C.S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain (outline)
The Problem of Pain
Overview of the Argument
I. The Big Idea:
A. There is Pain on the earth
1. In the natural world creatures prey upon one another
2. In the natural world life is sustained through the death of other things
3. Man has the capacity not only to feel pain, but to anticipate pain
4. Philosophical fatalism abounds
i. Albert Camus (1913-1960)—“the only question modern man
has left to answer is the question of suicide”
B. Yet, if there is so much pain on the earth, why did human beings ever attribute
creation to a benevolent creator?
1. Note that dread & awe stemming from the created order are not
physical qualities, but inferred from physical qualities
2. Moral goodness/guilt is not result of cause & effect
3. Men stand condemned of their moral failure regardless of their
4. You thus cannot write off moral teaching of Jesus, and if you accept his
moral teaching you must accept his teaching about his divine being
-“Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type,
or else He was, and is, precisely what he said. There is no middle
way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you
must submit to the second.” (13)
C. The very fact that we have a good creator as God creates the problem of pain
rather than solving it—were God other than good, as he describes himself,
the question would never arise.
Chapter 2: Divine Omnipotence
Initial 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 what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form. “(16)
A. This assumes that “goodness”, “happiness,” and “omnipotence” are defined
the same for us as for God
B. Meaning of Omnipotence
1. God does not have the power to do anything
2. God has the power to do anything that is consistent with his nature
a. God cannot be righteous and unrighteous at the same time—that
would be nonsense
b. law of non-contradiction
c. the impossible/contradictions are not things but non-entities as
they are impossible
3. Freedom for the creature implies that there is a choice
-“their freedom is simply that of making a single naked choice—of
loving God more than the self or the self more than God.” (20)
4. The Freedom of God consists in the fact that no cause other than
Himself produces His acts and no external obstacle impedes
them—that His own goodness is the root from which they all grow
and his own omnipotence is the air in which they flower.” (27)
Chapter 3: Divine Goodness
Big Idea: God’s definition of Goodness must include human pain.
I. Problem: “If God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil. On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our black may be His white, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say, ‘God is Good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say, ‘God is we know not what.”’
A. The difficulty with equivocal and univocal language
1. Must use analogical language
2. our understanding of good and evil is neither the same as God’s nor is
it wholly different—our understanding is derivative
3. Since God is our moral compass, there must then be a degree of
4. “When the man of inferior moral standards enters the society of those
who are better and wiser than he…[then he] gradually learns to
accept their standards” (29)
5. “His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear
that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your
moral standards” (30)
B. Man’s Idea of God’s Goodness
1. Understood in terms of God’s “lovingness”
a. Gumball machine analogy
b. The Old Man and Mr. Smith, by Peter Ustinov
2. Desire not for a Father in heaven, but for a senile grandfather
3. Kindness is more just giving escape from suffering
a. Euthanasia question
C. God’s concept for kindness
1. “It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand
happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children,
we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be
happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He
is, by definition, something more than mere kindness.” (32-33)
2. The Dog and master analogy
a. training a dog takes hard discipline at first
b. trained dogs enjoy benefits that wild dogs do not
3. “We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He
left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give
over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves:
but once again, we are asking not for more love, but less.” (36)
4. God is conforming us into the image of His Son
a. that requires suffering
5. “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but
love cannot cease to will their removal.” (39)
D. Our Response
1. “Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience
the love of God in a true, and not illusory form, is therefore to
experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to
His desire: to experience it in the opposite way is, as it were, a
solecism against the grammar of being.” (44)
2. “When we want to be something other than the thing that God wants us
to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.
Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like
those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us
where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He
demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration…God wills
our good, and our good is to love Him…and to love Him we must
know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces.”
