Let me first made this point clear; I am not a follower of C. S. Lewis. I totally disagree with many aspects of his theology. He is consider by many one of the greatest Theologians of the 20th century, I totally disagree with that assessment and if you read C. S. Lewis’ work on spiritual matter, he will tell you the same. However, he was one of the best writers the 20th century indeed had. He die the same day John F. Kennedy was shot and killed.
What I do admire and respect about C. S. Lewis is that he was not afraid of asking the tough questions and worked hard enough searching for answers. I guess that is a pattern I see with many of these deep thinkers, so different from the shallow mentalities of our day. I also agree with much of C. S. Lewis’ assessment concerning the reason for pain. I completed the following work as an assignment to one of my classes, I hope you enjoy!
LIBERTY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DIVINITY
Assessing C. S. Lewis Explanation for Pain Through God’s Word
Submitted to Dr. Paul B. Greer, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course
RTCH 500 D15
Introduction to Seminary Studies
The Personal Influence of C. S. Lewis’s Writings on Pain and Suffering……………3
Experiencing Suffering as a Child…………………………………………………3
Experience with Pain as an Adult…………………………………………………4
Looking at C. S. Lewis Theology on Pain and Suffering……………………………….6
Fundamental Reason for Pain and Suffering According to C. S. Lewis…………..6
Explaining C. S. Lewis Theology of Pain from a Biblical Perspective……………7
The Purpose of Pain According to C. S. Lewis…………………………………………9
The Purpose of Pain According to Scripture…………………………………………10
God is good! Can you reaffirm His goodness when facing suffering? Why is it that God seems so silent, so uninvolved and so careless in moments when it seems like we need Him the most? The reality is, that it is easy, and perhaps, very common to blame God for our suffering. Surely He gets the blame for terrorist attacks, the tragedy of September 11, divorces, drugs, rapes, murderess, etc. But is it His fault?
The thesis of this paper is to establish, according to C. S. Lewis and according to God’s Word that first, God is not the reason for our pain. Second, that pain is unavoidable and third, that there is an ultimate and profound purpose on the other side of our pain.
The Personal Influence of C. S. Lewis’s Writings on Pain and Suffering
Experiencing Suffering as a Child
Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29, 1898 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father was Albert J. Lewis and his mother was Florence Augusta Hamilton Lewis. Lewis also had one older brother, Warren, who was more than a brother; he was a good friend.
Lewis’ father was a successful attorney; however “The stability of the family was centered around his mother who had a talent for happiness…” Lewis’ father provided a financially stable home. Lewis, who preferred to be called Jack, enjoyed a loving mother and a very close relationship with his brother. These were indeed the happy days. Education was the center of the Lewis home; before reaching the age of ten, Lewis was already learning Greek and Latin tutored by his mother.
In 1908 Lewis’ mom was diagnosed with cancer. Young Lewis prayed for his mom’s healing; however on August 23, 1908; on Lewis’s father’s birthday, she passed away. That was Lewis’ introduction to pain and suffering and perhaps his first issue against God. Lewis was convinced that God let him down. His father, Albert, struggled with his wife’s death and was not able to handle the pressures of raising his two sons alone. Also, that same year, Albert lost his dad and brother.
Through all, education continued to be very important in the family, so Albert sent his two sons to Wynyard boarding school. Lewis hated that school with a passion; he referred to Wynyard as, “Belsen, the name of a concentration camp.” If we take into consideration a child who just lost his mom and being in a school he hated that much, I think we can imagine the impact in C. S. Lewis life.
Experience with Pain as an Adult
On December of 1916, C. S. Lewis received a scholarship to attend Oxford University. On June 8, 1917, Lewis enlisted in the British army. During that time, he developed a close friendship with his roommate Paddy Moore. The relationship was so strong that they promised to care for each other’s family if they were not able to make it alive from the war. Paddy Moore was reportedly killed in battle on April 1918. On April 15, 1918 Lewis was wounded in the Battle of Arras. He was discharged from the army that same year. Sometime in 1919, Lewis followed up with the promise he made to his friend Paddy and moved in with his mother, Mrs. Janie King Moore, and sister, Maureen.
