The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain? And what of the suffering of animals, who neither deserve pain nor can be improved by it?The greatest Christian thinker of our time sets out to disentangle this knotty issue. With his signature wealth of compassion and insight...

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Title:The Problem of Pain
Author:C.S. Lewis
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Problem of Pain Reviews

  • Toe

    Apology for the existence of pain and suffering. Lewis's comfortable, easy style speaks to me in most all of his books. This is no exception.

    Memorable quotes:

    "Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care?

    Apology for the existence of pain and suffering. Lewis's comfortable, easy style speaks to me in most all of his books. This is no exception.

    Memorable quotes:

    "Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved..." - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

    "Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter." - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

  • RC

    It says something that after so many years C. S. Lewis is still one of the foremost Christian apologists of our time. The Problem of Pain is a difficult question every religion has to deal with, and one which has been especially difficult for Christianity. Some religions have the luxury of explaining pain as something deserved - a result of bad behavior from a previous life, or perhaps pain and suffering are caused by a malevolent deity in opposition to a good and loving God. Christianity has no

    It says something that after so many years C. S. Lewis is still one of the foremost Christian apologists of our time. The Problem of Pain is a difficult question every religion has to deal with, and one which has been especially difficult for Christianity. Some religions have the luxury of explaining pain as something deserved - a result of bad behavior from a previous life, or perhaps pain and suffering are caused by a malevolent deity in opposition to a good and loving God. Christianity has no such option.

    “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.”

    Lewis presents a very readable and widely accessible solution to this problem, covering the origins of human suffering, incurred in the fall, what divine omnipotence and goodness really mean, and why they allow for the existence of pain in creation, heaven and hell, and a topic not often treated but important - the existence of pain in animals who are in every sense innocent.

    Particularly useful is Lewis' distinction between kindness and love. Lewis reminds us that real love, a love that looks out for the best interests of the beloved, sometimes requires the inflicting of painful experience. From the perspective of the one undergoing the experience, this may not seem like love, but any parent, teacher, or anyone tasked with the guidance of the young will understand that this sort of “tough love” is often necessary if one does not want a spoiled child to grow into a spoiled adult.

  • Amelia, the pragmatic idealist

    *Just* as good as

    , but not quite as easy to understand. I would say that this book is probably more relevant in our culture now than when it was first published.

    I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, because it seeks to give answers to questions that

    asks at some point.

    The idea behind this book is "why do we have pain in our life?" or more specifically, "If God is supposed to be good, and powerful, and "in charge," why does He allow suffering?" If you'r

    *Just* as good as

    , but not quite as easy to understand. I would say that this book is probably more relevant in our culture now than when it was first published.

    I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, because it seeks to give answers to questions that

    asks at some point.

    The idea behind this book is "why do we have pain in our life?" or more specifically, "If God is supposed to be good, and powerful, and "in charge," why does He allow suffering?" If you're just a little like me, you may find it easy to rattle off questions and then...not exactly look for an answer. There's a kind of self-preserving security about being able to ask questions that you may or may not actually want answered. But I took a CS Lewis class in college (yes, there is such a thing! And even cooler - one of our sister schools has a class on Tolkien!), and this was required reading.

    Lewis had a gift of taking abstract and complex subjects and making them understandable. Granted, you may have to read his sentences a few times before you get what he's saying, but the idea itself is easy to understand.

    We had to give chapter presentations on this one, and of course, I had to do the "Hell" chapter. So if you read this book and get to the Hell chapter, you can think of me :P

    The thing that I love about Lewis is that he always backs up his points. It's

    this,

    You may not agree with his interpretation (and some of the times in this book, I didn't really see things the same way he does) but I understand where he's coming from. I guess what a lot of people can appreciate about Lewis is that he really tries to back up what he's saying.

  • Kjersti

    I absolutely loved this book. I laughed, I blurted out loud "HA!"s between classes and generally forgot about time and place. It's very, VERY good book. My only concern with this review is on my side; I had a goal to get through it in three days, which I did. Thus, there were some parts I read through without the attention I probably should have devoted to it. I don't usually like writing reviews where the fault is with me; but alas, here I am.

