Pain, Lewis remarked in his book “The Problem of Pain” (NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1962) is God’s megaphone “to rouse a deaf world” (91, 93); it is his way of getting our attention and anyone who has had severe pain knows why the expression is so poignant. Of course, Lewis was no stranger to pain: he had arthritic pain in his hands and thumbs and was an invalid the last few years of his life.
Leis notes that “If any real theologian reads these pages he will very easily see that they are the work of a layman and an amateur. Except in the last two chapters, parts of which are admittedly speculative, I have believed myself to be restating ancient and orthodox doctrines. If any parts of the book are ‘original’, in the sense of being novel or unorthodox, they are so against my will and as a result of my ignorance” (xii).
What seems to us to be good—such as not having pain—may not be good in God’s eyes “and what seems to us evil may not be evil” (28). Lewis continues throughout the book to try and alert us to divine goodness and perspective. We do not see God’s reality due to the way we look at the outside of things, for example we discuss corporate guilt rather than our own as individuals. We also have the illusion that time will cancel sin (54) and that we can take refuge in the fact that all men—not just us—are bad (55). We are in a mess when we cannot see the horror within ourselves.
Man has made himself ill-adapted to the universe by the abuse of his free will (63). Lewis sums up his chapter on the fall of man by noting that his thesis “is simply that man, as a specis, spoiled himself, and that good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or corrective good” (85).
As humans we often inflict pain upon eone another but, as Lewis says, “we would like to know the reason for the enormous permission to torture their fellows which God gives to the worst of men” (86-87). The kind of pain which Lewis discusses is any experience, physical or mental, that we dislike. And such pain requires attention and it should be turned towards God—even if we find God an “interruption” (94). But what about “humble, pious, believing people” who suffer? Lewis rephrases it to ask “why do some” not suffer? Pain, like pleasure, can be a two edged sword. Regardless, of how we act, God’s purpose will be carried out and it is better to act like John than Judas (111). “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home” (116).
Lewis has a lot to say about hell in his writings and reminds us that “Dominical utterances about Hell, like all Dominical sayings, are addressed to the conscience and the will, not to our intellectual curiosity” (120). Lewis doe not try to make the doctrine of Hell “tolerable” (121). We must remember that “Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when” (126). Jesus conveyed Hell in terms of three symbols: punishment, destruction and privation or exclusion (banishment).
“We know much more about heaven than hell, for heaven is the home of humanity and therefore contains all that is implied in a glorified human life: but hell was not made for men. It is in no sense parallel to heaven: it is ‘the darkness outside’, the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity” (129).
Chapter 9 is on animal pain and, as Lewis notes, “the Christian explanation of human pain cannot be extended to animal pain” because they are incapable of sin or virtue, so pain will not punish or improve them (132). Animal suffering cannot be traced to the Fall of man because animals existed long before humans (137). Further animals are not “immortal” because the word has no meaning for a creature without consciousness—in the same way as humans
In the final chapter (on heaven), Lewis notes that our place there “will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand” (152).
Chapter 20 “The pains of animals” appears in God in the dock: Essays on theology and ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 1970). It consists of an “inquiry” by C.E.M. Joad and a reply by Lewis. Joad’s questions concerns how pain can occur in the creation of an all-good God and why “higher animals” do not have souls yet can obtain immorality through a good man. Can they also suffer moral corruption?
Lewis notes, to begin with, that the answers he has previously given fail to satisfy Joad, but that he will speak to some misunderstandings. The arguments about animal pain are theological and imaginary in most cases.
The article is republished in C.S. Lewis: Timeless at Heart, chapter 4, “The Pains of Animals: A Problem in Theology” (66-79).
- The joyful Christian: 127 readings from C.S. Lewis. Compiled by William Griffin, Macmillan Publishing Co. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
Human Pain: How real pain can cause repentance and “shatters the illusion that all is well” as well as all we have in ourselves will be sufficient (210).
Animal Pain: the appearance of divine credulity [in an animal] is an illusion (212).
- Readings for meditation and reflection. Edited by Walter Hooper. NY: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. Republished in 2008.
The Necessity of Pain (taken from Lewis, The Problem of Pain, chapter 6, “Human Pain.”) is a reminder that “The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it” (71). “…tribulation cannot cease until God either sees us re-made or sees that our remaking is now hopeless” (72).
Beversluis, John. 1985. C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co. Updated in July, 2007.
As of November, 2018 there were 20 reviews of Beversluis’s revised and updated version on Amazon. 60% of them were positive, 5 star ratings, mainly by reviewers who apparently thought that the author put Lewis in his place and exhibited good (reasonable and academic) philosophical judgments. However, it is obvious from the start of the book that Beversluis does not hold to much of anything that Lewis does and does not feel that Lewis’s “rational religion” holds much water. His chapter on pain largely contradicts Lewis.