Perhaps out of all of Lewis’ experiences with pain, none could compare to the death of his wife Helen Joy Gresham. Marriage came late in life for Lewis, at the age of sixty, to be exact. His marriage was controversial. “…the esteemed professor not only married late in life, he married an American who was once Jewish, divorced, and personally rather abrasive.”
Lewis’ marriage to Helen was not received well; the majority of his friends opposed the marriage. Nevertheless, he did marry Helen. It seemed like they were made for each other; Douglass H. Gresham, Lewis stepson wrote,
They both came to Christ via the long and difficult road which leads from Atheism, to Agnosticism, and thence by way of Theism finally to Christianity, and they both enjoy remarkable success in their university student careers.
Douglas adds that even at ten years old he was able to see that the love they had for each other grew and witnessing that kind of love made him feel happy. At the same time, that happiness was mixed with fear and sadness for it was known at the time that Helen had cancer. Understandably so, Helen’s death was an unbearable pain for Lewis. Lewis writes, “Cancer and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue.”
Looking at C. S. Lewis Theology on Pain and Suffering
Fundamental Reason for Pain and Suffering According to C. S. Lewis
If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefor God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem with pain, in its simplest form. C. S. Lewis
- S. Lewis’ life was marked by deep and intense pain. From nine years old to his sixties, his life was filled with traumatic and painful experiences. From loosing his mother and loosing his best friend in the army, to being rejected and mocked by his friends because of his faith and marriage to his wife Helen and, to make matters worst, loosing his wife to cancer after only four years of marriage. No doubt C. S. Lewis had plenty to say about pain and, he had the scars to prove it. It seems, by looking at C. S. Lewis’ story, that he suffered most of his life.
Perhaps these experiences forced him to ask the tough questions and to find the courage to search for answers. Perhaps these experiences helped shape his theology.
If God is so good, so loving and so powerful, why do we have to suffer? Perhaps God is not good or perhaps He is not as powerful? These are the essentially philosophical questions at the center of C. S. Lewis theology on suffering. Lewis answered these questions beautifully, logically and, most importantly, Biblically.
Lewis’ argument is that the Agape love cannot be a possibility without freedom; in other words, for unconditional love to be able to flow it must be totally free from any obligation. If God forces us to love, then we become robotic and in that reality, we will not be able to love, we will be controlled by God. We must have the choice to good or to do evil. Therefore, the reason we have so much evil in the world is not because of God’s lack of power or lack of goodness, but because of the abuse of our own will.
Obviously God knew that this kind of freedom was also an open door for evil, but because God is God and because He is All-Knowing, we accept that this is indeed the best possible system for love to abound.
Explaining C. S. Lewis Theology of Pain from a Biblical Prospective
The Bible tells us that God is love (I John 4:8). Jesus took the Ten Commandments and the laws given to the Jewish people and made two commandments; one to love the Father above all things and the other to love one another (Mark 12:30-31). C. S. Lewis’ theology on pain and suffering can be confirmed in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (KJV).
God has given us Free Will. The Lord encourages us to do the right thing, to choose life over death and good over evil. Our will has the potential and the power to go either way. When we chose to embrace a lifestyle of evil, we will suffer the consequences with curses. When we chose a lifestyle of righteousness, then we will enjoy God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 28). Nevertheless, because of our own choices and the choices of others, evil is always active in this world ready to kill, still and destroy even those who are pursuing holiness (John 10:10).
