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Book review: The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis Classics) The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Lewis addresses the problem of pain, which he describes in this way: "If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He 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."

As a Christian, I've often wondered about this issue, especially when friends are diagnosed with cancer or the country suffers terrorist attacks. It's a difficult question, and although I accept the explanation through faith, grasping it rationally is another matter. Lewis does a good job dealing with the matter from both perspectives. However, I doubt many non-Judeo-Christians would be persuaded by this book. Lewis wouldn't be entirely at fault for that.

The main place where I disagree with Lewis is on the Creation and Fall of man. He rejects a literal interpretation of Genesis, including a 6-day creation, Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit, and temptation by Satan. Instead, Lewis believes that humans evolved from apes or more primitive life forms, and that the Genesis account is a myth. I was surprised by this, because he references creation accounts and Adam and Eve in other works like The Chronicles of Narnia and Perelandra, from his Space Trilogy. Perhaps he considers them all equally fictional stories.

The other reason I find Lewis' rejection of a literal interpretation of Genesis surprising is that it causes many inconsistencies in the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments contain references to the 6-day creation and the Fall, and how the Fall affected not only humanity, but the rest of the planet as well. Jesus Himself talks about such issues. Lewis accepts the modern scientific view that pain and suffering existed on Earth for millennia before humans appeared. So much for "God saw that it was good".

Despite such disagreements, I thought Lewis presented a thought-provoking case for why God allows pain to exist. My favorite reason presented is that pain distracts us from our comfortable lives where we're all too eager to forget about faith and God, and forces us to become closer to Him and other Christians.

Notes
When we say God is omnipotent (all-powerful), we mean He can do anything that's intrinsically possible. It's nonsense to claim He can do what's intrinsically impossible or self-contradictory.
The possibility of suffering is required by nature and free wills. To exclude it is to exclude life itself.
We were not made primarily to love God, but for God to love us. 1 John 4:10.
Because God has and is all, He only loves us and is grieved by us because He chooses to.

We sin not because of ignorance or inability, but because we aren't truly intending to avoid it.
Lewis rejects Total Depravity because, logically, we wouldn't know our depravity if we were totally depraved, and because he sees so much goodness in human nature.

The question, "Was it better for God to create than to not create?" is meaningless, because the reality that allows us to even pose the question requires that God did create. If the question did have any meaning, the answer must be yes, simply because God did create.

Lewis believes that humans descended from animals, and that God granted them consciousness once they were sufficiently advanced. The Fall was an act of self-will or self-interest (and thus, rebellion against God) exhibited by these early humans.
The Fall didn't surprise God. "God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula."

Lewis' theory for the origin of disease and death: Before the Fall, God ruled the human organism through the human spirit.When man rejected God, the human spirit lost control of the human organism, and biochemical and environmental forces brought pain, senility, and death.

Lewis rejects the notion that we inherit Original Sin or moral responsibility from Adam (or some other remote ancestor). He says we're members of a "spoiled species" by our own will and actions.

If the omniscient (all-knowing) God knew that Abraham would obey him, why the needless torture of testing his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac? Because even what God foresees/predestines hasn't actually occurred until the human performs it.

God uses tribulation to take our attention off our lives and toys, and forces us to focus on Him. Thus, tribulation must continue until we are remade (or our remaking is hopeless, in the case the unsaved.
Because tribulation is necessary for redemption, no economic or political reform can bring about heaven on earth. However, we must still attempt to remove the evils of this world simply do to a strong sense of common miseries.

"You will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John".

People go to Hell because they chose to. They exercise their free will to reject God. "The doors of hell are locked on the inside".
You can't expect God to do more to help humans avoid Hell than he already has by dying on the cross at Calvary.

Lewis believes that non-human (plant, animal, etc.) life was corrupted by Satan or some other non-human entity before humans existed. Carnivorousness and animal "suffering" existed prior to humans.
Animals and plants can't truly suffer because they aren't sentient.

God created individuals so he could love each differently, and that each could love and worship Him differently.
Heaven isn't a bribe. "There are rewards that do not sully motives. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to."

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