March 25, 2014
C.S. Lewis had the ability to look at particular issues from different vantage points. In the previous entry in this series, we explored how C.S. Lewis’ personal experience helps explain why Christians continue to look to him in times of pain and suffering. However, we also see that Lewis had a knack for thinking rationally about sensitive issues, which became a particular point of concern for him. Lewis’ close friend, Charles Williams, warned him that writing intellectually about pain could be construed as nothing more than a reflection of Job’s worthless friends in the biblical story. In fact, when Lewis was asked to contribute a book on the Christian view of suffering, he requested that the book be published anonymously in order to avoid accusations of being cold. His request was denied and The Problem of Pain was published in 1940. However, Lewis’ use of reason emphasized three particular themes that are especially helpful in times of pain and suffering.
1. The problem of suffering does not challenge the existence of God, but affirms it.
Lewis maintained that belief in God is what actually allows people to talk about the problem of suffering in the first place. He believed that belief in God actually creates and frames the issue. He wrote, “Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, ‘Why do you not believe in God?’ my reply would have run something like this: ‘Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold.’” However, he changed his position on this issue because his concern about the issue of suffering represented metaphysical concern, but his atheistic worldview reduced all questions to material. In other words, existential questions can be asked only if one’s worldview accommodates a metaphysical understanding. Lewis’ point is that in an atheistic worldview of suffering, pain should not be a problem. The problem of suffering is not solved by turning away from religion. Lewis maintained that for the problem of suffering to exist, God must exist. In fact, belief in God might be the most reasonable way to begin to understand the existence of evil.
2. The possibility of suffering is necessary to our purpose and design.
Lewis actually argued for the necessity of suffering, given the reality of God. The existence of suffering is not a mistake on God’s part at all. In a provocative statement, he writes, “Perhaps this is not the ‘best of all possible’ universes, but the only possible one.” Lewis reasons that to exclude the possibility of suffering would be to exclude life itself. At the very center of his model was a concern that we recognize our purpose to glorify God as creator. He writes, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” To worship God freely means the possibility to dismiss him as well, and in so doing, introduce something counter to God—namely, evil. The reason for our self-directed love is sin. Lewis concludes that our sin introduces “a new kind of man—a new species, never made by God” that had “sinned itself into existence” with a gravitational pull towards self-centeredness. Lewis believed that “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love,' and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake.”
3. Christians are saved from suffering by suffering.
Finally, Lewis develops the idea of suffering as an instrument in the hands of God for the purpose of change and redemption. Although he did believe that the majority of human suffering was self-inflicted, he believed that suffering could also be remedial. Pain was often the direct result of God breaking through humanity’s self-imposed illusory condition. Pain was used in order to express God’s “intolerable compliment” as he corrects our idolatrous posture. Lewis underscores this point with number of helpful images—including one in which pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. In another, pain is the implanting of the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. He describes the rebel’s will as “inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation.” Indeed, Lewis is clear that God’s work is painful because it is correcting the comfortable illusion of rebels who think they are safe. Lewis writes, “I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” In this, Lewis recognizes that the difficulty of suffering does not go away and the use of reason does not make it easy.
In The Problem of Pain, Lewis lends his reason to the reality of pain and suffering. Although he knew it was treacherous to do so, we see the benefit that he provides to the reality of suffering. In an age where many think of Christianity as an unreasonable position to the problem of evil, Lewis responds that it might be the only reasonable position. What’s more, because of Lewis, we begin to better understand our purpose and the means to which God willingly in order to shatter our self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we witness this at the cross of Christ.
Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).
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