Saturday, December 10, 2011
Book Reflections: The Problem of Pain
C.S. Lewis continues his defense and explanation of Christianity in his book, "The Problem of Pain", by addressing a common difficulty all of us experience; pain and suffering. Many unbelievers point to pain and suffering in the world as proof that a loving God does not exist. Pain and suffering can even lead believers to start to question their belief in a loving God. On the surface it may appear to be contradictory that a loving God would allow suffering in the world, but this leads us to even deeper questions and contemplation. As a former atheist himself, C.S. Lewis understands the thought process of many unbelievers, and therefore he is very good at addressing common objections to Christianity in a very organized and thought-provoking way. We will probably never fully understand why there is so much pain and suffering in this world, but C.S. Lewis does a good job explaining how and why we experience pain, and how it actually is further proof that God does in fact exist.
When Lewis was an atheist, he pointed to all the evil, pain, and suffering in the world as proof that a loving God did not exist. The question he failed to ask himself was why if there is and has always been pain and suffering in the world would people since the beginning believe in a loving God? Could it just be that they are ignorant and unreasonable? Lewis explored this question and came to the conclusion that it would be an error to reply that our ancestors were ignorant. However, the reality still remains that pain exists. So what is the Christian's explanation for pain?
Christians believe in the omnipotence of God. This means that God has the power to do all things. If God could do anything and everything and he is all good, wouldn't he wish all his creatures to be perfectly happy? His creatures are not perfectly happy, so does this mean that God is not all good or not all powerful? It might seem this is a logical deduction, but upon further contemplation and reflection we discover a different conclusion. Perfect happiness and love requires free will. This gift of free will gives us the opportunity to love, but it also opens us up to the possibility of making bad choices and abuse of our free will. An all powerful God would have the power to correct abuses of free will, but such a world would deny our freedom to love by making evil an impossibility. So the fact that we are not perfectly happy here on earth does NOT deny the omnipotence of God, but is proof of his gift to us of freedom to choose to love or not to love. God has the power to deny us this great freedom, but has chosen not to do so that we might experience love.
If we have accepted that God is all powerful, is he then not all good? God is all good. You might ask how this can be? In one of the later chapters, Lewis talks about the fall of man; the story of Adam and Eve. Because of their disobedience to God, we are all stained with original sin; all of us except our Lord Jesus and his mother Mary. God made all things good. The free choice of Adam and Eve to question the goodness of God allowed evil to enter our world. Evil is not a creation of God, but a consequence of the free will of the first human beings to go against God's will.
Lewis goes into much more detail, but I would just like to state one more thought regarding pain and suffering. It would be wrong to suggest that pain and suffering are good in and of themselves, but it is without question that throughout history much good has come from pain and suffering. Pain and suffering presents us with an opportunity to better ourselves if we offer our suffering up to God. Many of the great conversions have been the result of the suffering of people. Jesus Christ himself suffered greatly. We are reminded every time we go to mass or any time we gaze at a crucifix of the great pain and suffering Christ endured for our salvation. Anytime we feel like our pain and suffering is too much to handle, we need only say a quick prayer and reflect on the passion of Christ and our pain will pale in comparison. Pain and suffering is a part of life, but if we respond to this pain with a loving heart we will be a better and stronger person.
I highly recommend "The Problem of Pain" for any person who struggles with the idea of suffering and for all believers who would like a greater understanding.