Chapter 4: Human Wickedness
Big Idea: We must get to the source of the problem—the source is not God, but Man
A. Problem is that we have had “human goodness” preached to us for generations
a. and we are wicked, not good, by nature
B. We see God’s hand as one meddling in our lives
C. “When we merely say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous
doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere
corollary from God’s goodness.” (52)
D. Undoing false beliefs
1. We suppose ourselves not much worse than others
2. domestic conceptions of morality
3. illusion that time cancels sin
4. the idea that there is safety in numbers
E. Fact that moral beliefs contain basic consistencies regardless of background
1. Zarathustra, Jeremiah, Socrates, Gautama, Christ, Marcus Aurelius
2. all agree that man has problems and needs fixing
F. Moral perfection of God
1. some theologians deny necessity of this for judging humans
2. “the road to the promised land runs past Sinai” (59)
G. Note Lewis’ misunderstanding of the doctrine of Total Depravity
H. “I have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present,
creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it
is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. This I believe to be a fact:
and I notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact.” (62)
Chapter 5: The Fall
Big Idea: Lewis’ Commentary on Genesis 3
I. False views
II. Is it better to create than not to create?
III. For Lewis the fall is more than disobedience, but contains deeper, more mystical
A. Lewis’ view on evolution and the Imago Dei in man
B. Man’s sin of pride
C. “They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live
a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in
the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not
D. Man was created to love and serve God, sin is a rejection of our most basic
E. “Theoretically, I suppose, we might say ‘Yes: we behave like vermin, but then
that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault.’ Bit
the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater
shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to
-“The thesis of this chapter is simply that man, as a species, spoiled himself, and
that good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or
Chapter 6: Human Pain (part 1)
The Big Idea: The value of pain is that it shatters our illusions.
A. Two kinds of pain
1. Physical sensation
2. Anything that the patient might find distasteful.
B. Life as imitation
1. Jesus models the father to man
2. Christians are to model Jesus to unbelievers
3. “We are not merely imperfect cratures who must be improved: we are,
as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first
answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is
that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our
own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain.”
C. Pain Shatters the Illusion that all is well
1. “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone
who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods
as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we
can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists on being attended to.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience,
but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf
D. Pain shatters the illusion that we have all we need
1. “Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that
God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when
he thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their
children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must
fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know
Him they will be wretched.” (95)
E. Pain shatters the illusion of human divinity
1. “the movement ‘full speed astern’ by which we retrace our long
journey from paradise, the untying of the old, hard knot, must be
when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the
bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.” (100)
2. God requires bare obedience from his creatures even if we do not
understand the outcome
a. Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac
b. Job is never given an answer for why these tests were placed on
3. Pain teaches not that we are self sufficient, but that we have the
sufficiency to trust in heaven
Chapter 7: Human Pain (part 2)
The Big Idea: Lewis deals with 6 propositions regarding pain
A. There is a paradox in Christian teaching on suffering
1. We are told blessed are those who are poor, but for the rich to give
money to them to alleviate their poverty
2. We are told blessed are those who are persecuted, but we find believers
leaving a city to avoid persecution
3. If these things are really a blessing, should not we be striving to be
poor and persecuted? (“If suffering is good, ought it not be pursued rather than avoided?”)
4. Lewis argues that pain is not a virtue in itself but a means to an end
B. Tribulation is necessary in redemption
1. genuine tribulation is different than masochistic acts
2. Tribulation will always be here until God returns to judge
3. the idea of a utopia, heaven on earth, is inconsistent thinking
C. Church Doctrine of self-surrender and obedience is a theological, not a
1. government is incapable of bringing about or thwarting genuine
2. the Church grows under the harshest persecution and grows lethargic
and dies when apart from it
D. The Christian doctrine of suffering explains about the world around us
1. We desire settled happiness
2. we do not find it in this world
3. We are only given stabs of joy here and there, but not lasting
4. the Remedy is Heaven, not earth—we are on a journey to Heaven
E. We must never overestimate pain
1. toothache analogy: pain x + pain x does not equal pain 2x, but two of
us share the pain x
F. Of all the evils, pain is a sterilized or disinfected evil
1. pain is different than sin—when sin is over one must go, repent of it,
and make the offense right
2. Pain is done with when it is done
Chapter 8: Hell
The Big Idea: Lewis refutes objections to the doctrine of Hell
-“I am not going to try to prove the doctrine tolerable. Let us make no mistake; it
is not tolerable. But I think the doctrine can be shown to be moral, by a
critique of the objections ordinarily made, or felt, against it.” (121)