    As for content, CS Lewis has, as always, very well t

    I absolutely loved this book. I laughed, I blurted out loud "HA!"s between classes and generally forgot about time and place. It's very, VERY good book. My only concern with this review is on my side; I had a goal to get through it in three days, which I did. Thus, there were some parts I read through without the attention I probably should have devoted to it. I don't usually like writing reviews where the fault is with me; but alas, here I am.

    As for content, CS Lewis has, as always, very well thought-out arguments and a logical approach to his content. There were a couple minor instances where I disagreed with ever-so-slightly, but I had no concerns even close to major. If you want to compare this to his other works, I find it's slightly weaker than his later books.. But that does in no way mean this is poor craftmanship. Surely, to improve with time is a positive thing, and you cannot hold that against him.

    All in all, I loved it and I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind a theoretical approach to things.

  • Louize

    SPOILERS AHEAD

    Pain posted a serious objection to Christianity (and to Heavenly authority in general), aggravated by claiming that

    .

    focuses on one question, but thoroughly argues on every aspect.

    In other words,

    SPOILERS AHEAD

    Pain posted a serious objection to Christianity (and to Heavenly authority in general), aggravated by claiming that

    .

    focuses on one question, but thoroughly argues on every aspect.

    In other words,

    Firstly, Lewis set his arguments by identifying God, as conceivable as possible, and his purpose through the subject of

    . He argued that since we are beings of free souls and have the luxury of free will, we take advantage of the fixed laws of nature to hurt ourselves and one another. Yet, even though God is omnipotent and can do whatever he pleases, removing pain leads to a meaningless universe.

    God’s idea of good is unlike ours; His moral judgment must, therefore, differ from ours. Where

    , we only mean

    . But love is not mere kindness. Let us have a mental note how much confusion between love and kindness is related to our modern thinking.

    Recognizing the distinction between love and kindness illuminates what it means to be the object of God’s love. Because God loves us, he will not rest until we are purely lovable. To not want pain, therefore, is to not want His love.

    Next, he establishes his argument for the total corruption and the sin nature of man, as without a sin nature there is no reason to be corrected.

    The most obvious answer is that it did not: man, and the rest of creation, was initially good, but through the abuse of freedom, man made himself an abominable, wicked creature he is now.

    Pain, through trials and sacrifices, teaches us to rely on God, to act out of spiritual strength, to act for purely heavenly purpose and to accept our discipleship.

    If distressful feelings disguise itself as thought, all nonsense is possible- faith in God is challenged, we object to His goodness, and worse, we doubt His existence. All of those seemed valid to a suffering soul, due to the sway of unbearable pain.

    In conclusion then, pain is not a mere influence to make a creature's submission to the will of God easier. Remembering Prophet Isaiah’s words in the Bible, chapters 46-53, God has called him prior to his birth. He was molded and polished through physical pain, trials and humiliation to be equipped for God’s divine purpose.

    When I first considered reading this book, I asked myself if I am lucid enough to absorb Lewis’ arguments. I ended up quoting him and taking notes more than I usually do. But then, I realized that I am merely to review, not write an abridge version. The Problem of Pain is a difficult read; it is not for the casual reader and you should expect to be intellectually challenged. But the big difficulty is much smaller compared to the bigger lessons within.

  • Traveller

    <

    Personally, I lean more towards the latter camp. Lewis does at least make a good, solid, and sophisticated effort to address the problem of: "Why does God allow so much pain and suffering, if He is really a loving God, and if He really does exist?"; - which is why Lewis gets 3 stars, even if I don't completely agree.

    I remember quite liking his argument at the time I read it

    <

    Personally, I lean more towards the latter camp. Lewis does at least make a good, solid, and sophisticated effort to address the problem of: "Why does God allow so much pain and suffering, if He is really a loving God, and if He really does exist?"; - which is why Lewis gets 3 stars, even if I don't completely agree.

    I remember quite liking his argument at the time I read it, which was quite some time ago. He seemed to be saying that pain is sent to test a person, to make you stronger, to help you grow spiritually so that you could become a more spiritually evolved and aware person.