Contents: Introduction. 1) Apologetics; 2) Desire; 3) Morality; 4) Reason; 5) Unbelief; 6)
Counterevidence; 7) Pain; 8) Fideism; 9) Grief; 10) Specimen. Notes.
John Beversluis is Professor of Philosophy and head of the department at Butler University.
Conn, Marie A. 2008. C.S. Lewis and Human Suffering: Light among the shadows. Mahwah, New Jersey: Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press.
Contents: Preface. Acknowledgments. Introduction—All My Road Before Me: The Man Behind the Books. 1) Bits of a Life: A Look at C.S. Lewis; 2) The Loss of Conviction: World War I and Atheism; 3) Conviction Rediscovered: Lewis’s Conversion; 4) The Problem of Pain: All Nonsense Questions Are Unanswerable; 5) I Shall Never Be a Biped Again: A Discussion of A Grief Observed; e6) An Approach to Mourning: Our Own “Grief Observed”; 7) Only the Life I’ve Led: Some Concluding Remarks. Noes. Bibliography.
“This book will bridge the gap between the absolutely committed Christian of the published works and the struggling, questioning man who dealt with the doubts and problems common to all of us” (xi, xii).
Chapter 4 is on pain and Lewis “felt that most of our suffering comes from other humans, so we have to explore why we treat each other so badly” (41). Further, God supports the poor, widowed and orphaned, but they continue most often in the same state. However, we stand with all believers to “borrow their strength to supplement our weakness” (46). Prayer unites us to a strength outside ourselves.
Marie A. Conn is professor of religious studies at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia—her doctorate in theology from the University of Notre Dame.
Gilchrist, K.J. 2005. A morning after war: C.S. Lewis and WW1. New York: Peter Lang.
Lewis knew pain from his wounds on the battlefield and in chapter 10 “The Angel of Pain,” Gilchrist assembles all that is known about Lewis’s time on the battle front, his wounds, recovery, and subsequent stress. Lewis was reluctant to discuss his time in the army.
Walter Hooper, (ed. 1996, C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. Harper: San Francisco) has an excellent summary of Lewis’s book on pain. Lewis had read his work to the Inklings, which he had finished by the spring of 1940. Hooper reiterates Lewis’s contention that “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” (299). Hooper also gives information on a number of the book’s reviews.
Kreeft, Peter. ed. 1994. The shadowlands of C.S. Lewis: The man behind the movie. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Kreeft claims that “in this book you will read some of the most beautiful and moving passages of English prose ever written about some of the most mysterious and presious experiences you have ever felt” (11). Kreeft includes in his composition of Section V, “The Problem of Pain,” in which Lewis explained and experienced pain (175-201). Experience is the “brutal teacher” and happiness is not what God wants—“He wants us to grow uip—to love” (from the movie Shadowlands). Lewis explains pain in terms of God’s omnipotence, goodness, and human wickedness. We experience pain from someone’s death, suffering, introspective questioning (self-doubt) and the fact that love is stronger than death. “Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feeet. We shall see that there never was any problem” (201). Kreeft’s observations on explaining pain come from Lewis’s The Problem of Pain and his observations on experiencing pain are from A Grief Observed.
Kathryn Ann Lindskoog, in her book C.S. Lewis: Mere Christian (1973), includes a short chapter on pain (151-167). She divides the chapter into two parts: 1) how to understand suffering, and 2) how to cope with suffering. Lindskoog suffered with multiple sclerosis and knew something about suffering and pain. The “problem” with pain is that we wonder if God can do something about it. We soon realize that “pain tells the truth (154). Lewis felt there was nothing worse than intense personal pain and that the pain is not good in itself and Christians should do all they can to alleviate it. Science will never completely remove suffering and that security and happiness might well keep us from God. Pain is also “the only evil that does not tend to spread, recur, or reproduce itself” (155).
Markos, Louis. 2003. Lewis Agonistes: How C.S. Lewis can train us to wrestle with the modern and postmodern world. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.
Markos deals with the problem of pain in chapter 4 of his book, “Wrestling with Evil and Suffering” (90-111). He notes that the most common reason people egive for rejecting God is a”a simmering hostility, only slightly suppressed, at all those ‘sweetness and light’ phrases that Christians like to use: God is love; God is in control; All thing work together for good; Only God knows what is best for us. Such people should not be ridiculed or taken lightly” (90). Although God does not always deliver us from tragedies, he shares our grief (note Christ and Lazarus).
Alister McGrath, discusses Lewis’s concept and discussion of pain in two of his books: C.S. Lewis: A life. Eccentric genius, reluctant prophet and If I had lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the ideas of C.S. Lewis on the meaning of life, both books published in 2013. McGrath recounts how Lewis had his own faith tested in the death of his wife Joy—chronicled by Lewis in A Grief Observed. Lewis using a pseudonym for the central character of the narrative and he altered his style somewhat. The book was unlike anything else he had written. The book is about feelings, and their deeper significance…. (343). Pain has to make sense because if the world does not, then it is meaningless. But “Life is a high-value item, and it comes at a cost” (168) and further “God may accept us just as we are—but he isn’t going to leave us there” (172). McGrath reminds us that we do not have a complete picture about pain and suffering and that it leaves us with some “uncomfortable questions” (183).
