Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Problem of Pain

About a month ago, I considered pain in the Christian life in a two-part series of posts called "Pain is Essential" (I, II). I just finished reading the book The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. I was looking forward to hearing his take on this issue as a means of learning a bit more, of seeing if my own notions could be nudged a bit and inspected from a different point of view. "The problem of pain" is, in Lewis' words, the existence of suffering in a world created by a good and almighty God. As usual, he tackles the idea in his typical logical approach of defining the problem and then looking at it from multiple vantage points. At the end you are left with a sense of "how could I ever have seen the argument any other way?". I have a sense that Lewis would have agreed with some of my opinions, and others he would have seen as faint images of a deeper truth or more complex issue. However, the main point that I think is in accord with Lewis' opinion is that pain is an essential part of the Christian experience.

In what follows, I give some passages from the book that resonated with me as relevant:

- Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other 'up against' the real universe; he either rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deeper repentance at some later stage) or else makes some attempt at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead him to religion.

- No doubt pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.

- The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full - there's nowhere for Him to put it.

- What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.