    But, I have in the meantime started wondering: on the other hand, what kind of cruel deity would devise such a system, that includes such horrible suffering as the world has seen? Even if it is to make them 'stronger', or cause them to grow spiritually.

    Lewis's argument, IMO, would hold water better if you reckoned re-incarnation into the system. Then it would make more sense to throw obstacles into the path of a soul in it's evolutionary journey towards Nirvana.

    ..but in the Christian world, where the most common doctrine I have heard, is that all you need to do is to proclaim Jesus as your savior to win an automatic seat in heaven, no need for you to grow spiritually, it doesn't seem to fit in quite 100%.

    I must admit that I do like the idea of spiritual growth, such as presented in this book, and in The Pilgrim's Progress, for instance.

    Unfortunately, now that I am older, wiser, and seen more suffering in both myself and others, I'm not quite as inured to Lewis's arguments, and not quite so eager to welcome pain and suffering.

    PS. After reading a bit of Thomas Aquinas, I realized that Lewis borrows a LOT from him.

  • BrokenTune

    Review was first posted on Booklikes:

    I first read

    when I was an impressionable teenager in search of the meaning of life. How I got to C.S. Lewis, however, is a long story that I'll reserve for another post/review.

    Anyway, I loved the

    when I first read it. I couldn't put it down.

    When I started clearing my bookshelves last year in attempt to de-clutter, I came across my old and dusty copy of the book again and started

    Review was first posted on Booklikes:

    I first read

    when I was an impressionable teenager in search of the meaning of life. How I got to C.S. Lewis, however, is a long story that I'll reserve for another post/review.

    Anyway, I loved the

    when I first read it. I couldn't put it down.

    When I started clearing my bookshelves last year in attempt to de-clutter, I came across my old and dusty copy of the book again and started to re-read.

    What I love about

    - actually, all of Lewis' books I've read - is his use of language and his use of similes, which make it easy to follow his argument.

    In

    , Lewis elaborates on the meaning of divine goodness, human pain, animal pain, heaven, hell - not necessarily in this order, though - and tries to explain from his Christian point of view what divine love is, what pain is, why humans can feel pain, and that there is a divine purpose to suffering.

    When I first read this almost twenty years ago, I could accept the possibility that there may be a substance to the arguments he puts forward. Having re-read this now, I still admire Lewis' use of language and the elegance of his argument but I find it very difficult to be persuaded by it. Now, the argument that there is a purpose to suffering that allows the individual to grow or improve spiritually seems little more than wishful thinking.

    Of course, my take on this may sound rather pessimistic. However, where Lewis draws from Thomas Aquinas and other sources of formal religious Christian teaching, I feel much more aligned with other schools of thought that would choose kindness towards living beings over the particular form of patriarchal tyranny of divine love that Lewis describes.

  • Manny

    Well, it's not like I really disagree with C.S. Lewis's argument here. I just think that the essential points are summed up rather more succinctly in the first few minutes of Monty Python's "Happy Valley" sketch:

    Well, it's not like I really disagree with C.S. Lewis's argument here. I just think that the essential points are summed up rather more succinctly in the first few minutes of Monty Python's "Happy Valley" sketch:

  • Winston

    CS Lewis is held by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. Unless one is morbidly naive, or has yet to encounter the counterarguments to Christianity in particular and theism in general, I honestly cannot see where his appeal lies.

    How CS Lewis should have died.

    The Problem of Evil is an insurmountable one for Christians (and all other theists who believe in a perfectly loving, all-powerful and all-knowing god). There have been inten

    CS Lewis is held by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. Unless one is morbidly naive, or has yet to encounter the counterarguments to Christianity in particular and theism in general, I honestly cannot see where his appeal lies.

    How CS Lewis should have died.

    The Problem of Evil is an insurmountable one for Christians (and all other theists who believe in a perfectly loving, all-powerful and all-knowing god). There have been intense and motivated efforts over the past two millennia to defend such a position rationally, and they have all failed. Miserably. Utterly. And in many cases, dishonestly.