A. How can pain that does not lead to repentance be beneficial?
1. Hell then is positive retribution for sin
2. of the confirmed wicked sinner: “Can you really desire that such a man,
remaining what he is, should be confirmed forever in his present
happiness—should continue for all eternity, to be perfectly
convinced that the laugh is on his side? And if you cannot regard
this as tolerable, is it only your wickedness—only spite—that
prevents you from doing so? Or do you find that the conflict
between Justice and Mercy, which has sometimes seemed to you
such an outmoded piece of theology, now actually at work in your
own mind, and feeling very much as if it came to you from above,
not from below?” (123)
B. Is there not a disproportion between transitory sin and eternal damnation
1. sin in part spoils the whole
2. we may be given a thousand chances to do right and will reject every
C. Are not the frightful images of hell just that, images meant to scare, and not
reflective of the reality?
1. True that they are images, but there is a concrete reason these images
2. They are meant to reflect that which is unspeakably horrible because
3. Hell is spoken of as a place of punishing pain, destruction (not
annihilation), and privation of good—don’t overstate one at the
expense of the others
4. Lewis’ view of Hell emphasizes the privation
-“They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded,
and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever
submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more
and more free.” (130)
Chapter 9: Animal Pain
The Big Idea: How do we explain animal suffering?—an odd answer by Lewis
A. Suffering for animals contains no moral dignity
B. What kind of pain do animals suffer?
1. varies depending on the animal, some more than others
2. must be careful not to attribute pain where there is none
C. How did disease and pain enter the animal world
1. through the fall of Satan
2. views fall of Satan causing pain and suffering in animals long before
Adam and Eve’s fall
D. How can animal suffering be reconciled with the Justice of God?
1. mosquito heaven would be hell for man
2. heaven and hell as a question are irrelevant as animals cannot
understand the concepts only feel when pain begins and ceases
3. Justice is applied to man, not animals
Chapter 10: Heaven
The Big Idea: Heaven is the solution to the problem of pain
A. Many object to heaven as a ‘pie in the sky” doctrine—but there must be a
basis for it, otherwise all of Christianity is false
B. Many think of heaven as bribe for good behavior
-“Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our
goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers
nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart
that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are
rewards that do not sully motives.” (149)
C. “Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular
swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to
unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not
humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you the individual
reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith.” (152)
D. Heaven, apart from all the glorious description found in the Bible, is living in
perfect harmony, peace, unity, joy and grace and living thus for all
Posted on April 21, 2008, in C.S. Lewis and tagged Apologetics, C.S. Lewis, Outline, The Problem of Pain. Bookmark the permalink. 77 Comments.
In chapter 8: Hell there is a spelling error. Instead of “eternal damnation” it’s written “eternal damnstion.” Just thought i’d point that out.
It’s an excellent summary. I felt it summerized The Problem of Pain very accurately.
oops… Thanks for the catch!
I learned much in life and works,
Thank you, may God be glorified as we suffer and struggle through this life.
Thank you for the hard work that went into this summary. I have benefitted.
Thanks for the comment, I am honored and deeply humbled that so many have found this outline valuable.
what was the problem that Lewis had with Total Depravity? I don’t understand the doctrine very well either so maybe you can help me clear it up. A totally depraved person will not know themselves to be depraved?
That is a good question. I think that as you read passages by Lewis where he speaks of the Doctrine of Total Depravity, the answer will be that Lewis did not really understand it well.
Lewis seems to hold that if Total Depravity were true, we would be as bad as we could be, and as he looked around at the world, he saw much kindness and goodness even amongst unbelievers, thus he rejects the doctrine with some pretty strong language in his writings.
Yet, that is not what Total Depravity states. The Doctrine of Total Depravity simply means that every aspect of our being, from our flesh, to our intellect, to our will, to our passions, has been affected by the Fall. God certainly exercises a hand of restraint in our lives in terms of living out that depravity even in the lives of unbelievers, else the world would be a place of Chaos–it would truly be Hell in a lot of ways.
The doctrine itself was articulated in a defense of Jacob Arminius’ teachings that while the flesh and mind are fallen, the human will was not affected by the fall, thus man could will to choose God freely and without a bias toward sin. Of course, this is a hard position to hold in light of passages like Romans 3:9-20 and 1 Corinthians 2:14. Even John Wesley, who adapted Arminius’ teachings into a revised theology, accepted the doctrine of Total Depravity as a Biblical Doctrine.