God warned us concerning suffering in I Corinthians 13:4, “Love suffers long…” (NKJV). Love will always serve as a platform for pain because of the freedom it provides for us to do whatever we want. In the Old Testament it was established that many are the afflictions of the righteous (Psalm 34:19). Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (NKJV)
Jesus was our best illustration of what C. S. Lewis is suggesting regarding the necessity of freedom in order for love to be able to be a possibility and, how that freedom will facilitate the freedom for evil to manifest also. God the Father, as we Biblically established already, is love. Jesus became flesh and walked amongst us. Jesus lived a lifestyle of perfect love. However, evil was right there to fabricate a case against Him and to crucify HIM. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of love this world has ever seen and, at the same time, the greatest injustice of all time.
Surely, I am reminded of one of the key songs in the Rocky Movie Series, “No Easy Way Out” by American songwriter, Robert Tepper. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Oh Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39 (NKJV). How wonderful is to know that Jesus understand the un-pleasantries of pain; how wonderful that He did not take the easy way out.
The Purpose of Pain According to C. S. Lewis
If I knew anyway of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already; they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. C. S. Lewis
- S. Lewis honesty is admirable. This amazing writer, with an extensive English vocabulary, brought it to the most simplistic form, “Pain hurts”. What do you tell a mother who just lost her child in a drive by shooting? How do you explain to a father the purpose of his daughter being brutally rape and killed? How do you explain to that woman the reason why she was sexually abuse by her own father at the age of five? Why? In dealing with pain is a risky business to come up with explanations; perhaps there is a time to share those explanations, but reality is that they do exist.
I believe that C. S. Lewis earned the right to talk about this topic and to offer some possible explanations after the painful and tragic experiences he endured through his entire life. He gently gives us a few reasons.
- Pain causes the sufferer to submit to God’s will. In Psalm 119:67 another man who was intimately familiar with pain stated, “Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.” (NKJV) C. S. Lewis was biblically accurate in making the connection between pain and submitting to God’s will. 2. There are acts of mercy that arise out of the compassion of the spectator. We can’t always confirm that peoples suffering will promote acts of kindness, but it does sometimes and, as Christians, we are called to reach out to people that are hurting such as the poor, the fatherless, the widows, etc.
- C. S. Lewis presents pain to sterilize and disinfect evil. It is a very graphic way to put it, however, First Peter 1:6-7 tells us, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (NKJV) There is a fire that is indeed made to purify us.
Dr. R. Havard, MD in the Appendix of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem with Pain, suggested another profound purpose for pain, 5. An opportunity for heroism. Just like a soldier is honored for his great heroisms in battle and respected for surviving fatal wounds; the man and the woman of God are also receive as heroes when surviving diverse trials and tribulation. Of course it is for us to turn right back and give glory to God, for we know the battle is his, but perhaps nothing brings more honor to a man than surviving great battles, pain and tribulation.
The Purpose of Pain According to Scripture
After Job saw his life and his health turn upside down, after his friends judged him and after his own wife encouraged him to curse God and die, God spoke to him. After hearing God Job made this extraordinary statement,
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You. Job 42:5 (NKJV)
The word sees
Is a verb meaning to see. Its basic denotation is to see with the eyes (Gen. 27:1). It can also have the following derived meanings, all of which require the individual to see physically outside of himself or herself: to see so that one can learn to know, whether it be another person (Deut. 33:9) or God (Deut. 1:31; 11:2); to experience (Jer. 5:12; 14:13; 20:18; 42:14); to perceive (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; Ex. 3:4); to see by volition (Gen. 9:22, 23; 42:9, 12); to look after or to visit (Gen. 37:14; 1 Sam. 20:29); to watch (1 Sam. 6:9); to find (1 Sam. 16:17); to select (2 Kgs. 10:3); to be concerned with (Gen. 39:23). It is also possible for this verb to require the individual to make a mental observation. As an imperative, it can function as an exclamation similar to hinnēh (2009), which means to behold (Gen. 27:27; 31:50). Further, it can denote to give attention to (Jer. 2:31); to look into or inquire (1 Sam. 24:15); to take heed (Ex. 10:10); to discern (Eccl. 1:16; 3:13); to distinguish (Mal. 3:18); to consider or reflect on (Eccl. 7:14). It can also connote a spiritual observation and comprehension by means of seeing visions (Gen. 41:22; Isa. 30:10). 
