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Pain and Suffering According to C.S. Lewis

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Pain and Suffering in the Christian Experience

Submitted to Dr. Andrea H. Adams in partial fulfillment of the requirement for completion of

SEMI 500-B27 LUO
Introduction to Seminary Studies


Tami Carroll
February 22, 2015

Table of Contents

Introduction 2

What Causes Humans to Suffer? 2

Pain is Inevitable 2
Humans Seek Personal Pleasure 3

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? 4
Free Will 4
God’s Authentic Love 5

The Purpose for Suffering 6
Draws Man to God 6
Repentance 7

Conclusion 9
Bibliography 10

Pain and Suffering in the Christian Experience
There are numerous schools of thought in regards to why humans suffer. Christians question why a loving God allows bad things happen to His people. They wonder how sufferings in the life of a Christian can possibly build faith. These ideas will be explored through the life and works of theologian and scholar, C. S. Lewis. Answers will be sought through the examination of Lewis’s personal experiences, his theological studies and his fictional writings. This paper will prove that human pain and suffering is essential in the Christian experience by examining the reasons human suffer, why God does not intervene to prevent suffering, and how pain and suffering might build faith and draw people closer to God.
The reality that Christians, who devote their lives to God suffer, is a source of angst for many. As humans develop, they assimilate every experience and thought they have had into the way they view and interpret the world around them. Every person in this world experiences pain and suffering at different levels including physical, emotional and spiritual. The fact that C.S. Lewis addresses this conflict in many of his fictional writings supports the fact that this has been a point of personal struggle for him. C.S. Lewis records that when he was still in the nursery, his mother gave him a picture book that contained images that created a sense of fear in him. The terror the pictures created was so great that A.N. Wilson, author of C.S. Lewis: A Biography describes the event as being Lewis’s, “…first experience of real fear and psychological pain.” It is interesting that what appears to be such a small event in the life of a child created a realization that pain exists in the human experience. The death of C.S. Lewis’s mother when he was eight years old also provided more evidence that pain and suffering were inevitable. As the Lewis family witnessed their wife and mother suffer and die of cancer, there were many personal periods of pain for C.S. Lewis. One such moment was a night Lewis recalls when he was so ill he was crying and his mother, Flora Lewis, could not attend to him because she was too ill. It was that very night that Flora died and in the midst of physical pain and confusion that the young C. S. Lewis learned of the pain of grief. The inevitability of human pain and suffering was a lesson Lewis learned again and again throughout life, including times of war when he was injured and saw massive loss of life and destruction and times of heartache as he watched his deceased friend’s mother, whom he cared for over thirty years, fall victim to senility that forced her to enter a nursing home.
In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis explains that the perception of pain is variable, depending on what the individual finds agreeable for their particular body. When considering any given state, there are always two opposing conditions. To recognize that the feeling of “hot” exists, it must also be recognized that “cold” exists. If not for one, there would be no need or definition for the other. Since individuals develop their perceptions of what is pleasurable or painful largely based on their assimilation of experiences throughout life, it can only be true that because no two people experience the exact same events in life, that no two people will perceive all of the same stimuli as pleasurable. Lewis states, “if the fixed nature of matter prevents it from being always, and in all its dispositions, equally agreeable even to a single soul, much less is it possible for the matter of the universe at any moment to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society.” Human nature is the seeking of pleasure to avoid pain. If seeking personal pleasure results in a certain condition, that means that the condition being avoided will create pain for another individual whose perception is different. This is true as there cannot be one condition without the inclusion of the opposite condition that defines it. God created each person uniquely; therefore human suffering is inevitable as individuals seek personal comfort, creating discomfort, or pain and suffering for others.
God created man in His own image. “God is intelligent, creative, communicative and free to choose.” Since man is created in God’s image, he also has the freedom to choose. Lacking the perfection of God however, man not only has the ability to choose poorly, but often desires things that are self-serving and leads him further from God who requires surrender to His will. C. S. Lewis demonstrates this throughout his writings including in Mere Christianity, where he describes how God created things that could choose to go either good or bad. That free will made evil possible but is also what made true love, goodness or joy possible. God designed happiness for His creatures that can only come from voluntarily uniting ourselves with Him. Although God knew that some would choose badly, He believed it to be worth the risk. Lewis, although raised in the Church of Ireland became an atheist at the age of fifteen. This expression of free will, a purposeful departure from God, was obviously an influence on Lewis’s theology as he ultimately returned and became a devout Christian. Many of Lewis’s writings address the reality that God intentionally gave man the freedom to choose whether or not they followed Him. Scripture states, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”(Josh. 24:15, NIV). God did not create humanity so people would follow Him because they could do nothing else. In His infinite wisdom, God created man with the ability to choose Him. He did this knowing that because man had a sinful nature, choosing to follow God would require turning away from selfish