Lewis freely confesses at many points that he was not a trained theologian, so there are many points where we sometimes look at a statement he makes and just scratch our heads. Then again, there are many trained theologians today who cannot separate the Biblical Doctrine from what they see as Calvinism and in their total rejection of Calvin’s teachings, they throw out even those things that have been uncontested within the early days of their own denomination–perhaps just one more testimony to our fallen nature that denominationally we feel that we have nothing to learn from one another.
That is a great question, and an important one, because one of the things you will find is that when Lewis describes our fallen state, he affirms the essential aspects of Total Depravity, and then later rejects the doctrine, which indicates to me that he really did not understand the doctrine, but got hung up on the name.
Perhaps the name “Total” depravity is misleading and we ought to call it something like “complete fallenness”, but then of course, the TULIP of Calvinism would then become a “CULIP,” which gives little help in terms of memory aids. 🙂
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Perhaps it could be called original sin.
Yes, all of this is due to mankind’s sin. Yet, part of what Lewis is doing is taking the discussion one step further than just addressing a Christian audience struggling with pain, but he is also addressing those who mock Christianity’s concept of a God who loves and yet who allows such pain to endure on this planet.
thank you soooo much for posting this up and the hours of time and effort that must of went into this it is a huge blessing
I am glad you find this useful, Sam. It is a great book.
This is a great website thanks for spending so much time to help people out. I am glad God put people like you onto this earth to help people who need it
Thanks for the kind comment. I am glad that this was able to be a blessing to you.
Awesome summary! It is certainly a difficult book to summarize as Lewis’ writing is so wordy and difficult in the first place. I just finished reading the book myself and did my own review. I would appreciate any feedback on it thanks! http://fablefreak.wordpress.com/
Thank you very much, I will check out yours and comment as well. Blessings,
I want to use parts or most of this outline in a an adult Bible study. I may make a condensed outline from the whole to pass out.
Any restriction ons its use?
I will give you credit and will not publish this outline in any other format.
Please let me know
I am flattered, indeed, please use whatever proves to be helpful to you. No restrictions, though I do appreciate credit cited where appropriate. Ultimately, our Father in heaven must gain all of the credit for that which is profitable. Thanks for the encouragement, though.
Fantastic summary of my all time favorite book. I can tell you put alot of hard work into writing this; and I thank you.
Thanks Craig, I appreciate the good words.
I appreciate the overview. However, I think you too quickly (and incorrectly) read Lewis’s thoughts on animal pain.
Firstly, Lewis makes numerous admissions that this discussion is beyond human certitude. On p. 129 he refers to the discussion as speculative and “outside the range of our knowledge.” On p. 131 he recognizes that humans lack the ability (even within the realm of science) to define completely the boundaries of sentience. He later applies the same hermeneutical impossibility to the notion of consciousness (p. 133). Later still, with reference to wild animals and pre-historic animals, Lewis states “we hardly know what we are talking about” (142). Thus it is too simplistic to claim, as your outline suggests, that Lewis definitively answers the question of the manner of animal suffering. In fact, he says flat out in the first sentence on question 1: “In the long run the answer to the first question [what do animals suffer] is, We don’t know.” Furthermore, Lewis never cautions against applying suffering where it is absent. He merely notes that such is a misapplication is a possibility (“at least a great deal of what appears to be animal suffering need not be suffering in any real sense”). Note he is not saying it IS NOT suffering, but that it NEED NOT be. And he makes no statement like “We must be careful not to attribute pain [by which I assume you mean conscious suffering] where there is none” as your outline suggests.
Secondly, Lewis does not say that a mosquito heaven would be hell for humans. The way you word his thought suggests that, if mosquitoes were in heaven, it would not be heaven for humanity. This is not what he says. Rather, he states (in his argument in favor of at least some animals participating in immortality) that he is not logically moved by arguments about the place of mosquitoes in heaven (pp.136-137). He then states that this (unconvincing) question can “be answered on its own level by pointing out that, if the worst came to the worst, a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for men could very conveniently be combined” (137). That is, human torment in hell could be accomplished by giving immortal mosquitoes an unending feast (a rather grim thought, in my opinion). Regardless, your reading is misleading. At any rate, if your reading were correct, it would be an inconsistency for Lewis’s thought (because the violence of mosquitoes would be more appropriately, within Lewis’s musings, as an unnatural result of a demonic fall).
