in His created beings allowed for the possibility of pain and suffering. Man, as Lewis summarizes, “spoiled himself,” and “good, to us in our present [fallen] state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or corrective good.”16 Subsequently men, not God, have precipitated the vast majority of pain and suffering in the world. Wicked and hurt people hurt one another.
   The remedy to this pain is self-surrender of the will to God, which in itself can be painful. Dying to one’s own will, day after day, is the constant, ongoing corrective that is required to break our rebellious sinfulness. When we are self-satisfied with our own soul, we will not surrender our will. Sin, according to Lewis, is masked evil. Pain unmasks the evil and exposes the sin for what it is. “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”17
  We all have some sense of justice. We all want evil to be punished, to be recognized for what it is, especially in others. Yet we deceive ourselves into thinking that all is well with us. Pain reveals the reality of our own evil and gives us a choice to either resist and rebel against the ultimate standard bearer or recognize our sin, repent, and surrender to Him. “Pain shatters the illusion that all is well . . . that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.”18 Pain takes away our false sense of happiness, draws our attention to God and our need for Him. Even in “good, decent people,” the illusion of self-sufficiency must be shattered. And, like a good and loving Father, God is willing to accept whatever surrender and sacrifice we have to offer. Our desires must be changed from pleasing self to pleasing God, which in the end produces our greatest happiness. We must lose ourselves to find ourselves, truly satisfied, in God.
  Lewis does not dismiss the fact that pain is pain and it hurts. But he reminds us that the supreme act of self-surrender was found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ knows pain and suffering, intimately, personally, profoundly. His loving sacrifice was for the redemption of us, the sinners whom He loves. His followers are similarly called to lives of submission, to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6 NIV). Pain reminds us of our humility and utter dependence upon God, upon our true source of goodness, strength, and happiness in Christ. When pain is withdrawn, we tend to forget God and return toward self-sufficiency and sin. Pain does its work on those whose hearts are willing to receive, to grow, to love in greater and more godly ways—to surrender self to God.

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