In The question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, love, sex, and the meaning of life, (2002), Armand M. Nicholi Jr has a chapter called “Pain: How Can We Resolve the Problem of Suffering?” in which he examines the writings of Lewis and Freud on pain and suffering. He outlines his purpose as looking “at human life from two diametrically opposed points of view: those of the believer and the unbeliever. (Freud divided all people into those two categories.) We will examine several of the basic issues of life in terms of these two conflicting views. We will look at both views as objectively and dispassionately as possible and let the arguments speak for themselves” (5, 6).
The book is a penetrating study of the philosophical views of two great men and it formed the basis of a course at Harvard that Nicholi has taught for many years. Chapter 8 is called “Pain How can we resolve the problem of suffering?” (197-215) and it is followed by chapter 9, “Death: Is death our only destiny?” (216-239)
Freud held these views: 1) God did not exist; 2) the Catholic church was an enemy; 3) anti-Semitism was responsible for “much of the resistance and antagonism toward psychoanalysis” (190); 4) death was greatly feared; 5) there was no moral order—everything depended on fate; 6) suffering caused him extreme anger; 7) the devil was a psychological explanation.
Lewis held these views: 1) God allows suffering for our own good; 2) the governing of the universe is temporarily in enemy hands; 3) without free will there is no choice of right and wrong; 4) God can do anything but he does not “answer nonsensical questions” (210); 5) pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world; 6) Lewis did not fear death because it was not the end.
“For more than twenty-five years, Armand Nicholi has taught a course at Harvard that compares the philosophical arguments of both men….Both men considered the problem of pain and suffering, the nature of love and sex. And the ultimate meaning of life and death—and each of them thought carefully about the alternatives to their positions.” (From the back cover)
In chapter 7 of Simply C.S. Lewis: A beginner’s guide to his life and works.(1997), Thomas C. Peters examines Lewis’s views on pain, love and miracles. “It is a typical Lewis analysis of the questions surrounding personal pain, and it contains many of the same arguments found elsewhere, most notably in The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity” (166).
See also Jerry Root, 2009, C.S. Lewis and a problem of evil: An investigation of a pervasive theme.
Skinner, Andrew C. and Robert L. Millet, eds. 1999. C.S. Lewis: The man and his message. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft.
Papers from a conference held at Brigham Young University on Dec 4-5, 1998, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of C.S. Lewis.
Contents: Preface. Introduction: C.S. Lewis: The man and his bessage by Robert L. Millet; 1) C.S. Lewis : Insight on discipleship by Neal A. Maxwell; 2) C.S. Lewis: Drawn by the truth made flesh by Brent D. Slife; 3) Going to hell. V style: His views on sin, temptation and the devil by Andrew C. Skinner: 4) C.S. Lewis: Self love and salvation by Daniel K. Judd; 5) C.S. Lewis on family and self-deception by Terrance D. Olson; 6) The psychology of temptation in Perelandra and Paradise Lost: What Lewis learned from Milton; 7) C.S. Lewis and the Romantic decade by Fred E. Kerry; 8) God’s megaphone to a deaf world: C.S. Lewis’s personal sojourn to understanding the problem of pain by Bret L. Top; 9) C.S. Lewis on the transformation of human nature by Robert L. Miller; 10) Summing up the C.S. Lewis Conference by Andrew C. Skinner. Appendix 1: The life of C.S. Lewis: A chronology of events. Appendix 2: Writings of C.S. Lewis. Acknowledgments. Index.
Andrew C. Skinner is chair of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and Robert L. Miller is dean of Religious Education and professor of Ancient Scripture at the same university.
Bret L. Top includes a chapter (8) called “God’s megaphone to a deaf world: C.S. Lewis’s personal sojourn to understanding the problem of pain.” And “For Latter-day Saints in particular, C.S. Lewis has great appeal… [in that] he simplifies the complex with common sense and illustrates the philosophical explanations with understanding and relevant metaphors, which in turn helps us to understand our own doctrines and scriptures better” (121). Top discusses free will and the good ness of God in particular, but also “finding God through the trial of faith” (133).
A.N. Wilson’s book, C.S. Lewis: A biography (1990) has received a number of reviews, some of them negative. It is a comprehensive work, with one chapter that is relevant to pain: Lewis’s time as a soldier and the wounds and suffering he had as a result. Wilson calls the chapter (6), “The Angel of Pain 1917-1918)” and in just nine pages (52-61) describes some of the suffering and agony Lewis went through both on the battlefield and in his personal life—for example, looking after Mrs. Moore. (The title of the chapter refers to a novel by the same name by E.F. Benson.)