Thirdly, your reading of animal understanding of heaven and hell is just flat out wrong. Your reading acts as if Lewis claims all animals experience pain only unconsciously as a mere succession but without consciousness of sequence (see p. 132). Not only does Lewis NOT say this, he says that “It is certainly difficult to suppose that the apes, the elephant, and the higher domestic animals, have not, in some degree, a self or soul which connects experiences and gives rise to rudimentary individuality” (133). That is, he claims it is likely (if ultimately unknowable) that animals possess “a perception of succession.” He does later state that all animals “may” be in a condition or mere sentience (p. 138). But the thrust of his thought pushes in the direction that such is not the case (pp. 133, 138). He even goes as far as to suggest that animal “sentience is reborn to selfhood” through interaction with a human. Thus, it is not as if heaven has no meaning to an animal. Lewis claims it has no meaning for the animal in itself (p 138). But when considering the animal in relation to humanity, Lewis claims “it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality” (139-140). Lewis’s claim is not that animals have no business in relation to heaven. Rather, he seeks to posit a theory in which animals DO have such business (141), but in a manner that avoids just hesitations on the issue (140).
Finally, your claim that justice applies to humanity but not to animals appears nowhere in the text. Can you provide a quote? It seems to me you just made that point up. In fact, Lewis seems to suggest the opposite.
You’ll have to excuse my frustration on your outline. I publish on this topic and speak about the place of animals in human moral concern. It doesn’t necessarily bother me that people think animals warrant no moral concern (whether direct or indirect). But when people find a view “odd” (as you say of Lewis) and then simply misrepresent it so as to make it more palatable to preconceived notion, I find that dishonest. I don’t mean to accuse here. That is how your outlined appeared to me. But I acknowledge that your misreading might have been a mistake. Regardless, you ought to acknowledge that Lewis was bothered by animal suffering; he posited the possibility of animal immortality; he posited the possibility of animal selfhood. If you disagree, fine. But that isn’t the same as completely misrepresenting him. In short, please read this critique as one of genuine concern from a brother (not some crazy animal nut). I also implore you to acknowledge your misreading and correct it for the sake of research clarity.
First of all, thank you for your comments and I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. Life has been fairly busy for me over the past few weeks and I haven’t had the time to block off to sit down and work through your comments closely. In addition, this document is several years old and it has been a while since I read the chapter in question, so wanted to do a reread in the context of your comments before I responded.
For what it is worth, I do appreciate your criticisms, though do understand that this outline is designed to be a reading aid (originally designed for high school students) and not an exhaustive outline, the section on the chapter in question only containing 4 general points. And yes, I did include an editorial comment that I thought Lewis’ response was a bit odd, though arguably the very fact that he does make numerous admissions that the discussion is not a certain one should give us a clue that Lewis himself understood that he was entering into a grey area of speculation and that his view would be considered “odd” by many.
To facilitate this discussion, I have inserted my responses between comments in your critique (in italics).
I appreciate the overview. However, I think you too quickly (and incorrectly) read Lewis’s thoughts on animal pain.
I suppose that the proof is in the pudding in terms of whether I judged too quickly (see below). ☺ Note that I am using a slightly different edition than you are, so our page numbering is slightly off, but that is not an overwhelming obstacle.
Firstly, Lewis makes numerous admissions that this discussion is beyond human certitude. On p. 129 he refers to the discussion as speculative and “outside the range of our knowledge.” On p. 131 he recognizes that humans lack the ability (even within the realm of science) to define completely the boundaries of sentience. He later applies the same hermeneutical impossibility to the notion of consciousness (p. 133). Later still, with reference to wild animals and pre-historic animals, Lewis states “we hardly know what we are talking about” (142). Thus it is too simplistic to claim, as your outline suggests, that Lewis definitively answers the question of the manner of animal suffering.
