In “The Problem of Pain” by Clive Staples Lewis, the author attempts to answer the question which many people from different religions might ask themselves, “If God is good, why do people suffer”. Although, the book reflects that such questions might be asked from an atheist’s perspective, it can be stated that many people, who do believe in God do not have a convincing answer. In that regard, this paper analyzes the aforementioned book, in terms of the arguments presented by the author, specifically the attempts he made to reconcile the idea that God is loving—compassionate, caring, and concerned for the creature He created. Additionally, this paper provides a personal reflection on these arguments, along with their acceptance, stating that people’s misunderstanding of pain is a result of lack of knowledge combined with the inability to assess the true scale of God.
The main idea of Lewis’ work is the emphasis on knowledge about God. Generally, Lewis takes the approach in showing that the main arguments used by people when questioning God are assuming certain definitions which are limited to their knowledge. Accordingly, Lewis reshapes the arguments by giving the true meaning of the words and terms, but nevertheless, he might state that the mere fact of questioning the intentions and the nature of the Creator means a deficiency in knowledge, or ignorance, intentional or not. For example, Lewis states that, asking the question of whether the universe is “more like the work of a wise and good Creator or the work of chance, indifference, or malevolence, is to omit from the outset all the relevant factors in the religious problem” (Lewis 14).
The problem of pain to which Lewis addresses a substantial part of the book, as the title implies. In that regard, Lewis argues that pain is present in our life for a purpose. Lewis explains the reason for the pain through three arguments, which are:
- Pain is an indication of God’s disapproval of our doings- the argument used by Lewis can be paralleled to the reaction of the parents, when the children make mistakes. Analyzing any normal reaction, it can be stated that it will not be in any way pleasant, but nevertheless, it is necessary to show that the child committed something wrong. However, the love of the parents in that sense cannot be questioned. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain…” (Lewis 91).
- Pain is necessary to help us seek God – people do not tend to seek help from God until there is a real problem. In that regard, a common perception can be seen through people’s happy moments and successes being referred to as personal attributes, luck and other factors. On the other hand, while in pain people refer to God. Thus, this argument states that God uses pain as a reminder for us. “Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for” (Lewis 94).
- Pain is necessary for discipline, to know the real purpose of our actions – in understanding such argument, we might use an example from the military practice. Generally, superiors do not feel negative feelings for the soldiers, but nevertheless, the army while teaching a necessary trait might be harsh on them. Many things that would be done would be understood if the result is painful. Even if we do everything right, we will not understand why we do it unless we see what happens if we do the opposite. In that regard, Lewis states that, “we cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or I in other words painful” (Lewis 97).
The arguments used by Lewis are logical, where they are based on emphasizing cause and effect. The main point of Lewis in that regard, is that people see the effect, but do not see the cause, or do not understand it. It might have been argued that paralleling the pain we see to examples of a family might not be fair as the sufferings that might be witnessed in the world can far exceed them. Nevertheless, it is acceptable to believe that, the scale of the effect is proportionate to the Creator, who is capable of creating the universe. People learn from their mistakes, and accordingly, they know that this is a mistake, when there is an assessable effect. If this is true in the scale of people, it should be true in the scale of God and the universe.
It can be concluded that knowledge is not merely a collection of facts, but also the ability to analyze, assess, and implement this knowledge in order to understand. In that regard, in “The Problem of Pain”, Lewis paid importance to the knowledge and it can be interpreted. Changing the scale of a certain logical dilemma to a smaller scale might help people to understand what is beyond their reach.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. HarperOne, 2001.