Monday, July 5, 2010

Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

I have not read as much of C.S. Lewis as I probably should have except for Mere Christianity, which it has been a number of years. However, I have several friends that read him quite often and have the best things to say of his writings.

The topic that Lewis tackles in this book is quite ambitious and I'm not sure that it can, or should, be worked out in 150 pages. That said, I appreciate Lewis recognition of the seemingly (depending on your point of view) glaring contradiction to the pain and evil in the world with the idea of a loving, all-powerful God who works all things for good.

It's certainly an issue that I have had all kinds of reservations and doubts about and I don't imagine I will ever feel completely comfortable with it. That said, I think Lewis makes an intelligent argument for his point of view that these two things are, in fact, not contradictory. He carefully builds a foundation and supporting arguments in each chapter. The chapters entitled "Divine Goodness" , "Human Wickedness", and "Human Pain" I found most interesting and relevant.

Lewis concludes the book with a chapter on "Heaven", which I suppose is a necessary topic in a spiritual book about pain as it is a Christian's hope for a place and future absent of pain, trouble, and tears. Lewis argues, in line with traditional Christian theology, that as long as we live in a "fallen" and sinful world there will always be an aspect of pain in life. And that is fine, but I have a few comments on this topic. It is not that I am uncomfortable with the idea of heaven, although I'm not sure that I have a good understanding of what that exactly is. The concept that Christians get to wonder streets of gold with crowns and jewels isn't very appealing to me and it seems more like a place that is a distorted view of what I think heaven probably is. I don't like the idea that this life is completely discounted because, after all, if God put us in this life, this world then there must be some sort of value and beauty in it. And Christ prayed that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven". Also, I believe that Christ came to bring hope and mercy for people in this life not just in the afterlife.

As with all of these reviews, my intention is not to provide a summary, but rather to spark your interest that you will take the time to read the book yourself based on my initial thoughts/comments despite their digression.

I'm not sure that Lewis completely resolved the issue in my mind, but he does present at least an intelligent argument for it. One of the reviews on the back of the book from the New York Times Book Review, says that "Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half-convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way." I resonate with that statement.

I've heard people say that you don't have to understand everything something to believe in it (for example you don't have to understand physics to believe in gravity)--which is probably true but I haven't found that very helpful, useful, or reassuring, especially when it comes to spiritual issues. After all, isn't that what makes us intrinsically human? Being able to reason and think about things. I understand that it's not realistic to expect to reason everything out when it comes to religion, which is filled with mysterious issues, and that there is a certain point when faith must take over. But it doesn't do anyone any good to not think about it either.

Well this has turned out to be more of a journal entry rather than a book review. I certainly recommend Lewis as an intelligent, reasonable apologist for Christianity.

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