Friday, May 18, 2018

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

When my blogging friend Carol formed the C.S. Lewis Reading Project, I jumped at the chance to finally re-read some of Lewis' apologetic works. Last month we read The Problem of Pain and I've struggled for weeks to try to write an overview. The book is too complex to capture in a few paragraphs since Lewis does much more than try to explain human suffering. In fact, my most important takeaways had to do with what it means to be human and how human flourishing is impossible without a right relationship to our Creator.

Just as the members of the Trinity live in perfect, mutual, self-giving love, so mankind can only find real joy when living in selfless unity with God. Rejection of God's sovereign authority over His creatures brought sin and suffering into the world - and ultimately, according to Lewis, results in Hell.

Some suffering comes as a result of rebellion: From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. . . . What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor "ordinary life," but simply and solely Hell. . . . That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality. (152)

Some suffering comes as a way of refining us into holier people: To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God; because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us loveable. . . . What we would here call "happiness" is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy. (48)

Creatures are not separate from their Creator. The place for which He designs them in His scheme of things is the place they are made for. When they reach it their nature is fulfilled and their happiness is attained: a broken bone in the universe has been set, the anguish is over. God wills our good, and our good is to love Him; and to love Him we must know Him, and become more like Him. We are bidden to "put on Christ," to become like God. That is , whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. (52-53)

I loaned this to a friend who was struggling after several miscarriages, but it was too academic and she got lost in the introductory chapter discussion of the "Numinous." My pastor preached a wonderful (less technical) sermon on suffering in April; he quotes C.S. Lewis frequently. I would encourage you to read the book AND listen to his message.

Blessings,

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You did it! I'm still wrestling with this book. Thanks for your review, Hope!

Carol in Oregon

Ruth said...

I know what you mean, being unable to summarize a complex C.S. Lewis book, even as short as that one is. It is on my TBR for this year. I hope to get to it in summer. And I'll be glad to listen to your pastor's sermon, too. Thanks!