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.
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.
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.
on 5 February 1999
"The Problem of Pain" contains such extraordinary spiritual nourishment. Through the process of wrestling with the role of pain, Lewis gives a truly inspirational explanation of the interaction between God and humans (while also giving wonderfully realistic descriptions of most Christians' struggles!) That said, I would agree with reviewers who said that this book in *not* particularly comforting for those suffering from great grief (Lewis himself said much the same, late in his life.)
This book has given me so much encouragement and, at the same time, challenged me greatly. I am a better Christian for having read it. My copy is underlined, often quoted, and much loved.
on 10 August 1998
This is for me one of Lewis's greatest and most challenging works. The questions he tackles are among the most profound that human beings face, and Lewis approaches them with characteristic logic, sensitivity, and humility. I found myself nodding in agreement time and again, and I marveled at Lewis's ability to get straight down to the heart of the matter. His "solutions" (and he would not call them solutions) are not easy but they are very sensible and true to his faith. I continue to grapple with the issues he raises and find that this book makes more and more sense with the passing of time. That such a little book can contain so much wisdom is testimony to Lewis's genius. No other modern religious writer can come close to him in my estimation. He has helped me more than I can say.
on 16 January 2001
C.S.Lewis's style is excellent, and he is quite honest in sharing his own difficulties in accepting the ideas he espouses. The best chapter is the last one on Heaven, where he tries to awaken the hope of Heaven behind normal human activities. His idea of pain as being a sort of schoomaster is an old one but has problems, because a lot of pain is pointless. Any reader who has problems with this should read his last book 'A Grief Observed', where he personally experiences very deep pain grieving for his wife, and stops preaching to the reader and starts shouting at God.
on 6 August 2013
This is the third of the Signature classics I've read and is by far the least accessible and doctrinaire I've come across. Lewis recounts much of Christian Orthodoxy - Man is responsible for his own Fall and, therefore, for Evil entering the world; God values free-will over suffering; it is only through suffering that we can cleanse the world of evil and re-attain our pre-Fallen state (in which, paradoxically, we have, by definition, surrendered free-will).
Compared to the other Signature books I have read, Lewis adds little of the nuanced understanding and emotional 'pull' that made the other books compelling, even for an atheist.
My biggest criticism, however, is that Lewis avoids the really difficult questions about Pain.
1. Is Evil a necessary by-product of free-will?
2. Original Sin. If God values free-will over suffering, why do those without free-will (e.g. foetuses and babies) also suffer. The best that 2,000 years of theological thought can come up with is Original Sin - Mankind as a whole is stained by the Fall, therefore babies are just collateral damage. To me this has always been a totally abhorrent aspect of Christianity and also a totally central part of it - that Lewis consciously chooses to ignore it is tantamount to intellectual cowardice (I hesitate to use that word, but can think of no other, it is also consistent with the forthrightness adopted by Lewis).
3. Does God answer the prayers of those who ask for their suffering to be alleviated? If so, why some and not others? Lewis does touch on this and the sense I get is that Lewis does not believe that God intervenes - it is our own response to suffering that counts. But Lewis again sidesteps the issue of why some Christians' terminal illnesses go into remission and others do not. Again, a major omission and something I was looking forward to being discussed.
4. Does God exercise choice? Lewis is clearly on the side that God allows suffering as the consequence of free-will. But he also describes God as being 'Absolute Goodness'. But here's the contradiction, if God has a choice then there are two states: that of exercising the choice and that of not exercising it. If there are two possible divine states there cannot be a single state of Absolute Goodness. Unless we start ascribing quantum physical attributes: God is the superposition of wave functions; and, is simultaneously interfering and not interfering in the world. It is in our creation as individuals that the wave functions collapse and do so differently for each of us.
If you are an atheist looking for an intellectual debate about pain and free-will, then this isn't the book for you. If you want a rather odd argument of why favoured pets get to go to Heaven, this is the book for you.
on 6 November 1998
In his usual way, C.S. Lewis (of Narnia books fame) deals clearly, effectively and interestingly with the age old problem of human suffering. Why does it happen, and how can it be reconciled with the existence of God at all - let alone a good, loving and merciful God who is all-powerful? Lewis establishes his argument on the clearly worked-out basis of God's omnipotence and goodness, and human depravity and sinfulness. His central thesis on the subject of pain is well summed up in these words: "Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain, Lewis shows, is God's way of showing us that all is not well with the world, and that if we do not attend to the matter, much worse will follow. Putting it on a personal level, he says, "My own experience is something like this. I am progressing along the path of life in an ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity to-day, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God's grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over - I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless." Lewis faces up to the reality of the pains of hell, has a very interesting and original chapter on the subject of animal pain, and finally places pain in the context of the reality of heaven. This book must be read by anyone troubled by the problem of pain.
on 27 March 1998
There are better books about the theological problem of pain (the biblical book of JOB, Paul Brand's PAIN: THE GIFT NOBODY WANTS, and Philip Yancey's WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS?, to name three), but Lewis's book is a good place to start. Lewis himself makes it clear in the introduction that this book only addresses the intellectual problem arising from suffering, and as such does not pretend to give advice about living with pain. Lewis offers this by way of observation, that "when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all." As a catalyst for considering the theological difficulty of resolving the idea of a good God with the pain and suffering in His creation, this book is worth reading.
on 6 September 2015
I find this book a mixed bad. Although written in my lifetime (I am 63), it seems now like it belongs to a different age, when Anglican Christianity was the norm, the third person was always a 'he', the presence of sin was universally acknowledged
Doctrines like the Incarnation are assumed without question, even though interestingly Lewis denies that Jesus 'in the flesh' was omniscient.
Lewis' attempts to reconcile the Fall with evolution seem rather quaint.
His account of animal pain, as dependent on humanity, seems rather quirky. Would animals not suffer if there were no humans?
The best parts of the book are where he draws on his great knowledge of literature and the classics to bring out an apt quotation or story to illustrate his point.
Why is there evil? Lewis' simple answer is that God has given creatures free will
But what about God's omniscience? Did he not know man would sin when he gave free will? If so, that would make God responsible for evil. Lewis does not seem to address this issue.
The overall conclusion is that pain is there to keep us from complacency and bring us closer to God.
Yes, maybe. But there is so much senseless evil in the world. Was the Holocaust designed to bring those Jews in the concentration camps a bit closer to God before they were gassed in the ovens? I wonder if Lewis ever defended his book to an audience of Jews