O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate. Psalm 88:14,15.
Books about C.S.Lewis are still proliferating. ‘Shadowlands’ has now titled a stage-play and two movies about C.S.Lewis and Joy Davidman, who became his wife (twice!). Before he suffered the emotional trauma of witnessing Joy’s death from painful cancer, he wrote a classic about suffering, The Problem of Pain. After Joy died, the journal of his feelings became known as A Grief Observed. Perhaps The Problem of Pain should then have been revised: our understanding of suffering is certainly tinged with different colourings when we suffer deeply ourselves. Nevertheless, The Problem of Pain is worth reading and re-reading. In the next few days we will summarize its ideas.
The book begins with the ancient formulation of the problem: ‘If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do as he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ What do you think of that?
Thank you, Lord, that you give permission to ask questions; the psalmists asked them, so did Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus. They’re my questions too. Amen.…..
IS GOD ALL-POWERFUL AND ALL-LOVING?
For God all things are possible. Mark 10:27.
God’s creatures cause pain by being born, live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. Why? And however did human beings attribute the universe to the activity of a wise and good Creator? All of the great religions were first preached, and long practised, in a world without chloroform!
Christianity, in a sense, creates the ‘problem of pain’ by suggesting that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.
The Bible asserts that ‘with God all things are possible’, continues C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. This must tacitly exclude, of course, the intrinsically impossible ‘you may attribute miracles to God, but not nonsense.’ In God’s universe there are physical and moral laws, which may operate beneficially for some but not for others. (We may say water which is ‘beautifully hot’ to a Japanese adult in a Sento bath will burn a small child). Morally, because wrong actions result where free wills operate, the possibility of suffering is inevitable. God does not violate the aggressive person’s will to strike the innocent.
‘I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24). Amen.
IS GOD ALL-LOVING?
God so loved the world… John 3:16.
When Christians say that ‘God is Love’, what do they mean? ‘Is he a senile benevolence who wishes you to be happy in your own way? A disinterested cosmic magistrate? Or a mere ‘heavenly host’ who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests?’ No, no and no, says C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain.
To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. Because his love is a ‘consuming fire’ he ‘must labour to make us truly lovable’, and when we are such as he can love without impediment, only then shall we in fact be truly happy.
Nor is God’s love selfishly possessive, like that of an immature parent. He who lacks nothing chooses to need us, but only because we need to be needed. His commands to worship and obey him marshall us towards our most utter ‘good’ if only we knew it.
Thus there are only three real alternatives: to be God; to be like God and to share his goodness in creaturely response; and to be miserable.
Lord God, I want to be loving, like you. Amen……
PAIN – WHOSE FAULT?
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. Isaiah 64:6.
In The Problem of Pain C.S.Lewis examines the causes of pain:
Because some psycho-analysts have explained away the old Christian sense of sin, God easily seems to us to be impossibly demanding, or else inexplicably angry. To our resentful consciousness the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous doctrine. Occasionally we might admit our guilt, or perhaps blame ‘the system’, or hope that time will heal our past misdemeanours. But the fact and guilt of sin are not erased by time, but by contrite repentance and the blood of Christ. We are creatures whose basic character is a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves.
We humans have deliberately abused our free-will, one of God’s best gifts to us. And we are not getting any better not even the animals treat other creatures as badly as humans sometimes treat each other. From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God, and of itself as self, there is the danger of self-idolatry, pride. But God has the antidote: he saw the crucifixion of his Son in the act of creating the first nebulae. God himself assumes the suffering nature which evil produces, and offers forgiveness, and life in Christ.
So help me see, Lord, the gravity of my sinfulness, and begin, little by little, to realize why my sin is a ‘horror’ to you. Amen.…..
‘UNDESERVED’ HUMAN PAIN:
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? Exodus 18:25.
Probably four-fifths of all human suffering, says C.S.Lewis in The Problem of Pain, derives from our misusing nature, or hurting others. We, not God, produced racks, whips, prisons, guns and bombs.
Because we are rebels-against-God who must lay down our arms, our other pains may indeed constitute God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world to surrender. There is a universal feeling that bad people ought to suffer: without a concept of ‘retribution’ punishment is rendered unjust (what can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it?). But until evil persons find evil unmistakably present in their existence, in the form of pain, they are enclosed in illusion. Pain may provide the only opportunity they may have for amendment. It is hard to turn our thoughts to God when things are going well. To ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God.
So God troubles our selfishness, which stands between us and the recognition of our need. God’s divine humility stoops to conquer, even if we choose him merely as an alternative to hell. Yet even this he accepts!
Lord, forgive me if I regard you as I do a heart-lung machine – there for emergencies, but hoping I’ll never have to use it. Amen.…..
HUMAN AND ANIMAL PAIN.
God… made the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Hebrews 2:10.
Although pain is never palatable, writes C.S.Lewis in The Problem of Pain, we are in some senses made ‘perfect through suffering’. Suffering is not a ‘good’ in itself. Very occasionally we may be entitled to hurt others (eg, a parent, magistrate or surgeon) but only where the necessity is urgent, the attainable good obvious, and when the one who inflicts the pain has proper authority to do so. Only a Satan transgresses beyond these.
A Christian cannot believe either that merely reforming our economic, political or hygienic systems will eventually eliminate pain and create a heaven on earth. God does indeed provide us with some transient joy, pleasure, and even ecstasy here, but never with permanent security, otherwise we might ‘mistake our pleasant inns for home’.
What about animal pain? Do the beasts, and plants, ‘feel’? Certainly both may react to injury but so does the anaesthetised human body; reaction therefore does not prove sentience. Perhaps – we cannot be sure – we have committed the fallacy of reading into other areas of life a ‘suffering self’ for which there may be no real evidence.
This is not my home. Help me, Lord, to appreciate your purposes in preparing me for another life when will all be explained. Amen.…..