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The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
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The Problem of Pain (1940)

by C. S. Lewis

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Review was first posted on Booklikes:
http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/703121/the-problem-of-pain

I first read The Problem of Pain when I was an impressionable teenager in search of the meaning of life. How I got to C.S. Lewis, however, is a long story that I'll reserve for another post/review.

Anyway, I loved the The Problem of Pain when I first read it. I couldn't put it down.

When I started clearing my bookshelves last year in attempt to de-clutter, I came across my old and dusty copy of the book again and started to re-read.

What I love about The Problem of Pain - actually, all of Lewis' books I've read - is his use of language and his use of similes, which make it easy to follow his argument.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis elaborates on the meaning of divine goodness, human pain, animal pain, heaven, hell - not necessarily in this order, though - and tries to explain from his Christian point of view what divine love is, what pain is, why humans can feel pain, and that there is a divine purpose to suffering.

When I first read this almost twenty years ago, I could accept the possibility that there may be a substance to the arguments he puts forward. Having re-read this now, I still admire Lewis' use of language and the elegance of his argument but I find it very difficult to be persuaded by it. Now, the argument that there is a purpose to suffering that allows the individual to grow or improve spiritually seems little more than wishful thinking.

Of course, my take on this may sound rather pessimistic. However, where Lewis draws from Thomas Aquinas and other sources of formal religious Christian teaching, I feel much more aligned with other schools of thought that would choose kindness towards living beings over the particular form of patriarchal tyranny of divine love that Lewis describes.

(Sidenote: Btw Jack, how dare you say that the newt has no self! For all we know, he might.

Seriously, I'm not impressed by an argument that starts with the notion that we cannot know what God's intentions are or indeed know anything that is outside of the human experience, and which then categorically denies that non-human living beings have a notion of the "self". )
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
This book was a very deep read and still very uplifting. This book actually makes you feel good about having gone through difficult times and opens your mid to the goodness and personal growth gained in pain. ( )
  velliott73 | May 8, 2016 |
Lewis' The Problem of Pain is, by his own admission, a 'layman's' take on the complex issue of suffering and pain in the presence of an all-loving God. Lewis begins with a compulsory statement of God's sovereignty and omnipotence followed by an examination of free-will and the price humanity pays for the right to choose unencumbered by God's will. Readers who are searching for a complete unassailable answer to the question Lewis poses may be disappointed. The issue of human suffering in its varying forms is extremely complex. Answers to why children and other innocents, as Lewis calls them, die and why does evil exist, I don't believe will be answered with the sufficiency some readers and most atheists seek. Nevertheless, Lewis attempts to help explain some possible causes around pain/suffering.

Later Lewis focuses on human free-will and its relation to the fall. The human capacity to choose self-serving options rather than seeking God first, Lewis believes, is the primary source of pain/suffering and the resultant pain/suffering is a purifying element that drives us back to God. Lewis believes God's creation-- humans-- does not actively seek God while they are content so pain and suffering through free-will choices forces them to actively seek God.

Lewis writes:

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has notice how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us (94).

Lewis is a fantastic writer who is able to project a mental image for the reader that is unparalleled; however, Lewis does, in my opinion, sometimes stray too far in the descriptive so much so that some readers may lose the original point of the statement. Lewis also makes references to 'the Uncanny', 'the Numinous' and other literary theories and proponents-- there was a subtle in-passing reference to Freud's theories-- which are excellent illustrations for those who understand them; but for those who do not it may only serve to obfuscate the point rendering it less potent.

Lewis' books are not easy reads. To truly have an understanding of what he is attempting to say would require multiple readings-- especially for the casual reader. The Problem of Pain is very esoteric and perhaps not something the casual reader would necessarily grasp with one reading. This is certainly not a book I would recommend to someone who is in the midst of a life event and suffering. It may come across as glib or, worse, condescending. ( )
  Jazmsngr | Mar 25, 2016 |
Thoughtful, succinct writing about the theology of suffering and pain. Chapters on wickedness, omniscience, human and animal pain, and heaven. Thought-provoking and very well-written, if a little heavy in places. Recommended.

After re-reading six years later: I reached the end of the book with a great deal to think about, yet I’m really not sure that Lewis actually answered the question about why pain is such a part of our lives. He gives examples of people brought to an awareness of their wickedness or frailty due to pain, which brought them closer to God; yet he also acknowledges that there are some whose pain - or that of their loved ones - turns them further away from God.

He doesn’t touch on the problem of pain in children, particularly those in developing countries, but nor does he present the practical point of view that, in many cases, physical pain is a warning system that keeps us safe from harming ourselves more seriously.

Overall, I thought this worth reading, but a bit long-winded; and I had the sense that Lewis himself had a problem with the idea of pain, and was trying to convince himself as much as his readers.

Perhaps three-and-a-half stars would be fairer than three.
( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
Reading C.S. Lewis makes me feel so unintelligent--with this book, I started out understanding his intent and arguments but about halfway through the book, I ended up feeling lost. ( )
  JenniferRobb | Jan 17, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
C. S. Lewisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Havard, R.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pesonen, MarittaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simmons, JamesReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitfield, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.'
— George MacDonald,
Unspoken Sermons, First Series
Dedication
To The Inklings
First words
Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, "Why do you not believe in God?" my reply would have run something like this: "Look at the universe we live in.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060652969, Paperback)

The Problem of Pain answers the universal question, "Why would an all-loving, all-knowing God allow people to experience pain and suffering?" Master Christian apologist C.S. Lewis asserts that pain is a problem because our finite, human minds selfishly believe that pain-free lives would prove that God loves us. In truth, by asking for this, we want God to love us less, not more than he does. "Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect at the opposite pole from Love." In addressing "Divine Omnipotence," "Human Wickedness," "Human Pain," and "Heaven," Lewis succeeds in lifting the reader from his frame of reference by artfully capitulating these topics into a conversational tone, which makes his assertions easy to swallow and even easier to digest. Lewis is straightforward in aim as well as honest about his impediments, saying, "I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine that being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design." The mind is expanded, God is magnified, and the reader is reminded that he is not the center of the universe as Lewis carefully rolls through the dissertation that suffering is God's will in preparing the believer for heaven and for the full weight of glory that awaits him there. While many of us naively wish that God had designed a "less glorious and less arduous destiny" for his children, the fortune lies in Lewis's inclination to set us straight with his charming wit and pious mind. --Jill Heatherly

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:28 -0400)

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The author explores the intellectual questions raised by mental and physical suffering.

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