Megan Larson's Reviews > The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
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's review
Dec 22, 2009

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bookshelves: modern-to-contemporary, theology, philosophy
Read in January, 2010

(Note--this book really hangs somewhere on the under-side of three stars for me. Also, this review is written from an orthodox Christian standpoint--I'm not qualified to offer any other.)
"If God is good, why does he cause or allow us to experience painful circumstances? Perhaps he is not good. Or, perhaps he just isn't powerful enough to protect his creatures from pain." These are the difficult questions, natural to many of us, that C.S. Lewis attempts to address in this book. It is one of his earliest works as a Christian, predating Mere Christianity by three years. Because of this, and because he takes a mostly-apologetic stance rather than simply addressing what the Bible has to say about pain, a significant number of his ideas reflect his secular academic background imposing itself upon the supernatural. But I will start with the positives first:
The chapter entitled "Divine Goodness" is truly excellent. It addresses the idea that God's goodness and the fact that He perfects his children through trials go hand-in-hand. It brings into perspective our cultural tendency to assume that God must be a "senile grandfather-type" who just wants everyone to have a good time. His arguments are intellectually and scripturally sound, and I believe this chapter can stand alone for many believers struggling with trials of various sorts.
Secondly, I appreciated the times when Lewis qualified his views as "simply opinion," "a layman's ignorant perspective," "subject to correction by real theologians," etc. This is a message he sent often in Mere Christianity as well, and it shows a measure of humility that (from what I learned in Surprised by Joy) did not come naturally to him.
On the other hand, in this early book, the places where Lewis so qualifies his opinions are rather few, and he presents some things as fact which most Christian theologians and a respectable number of scientists deny. Most prevalently, his belief in the Theory of Evolution permeates two chapters of this book--"The Fall of Man," and "Animal Pain." In the first, Lewis treats the Biblical account of Adam and Eve as a doctrine rather than a narrative, and posits that somewhere in the evolution of the species, mankind (in whatever number) were given souls and became "Paradisal Man." At some point, by some means, Paradisal Men fell. The tragic result of Lewis' false assumption is that he consequently has no understanding of the Scriptural concept of a federal head--"as 'in' Adam all died, so 'in' Christ we can be made alive together with Him." If Adam is just the mythical name for "Paradisal Man," that "in" really doesn't make any sense, and the word "in" is admittedly mysterious to Lewis.
The second chapter (on "Animal Pain") argues that the animal species cannot have experienced its first pangs at the fall of man, since the evolutionary record shows us that carnivorous behavior in animals predates humanity. He posits that perhaps Satan, who seems to have fallen before the creation of mankind, might have corrupted creation first, and mankind second. Again, this completely ignores the narrative of biblical creation, which bears no trademarks of a parable or myth as far as Scripture goes.
I realize it was not Lewis' intention to be cavalier about Scripture, and indeed many of us in modern Christendom have at one time or another been deceived by compromising doctrines that claim to be intellectually superior to orthodox Christianity. However, Lewis' belief in Evolution was not the only area this type of deception occurred. He also posited that, because Christ lived in a human body, with a human brain of an average size, He may well have spoken historical or scientific error without impugning his Deity. In this context, Lewis mentions that we might take as truth Jesus' teachings about the Devil because they don't contradict any verified scientific findings, only our cultural beliefs. Truly, it is a great mystery that Jesus "grew in wisdom" as well as in stature, and we know He was not always or perhaps ever omniscient in the body before being glorified at His resurrection, but we also know that He possessed knowledge well outside the reaches of the human intellect (many places in Scripture tell us that he knew people's thoughts), and I cannot easily count the number of references to the Christ as "perfect." Add to that the fact that Scripture declares itself to be perfect (2 Timothy 3:16), and it becomes clear that the idea of Jesus' having spoken error at all, and that error then being recorded forever to misdirect us in the infallible Word of God, is quite contrary to the precepts of our Faith.
These compromises with the secular climate in which Lewis lived were disheartening, and at times as I read I actually felt sick to my stomach. The chapters that were neither excellent nor nauseating seemed at times beneficial and at times self-indulgent. I don't believe I would have felt so strongly if I didn't so respect the man God made Lewis as he continued his Christian life. I'm so thankful that his reliance on Scripture certainly grew as he matured in his walk, and his likeness to the world around him lessened. I reassert the value of the chapter entitled "Divine Goodness," but urge extreme caution and a discerning eye when reading the rest.

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message 1: by Adam (new)

Adam Larson I look forward to reading the chapter on Divine Goodness. Thank you for your diligence in writing these reviews! I pray the Lord continues to bless your efforts.

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