    Some approached involve invoking an unknown "greater good" defense (which throws god's omnipotence under the bus. An omnipotent deity could simply actualise a desired goal without needing to use suffering as a "middle man"). Attempts to shift the problem by asserting that human happiness is not the goal of life (but knowing god is) removes the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of god (if you love someone, you don't want them to suffer. It really is that simple). On page 104, Lewis concedes that not everyone suffers equally. He does not give a reason for this, and indeed, admits that our puny human minds cannot understand why god would allow some to live decades in comfort and luxury while others suffer for months or years on end. To quote Lewis himself: "The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do NOT (emphasis Lewis', in italics). Our Lord Himself, it will be remembered, explained the salvation of those who are fortunate in this world only by referring to the unsearchable omnipotence of God."

    That's not an explanation. Lewis is falling back on the ancient and ubiquitous appeal to ignorance. God's mysterious ways are beyond us. Well, by that "logic," he could send all Christians to hell and everyone else to heaven, and Lewis, by his own admission, would just have to suck up an eternity of torture.

    The old canard of free will is often invoked. Unfortunately, free will is meaningless unless everyone has an equal amount of it. This is undeniably NOT the case. Not everyone is given the same lifespan, physical strength, mental acuity, political clout, financial resources, and so on. Lewis is pontificating from the luxurious confines of his residence, funded by conveniently gullible sheep. This has certainly damaged his ability to empathise with the billions who live on less than a dollar each day. And the thousands who starve to death every time the Earth completes a full rotation.

    Lewis also, perhaps unwittingly, advocates a social Darwinism in which the rich and physically powerful are able to murder, rape and steal from weaker individuals (and are therefore less able to exercise their own free will to prevent their own suffering). Lewis worships a cosmic pedophile who revels in granting freedom to abhorrent individuals while getting his jollies from seeing the most vulnerable suffer and die in agony (only to get thrown into even more torture in the Christian vision of hell).

    Lastly, a loving god would take away free will from those who would willingly surrender it in return for a life without suffering. Funnily enough, Lewis seems to believe in a heaven without suffering but with all the bells and whistles of freedom. So why not create that universe from the get-go and stick with it? Why create a universe with even the possibility of corruption? It certainly is not something a perfect god would do. Then again, a perfect god would not blackmail beings he supposedly loves for eternal worship.

    While Lewis is usually a good writer, capable of spinning yarns to attract the attention of children and young teenagers, he also assumes that there is a deep, overriding purpose behind suffering. This purpose is so important that it is more critical to his god to NOT end suffering now, but to let things run their "natural" course until his plan is complete. In service of this goal, he creates a short story that is akin to an essay on theistic evolution, and how man is ultimately responsible for the Fall and his own corruption. If god knows everything, including the future, then he orchestrated the fall (and everything else) before setting his plan into motion. Arguing that god exists outside of time is a lazy copout, nothing more.

    As a 'loudspeaker' for the Christian god, pain has done more to drive people away from him than anything else. An all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good god would not allow any suffering, even in the service of a so-called "greater good." And if such a god desires suffering for a greater good, then it would follow logically that his followers should cause suffering to convert more people. After all, that is god's best tool for getting our attention, is it not? Fortunately, CS Lewis and most Christians today do not follow this logic to its end point. Those who do open hospitals and hospices and waste money on bibles rather than food (explaining why only 25% of tithes go to benefit indigent people around the world). CS Lewis realised this, which is why he asserted, in chapter 7, that while evil acts can lead to "greater" goods such as pity and compassion, the individual who commits evil is not justified simply because positive benefits will flow.

    The hypocrisy here is glaringly apparent when Lewis moves on to depict his god as using good men as "sons" and evil men as "tools" to achieve his goals. Such an obvious double standard is patently hypocritical and serves to do little except expose Lewis' advocacy of divine fiat for what it is - blind obedience (which is the antithesis of sound moral reasoning).

    His childishly puerile attempts to justify hell are perhaps the only thing worse. According to Lewis' theology, pain is used by god as a teacher, a "flag of truth in a rebel fortress" (p. 122). This obviously misses the point - an omnipotent god would not need to use pain. If a tri-omni deity knows good from evil without needing to suffer, why couldn't he have simply created humans who were likewise omniscient? This is yet another obvious point that is glossed over by a highly overrated apologist.

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