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ISBN/ASIN : 0006280935
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Release data : 04 February, 2002
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Comforting and uplifting
This beautiful little book is on a par with the author's well-known classic Mere Christianity, as it addresses many profound questions that those in search of truth must have grappled with. Lewis was not an academic theologian so he writes for the ordinary person, which makes his words easy to understand.
The introduction deals with the 3 elements found in all developed religions: The experience of the Numinous (A sense of awe), the Sense of Morality, and the Numinous as the Guardian of Morality. Christianity contains a fourth element: A Redeemer who reconciles fallen mankind to the Righteous God.
The chapter Divine Omnipotence places the problem in context: God's goodness against the problem of suffering. How can a loving God allow this? Here Lewis discusses the implications of free will and co-existence in a common medium or external world. The next chapter, Divine Goodness, deals with the nature of divine love. Love is sterner and more splendid than mere kindness. Simple happiness in the here and now is not what God has in mind. Love may cause pain but only in order to alter and improve the object of love.
The chapter Human Wickedness looks at the state of the human psyche. Our character is, in its current state, not well. Lewis discusses our problems by examining a set of 8 very prevalent illusions. Following from this, The Fall Of Man investigates the abuse of free will while at the same time refuting Monism and Dualism. He suggests that the fall represented humanity's loss of status as a species, and that a new species had then willed itself into existence. But remedial or corrective good exists even in our present debased condition.
The next two chapters deal with Human Pain. When souls become wicked they will use free will to harm one another. The human will becomes truly creative only when it aligns itself with the will of God. Christianity demands that we correct a misdirection of our nature. The author advances 6 propositions that are necessary to complete the understanding of human suffering.
The chapter titled Hell addresses the seemingly cruel doctrine of hell. Pain mostly leads to redemption but may unfortunately also lead to unrepentant rebellion. This means that some individuals will ultimately prefer darkness to light. The author also discusses the apparent disproportion between eternal damnation and transitory sin, pointing out that some souls do not want to be forgiven.
The chapter Animal Pain is speculation as Lewis admits, but such fascinating and plausible possibilities are presented here. If you love your pets and animals in general, be sure to read it! It will give you hope and peace of mind as to the mercy and justice of a righteous God.
The chapter titled Heaven contains more speculation but of a most awesome, gripping and mind expanding nature. Lewis explores the idea of an eternal special relationship of each individual soul with the Divine Majesty, an eternal dance of joy in splendid diversity. This is not the unconscious nirvana of Pantheism but a condition of maximum distinctiveness of the individual in a higher form reunited with God.
The Appendix is a note on the observed effects of mental and physical pain, supplied by R Havard, MD, from clinical experience. The Problem Of Pain is filled with compassion and illuminating insight. It is highly instructive and edifying, making a convincing case for the profound meaning of life. In addition, it is the perfect antidote for the hedonism and nihilism that are running rampant in the world today.
A tricky problem
C.S. Lewis was a rare individual. One of the few non-clerics to be recognised as a theologian by the Anglican church, he put forth the case for Christianity in general in ways that many Christians beyond the Anglican world can accept, and a clear description for non-Christians of what Christian faith and practice should be. Indeed, Lewis says in his introduction that this text (or indeed, hardly any other he produced) will help in deciding between Christian denominations. While he describes himself as a 'very ordinary layman' in the Church of England, he looks to the broader picture of Christianity, particularly for those who have little or no background. The discussion of division points rarely wins a convert, Lewis observed, and so he leaves the issues of ecclesiology and high theology differences to 'experts'. Lewis is of course selling himself short in this regard, but it helps to reinforce his point.
Lewis sees pain as an inevitable part of the human experience, given our condition of being estranged from God. He does not pain and suffering as being caused by God. 'The possibility of pain in inherent in the very existence of a world where souls can meet,' Lewis writes. 'When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men.' God has a role in that God is the creator of all things, and set things in motion, but God is not responsible in Lewis' view for the individual or corporate acts of humankind in contradiction of God's will. In this, Lewis does go against the Calvinist strain that goes through Anglican and other theologies.
Lewis highlights part of the problem with pain in that it cannot be easily ignored. 'We can rest contentedly in our sins and our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shovelling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to.' Lewis admits that this is a 'terrible instrument' that God uses to draw people back to God's will, and that it isn't always successful. In addressing the doctrine and idea of Hell, Lewis admits that this too is a terrible idea (in fact, he states it is an 'intolerable' one), but also states that this is not meant to be an intellectually satisfying or comprehensible doctrine, but rather a moral one. Lewis does hasten to state that people often confuse the imagery of Hell for the doctrine of Hell - the ideas of Dante et al. are very pervasive, and our conceptions of what is meant by Hell usually owes more to such sources than the actual Biblical text.
Lewis also shows part of his method of biblical interpretation in different passages in this book. In the chapter on Animal Pain, he discusses the absence of statements in scripture about whether animals share in immortality. 'The complete silence of Scripture and Christian tradition on animal immortality is a more serious objection; but it would be fatal only if Christian revelation showed any signs of being intended as a "system de la nature" answering all questions. But it is nothing of the sort.'
Lewis explores the issues of divine omnipotence, divine omniscience, and divine goodness as possible contradictions and stumbling blocks to the way we see the world (or the way in which we can see a world with God operating in it, or responsible for it). Lewis comes to no definitive, systematic conclusions that will satisfy everyone. In the case of this particular text, Lewis is writing is a specifically Christian context, and readers from other backgrounds and adherents of other traditions may find less to connect with in this text.
This is a key piece in the overall structure of Lewis' theological construction.
Worth reading- as either prevention or cure
Another Lewis classic- I would recommend this to everyone: it offers a compassionate and well-thought through approach to, as Lewis calls it, the Problem of Pain. However, the Problem of Pain being the huge philosophical and emotional maze that it is, I doubt that everyone will be entirely satisfied by it: and for that reason, though I would offer it to someone suffering, I'd recommend people read it before 'bad stuff happens', if they can.
I'd also highly recommend CS Lewis' book Grief Observed- an incredibly powerful, emotional book. Lewis writes after his wife's death, and is forced to face up to the reality of suffering in relation to his beliefs. While this book, the Problem of Pain, offers a more rational answer, a Grief Observed shows how Lewis coped with suffering emotionally.