desires and towards the One who loves and wants true happiness for His creation. Lewis expresses this part of his theology in Miracles stating, “Because He saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out a deeper happiness and a fuller splendor than any world of automata would admit.” That being said, if God is good and desires that His creation be happy, how does that reconcile with the fact that He allows pain and suffering? The human perception of goodness is related to kindness that amounts to wanting man to live comfortably. Lewis argues that, "genuine divine goodness involves love rather than kindness." Parents love their children and want them to be happy in life. If the goal of the parent is for their child to feel happy, they must do whatever they can to prevent the child from feeling the pain of disappoint or suffer consequences of negative choices. If a child wishes to eat cake for every meal, the parent whose goal is simply to provide the feeling of happiness must allow this. However, the temporary avoidance of unpleasant emotions will ultimately lead to illness, disease and eventual death. God, like this parent, does want His children to be happy. The difference is that God has authentic love for His creation. Kindness does not care whether the outcome is good or bad, only that suffering is avoided. God's will is for man's good. “Free will means to choose as person pleases. Humans choose what they desire and since they have a sinful nature, they do not desire righteousness unless God empowers them to do so, as this would go against their will.” God knows that what is good for man is to be transformed into His image.
"Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it"(Hebrews 12: 10-11).
The sinful nature of man makes necessary a change in the heart of man to become more like the Creator. This means that man must be transformed, and transformation is painful. The pain and suffering resulting from transformation is not only unavoidable but is also beneficial. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis shows his characters having an in depth discussion about how to use war and destruction to win man over to the side of Satan. Harsh warnings are given to the student to be careful not to give man so much suffering that he be awakened to the realities of evil and his own cowardice. The teacher fears that when pain is intense, it leads man to a self-awareness that leads to a moral awareness forcing him to seek God. Throughout scripture and history; mankind has cried out and drawn near to God in times of disaster when there is nothing left to do in his own power. When the devastation of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers took place on September 11, Americans flocked to churches to pray. The powerlessness felt at that time drove people to seek God for comfort and healing throughout the nation. In Exodus, the account of the Israelites’ oppression in Egypt demonstrates this very clearly. They cried out to God for rescue while they were in captivity. God answered their cries and released them from their suffering. As the Israelites began to experience freedom and relief from the pain they had been experiencing, they quickly withdrew from God who saved them, began to rely on their own strength and serve other gods while seeking their own pleasure. It is apparent that man seeks to draw near to God in times of trouble. Without pain and suffering there would be no need to look to God for help, so one way our Creator uses pain is to draw us nearer to Him. "Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts you double minded" (Jas 4:8).
God sometimes allows man to experience pain to make him aware of his moral shortcomings. “He always knew my temple was a stack of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” Humans, by nature seek to be comfortable and happy. When life is satisfying and man is content in his current state, he feels no need to consider his motives or morality. "Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel they need any forgiveness." Discomfort, pain and suffering compel man to examine his life and search for the cause. Without this self-examination the need for repentance would never be recognized. C.S. Lewis demonstrates in his writing that if man is to be kept in a current state of separation from God, he must be protected from any real pain since that would be a driving force to repent. When life is going smoothly and all of mans’ needs and desires are met, what motivation is there for him to even consider that change might be in order, or that he is not in line with God’s will for him? Humans tend to think that success in this world is evidence that God is blessing them, or rewarding them for their goodness. In consideration of spiritual warfare; the battle between good and evil, it actually makes sense that Satan would not have reason to attack or cause harm to a man already reliant upon himself and unaware of any need for change. C.S. Lewis acknowledges the difference between pain humans bring upon themselves and natural suffering. Man questions why God allows this type of suffering. Weil answers that God laid down moral laws for humanity for our good. If genuine happiness comes from loving God, and part of loving God is obeying these laws, humans must be aware when they are violating them. God sometimes uses pain to nudge humans out of their comfort zone and recognize their moral shortcomings and need for change. The knowledge of man’s need to change is dangerous to Satan because repentance puts man in line with God's plan for him. Recognition of the need to repent is produced when man experiences genuine pain and suffering. Lewis describes this need in his writing, "I do not think that all who choose the wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road." God's desire is that all be saved. In His infinite wisdom, though he will never forsake man, He will sacrifice comfort on earth to propel His children to seek His will. "God wills our good, and our good is to love Him." When man loves God, he recognizes sin in his life, and because sin separates him from God, he is led to repentance. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he expresses this same logic:
“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while- yet now I am happy not because you were made sorry, but your sorrow led to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:8-10). 

