02/01/2008

The Problem of Pain (by CS Lewis)

CS Lewis is one of my favourite Christian writers of past years. His style is clear and readable. He is concise, yet never abrupt. He explains ideas succinctly in a way that makes so much sense, I wonder why I had never thought of expressing them that way. His books remain consistently in print, many years after they were written, and while some of his thinking does not fit with current mainstream evangelicalism, it is always thought-provoking.

'The Problem of Pain' is one of CS Lewis's classic books, first published in 1940. It focuses, in a mainly theoretical way, on the oft-asked question of why suffering is necessary. He advances his usual clearly laid-out arguments to show not just that pain sometimes has benefits, but that a world without pain would necessarily have a great deal missing.

After a lengthy introduction, there are chapters on human pain, human wickedness, divine omnipotence, and so on. Towards the end, there is a chapter on animal pain, too, and finally one on Heaven.

It's a mostly theoretical book, without many real-life examples, and certainly helped me get my brain around some of the diffcult questions often posed. Not that it helps in any way for someone who is actually suffering; but he says, right at the start, that he is no better than anyone else at dealing with real pain. Still, being able to theorise about suffering is potentially helpful when one is not actually in pain, in order to see some reason or purpose behind suffering when one comes across it for oneself, or in loved ones.

I found it a little heavy-going in places, and never read more than about twenty pages in one sitting. I didn't agree with all of it, either; CS Lewis is a clear evolutionist who does not even acknowledge Adam and Eve as real people, but symbols of early mankind. I'm no 7-day Creationist, tending to think that the origins of man and the earth are rather hazy (and unecessary to know in precise detail) but was a little surprised at the stance of this staunch evangelical; perhaps reflecting the standard view of his day.

A couple of wry comments in the book have stood out as I think about it after finishing: firstly, when asking whether even the 'lower' animal forms go to heaven, he comments that heaven from the point of view of mosquitoes might well be the same as hell from the point of view of people.

Secondly, he mentions that if a lion were advanced enough to understand the idea of lions lying down with lambs, and eating hay like oxen (prophecied for future times, possibly referring to heaven) - the lion would be horrified and would not consider hay-eating to be any part of heavenly bliss! Just so do many people consider images associated with heaven to be boring (at best). It's all a matter of perspective.

Recommended for anyone wanting to explore the theory behind earthly pain and suffering.

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