Challenge #2: A 20th century classic- The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis

 

My copy- correction, my Grandparent’s copy- of the Problem of Pain is a beautifully vintage book.  The tawny pages have become velveteen along the edge, the covers are wrinkled, and the spine is all but gone.  It is held together by tape, rusty staples, and a miracle.  When I first opened it up, I noticed a fine cloud of dust rise from the pages.  I knew that this would be a book I’d enjoy.  And that I did.

  ‘The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.  Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil.  Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.’- Human Pain

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis takes a weighty issue and boils it down into something still terrible, but a bit more understandable.  He was gifted at analogies and getting at underlying issues, just as in his other books, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.  At the start Lewis made a disclaimer that he was not a professional theologian, but he wrote as if he could be.  He had a way of solidifying and putting into words concepts for which I only had vague thoughts.

  ‘We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say “like to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all”. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds.  I do not claim to be an exception:   I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines.  But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.’ -Divine Goodness

And yet, there were some things I disagreed with.  At the time of writing this, Lewis didn’t consider the first chapters of Genesis as history.  This is seen in Chapter The Fall of Man.  He writes “I have the deepest respect even for Pagan myths, still more for myths in Holy Scripture.”  Later on he writes “What exactly happened when Man fell, we do not know; but if it is legitimate to guess, I offer the following picture- a “myth” in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale.”  There are still good things to be gleaned from this chapter.  But for me, there seemed to be something lost, or cheapened, when the introduction of pain (sin) into the world is mythologized.

  ‘If pain sometimes shatters the creature’s false self-sufficiency, yet in supreme “Trial” or “Sacrifice” it teaches him the self-sufficiency which really ought to be his- the “strength, which, if Heaven gave it, may be called his own”: for then, in the absence of all merely natural motives and supports, he acts in that strength, and that alone, which God confers upon him through his subjected will.’ –Human Pain

  The Problem of Pain is well deserving of its place among the Christian Classics.  I found so many worthy quotes and passages that the book is bristling with bookmarks.  I plan to follow it up with A Grief Observed sometime.

  (As a side note, the first chapter opens with a quote from Pascal’s Pensees, which I am also reading for the challenge.  Little bit of a cool connection, there.)

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