Human suffering is a topic that many do not understand, but in the Christian experience, is essential for the fulfillment of His plan. God created man in His own image, but allowed him free will to choose either good or bad which made evil possible. Since man is uniquely made and no two are exactly alike, pain and suffering are inevitable, as each seeks to find personal comfort and pleasure in life. Although this may cause some to question why God would allow evil to enter creation and how the presence of pain and suffering in the life of Christians can possibly be either good or loving; the answer is that God’s love for mankind is authentic. His love is not based on simply making His people feel happy, but to perfect humans in His image, because that is truly what is good for His creation. Like a responsible parent with a child, God gives Christians what they need for their good, not just what they desire in the moment for temporary satisfaction. The beauty of pain and suffering is that when man has tried all he can do to help himself and the pain he is experiencing overwhelms him, God is present and draws him near. Mankind was made to long for God, and moments of suffering are reminders that there is a greater purpose in life than momentary happiness. As pain and suffering insist that man look to God, he is convicted of his sin and compelled to turn away from selfish desires to a life of repentance that leads to the acceptance of God’s plan from the beginning “to use evil and suffering to reveal His love to us through Christ and the redemption Christ would bring.” Without knowledge of a true need for God, man would exist to please himself and harm others, to be satisfied with temporary feelings of pleasure and never experience the love he was created with and for. Thankfully God draws man close in times of trouble and compels him to turn from evil and look to his Creator. Indeed, pain and suffering are essential to the Christian experience and fulfillment of God’s plan.

Alcorn, Randy. If God is Good. Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2009. Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. In The Signature Classics, 647-688. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
_____. Mere Christianity. In The Signature Classics, 5-177. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1980. _____. Miracles. In The Signature Classics, 297-462. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
_____. The Great Divorce. In The Signature Classics, 463-542. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1973.
_____. The Problem of Pain. In The Signature Classics, 543-646. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
_____. The Screwtape Letters. In The Signature Classics, 179-296. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
Townsend, James. “Grace in Arts: C.S. Lewis Theology: Somewhere Between Ransom and Reepicheep.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, vol.22:42 (2009): 43-73.
Wielenberg, Erik J. God and the Reach of Reason: C.S. Lewis, David Hume and Bertrand Russell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Wilson, A.N. C.S. Lewis: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990.

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