To see God in this sense is to have a closer relationship with Him. Many of us know about having a relationship with God based on head knowledge or what somebody else tells us about Him; but as we go through suffering we have the potential to know him personally.
We know we will see God face to face in our next dimension of life, but we can enjoy a closer relationship with God right now. Job had a relationship with God; he offered his sacrifices faithfully to the Lord; he was a good man. However, even job’s relationship with the Lord was not near where it was supposed to be. After his great suffering God gave Job more children, he became richer than before and God also restored his health, but the greatest blessing he receive was a closer relationship with the Lord.
Matthew 5:8 tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (KJV). The word see here means many things, but in a wider sense, it means “to see God, to be admitted to His presence, enjoy His fellowship and special favor” Again we see the concept of a more intimate relationship with God. Matthew 5:8 tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” (NKJV)
The heart of man will always experience dissatisfaction without a relationship with God. That relationship is not possible without a pure heart, without a heart that is thirsty and hungry for God. That hunger and thirst cannot be substituted for anything or delegated to anybody; we must ask the Lord for that kind of heart.
In Matthew 7:23 Jesus stated, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (NKJV) Those are some scary words, depart from I never knew you. Many will make the argument listing all the wonderful things they did; but they will be rejected because of their lack of relationship with God.
God is able to utilize our pain and suffering in a very powerful way. The reason for pain goes beyond C. S. Lewis explanations it goes beyond helping others. The ultimate purpose of pain and suffering is for us to get to see God in a more intimate way. Romans 8:28 zeal the argument for us, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (NKJV).
God is not the reason for our pain. No, we can’t blame God for our pain and suffering. Our pain and suffering is the direct result of our free will and the fact that we live in a fallen evil world system. We must remember that devil is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). We also must remember that the devil’s job description is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). Everything around us is corrupt; everything around us is dying.
An innocent baby is killed by his dad; a lovely wife died after giving birth; a hardworking and loving dad is shot kill after being robbed; a virgin young girl is raped on her way home from school; a faithful man of God is killed in a car accident. Who can understand the pain that these experiences produces in the hearts of their loved ones? But they are all, either directly connected by evil, directly connected by the corrupted will of man or both.
No, we can’t blame God for our pain and suffering. He is love (I John 4:8); His will is for all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). His love is so amazing that He gave His only Begotten Son for our sake (John 3:16). The greatest of all revelations is to know that God loves us like non-other and nothing can separate us from such love (Rom. 8:39).
Pain is unavoidable. C. S. Lewis explained the reason for pain well. We have the freedom to love, but also the freedom to hate. We have the freedom to be instruments of God’s righteousness, but also the freedom to be weapons of evil. In a sense, we are victims of our own freedom; therefore, we stand in need of a Savior.
The goodness of God is proven on the cross of Calvary. He carried our sins for us; he lived the perfect life, He expressed the perfect love and became our perfect sacrifices. In Him and through Him is the only hope and salvation of humanity. Only in Him and through can we find joy in the mix of great tribulations (James 1:2) and the peace that overpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
- S. Lewis explained the fundamental reason why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. He also expands in some purposes for such pain. I applaud this man for having the courage to do it. I agree with C. S. Lewis proposals on the reason for pain. However, I have found a more profound explanation of the purpose for pain and suffering in the words of Job,
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You. Job 42:5 (NKJV)
The ultimate purpose of pain is to see God, to develop a close relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Suffering has a way purifying our hearts. On the other side of the valley of suffering there are two directions to take, bitterness (Romans 12:5) or the greatest relationship with God you and I will ever have.
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