Note a few things. First, the one thing that Lewis does begin with that is definitive is the principle that the Christian answer for why humans have pain cannot be applied to animals. This initial statement needs to be kept in view through the whole of the discussion. Again, his own admissions to speculation indicate that he is aware that he is entering into a blind alley here; in addition, because of the broad speculative nature of the chapter, the reader also ought to see it as a rabbit trail, not as a line of reasoning fundamental to the argument he is making in the book (why is there suffering if God is good and all powerful).
The second thing that I should note here is that I am not suggesting Lewis has found a definitive answer, though I can see how the brief nature of an outline such as this, when read without the text beside the reader, might lead one to believe an absolute assertion is being made. Instead, Lewis is entering into speculative reflection to offer at least one answer to the question as it applies to animals. This is one of the beauties of Lewis and why I have enjoyed reading and teaching him over the years. He has a mind that does not like to leave rocks unturned and is not afraid to explore speculative alleyways while applying reason in a rigorous manner in terms of coming to his conclusions.
In fact, he says flat out in the first sentence on question 1: “In the long run the answer to the first question [what do animals suffer] is, We don’t know.” Furthermore, Lewis never cautions against applying suffering where it is absent. He merely notes that such is a
misapplication is a possibility (“at least a great deal of what appears to be animal suffering need not be suffering in any real sense”). Note he is not saying it IS NOT suffering, but that it NEED NOT be. And he makes no statement like “We must be careful not to attribute pain [by which I assume you mean conscious suffering] where there is none” as your outline suggests.
Here I do need to make a correction; thank you for bringing up this. In point number two, I should have used the word “suffering” and not “pain.” Lewis is arguing here the difference between sentience and consciousness (I refer you to the text for more on that) and thus arguing that we have a tendency to transfer our conscious understanding of suffering in connection with pain to animals. Suffering, as Lewis asserts, implies consciousness in addition to sentience. Thus, as Lewis asserts, we indeed must be careful not to attribute suffering where there is none.
Remember, too, that Lewis begins this chapter with the statement that beasts are incapable of sin or virtue and thus cannot either deserve pain or be improved by it. In addition, at the start of this question, he encourages us to immediately toss out the lower classes of animals like worms and such and to focus on the higher creatures. This in itself is a caution to us not to apply these thoughts to animals universally.
It is true that Lewis does include the category of “unconscious sentience” which is in itself an odd category that borders on being oxymoronic as one must be conscious to perceive things, but again, we are trying to explore what Lewis thought, not whether we happen to agree with his assertions or not. I will assert, though, that the body of this question is designed by Lewis to direct us to be careful not to attribute suffering where there is no consciousness to recognize it in addition to pain. Question 3 that Lewis addresses begins with the very words that not all animals suffer as we perceive.
Secondly, Lewis does not say that a mosquito heaven would be hell for humans. The way you word his thought suggests that, if mosquitoes were in heaven, it would not be heaven for humanity. This is not what he says. Rather, he states (in his argument in favor of at least some animals participating in immortality) that he is not logically moved by arguments about the place of mosquitoes in heaven (pp.136-137). He then states that this (unconvincing) question can “be answered on its own level by pointing out that, if the worst came to the worst, a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for men could very conveniently be combined” (137).
The statement that we are both looking at: “if the worst came to the worst, a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for men could very conveniently be combined” does in fact imply exactly the statement made in the outline. The question is not simply one of immortality, but also of justice in light of the nature of such beings.
More importantly, we misread Lewis if we do not see the levity that he is interjecting into a very serious subject. His reference in French to the Bible not being a systematic treatise on nature brings us, the readers, back from the realms of the speculation of old maids (and John Wesley!).
That is, human torment in hell could be accomplished by giving immortal mosquitoes an unending feast (a rather grim thought, in my opinion). Regardless, your reading is misleading. At any rate, if your reading were correct, it would be an inconsistency for Lewis’s thought (because the violence of mosquitoes would be more appropriately, within
Lewis’s musings, as an unnatural result of a demonic fall).
Arguably, if we follow Lewis’ musings in his second point, the violence of mosquitoes is the natural result of demonic corruption. The argument of immortal mosquitoes is really an absurd one given Lewis’ earlier premise about consciousness and moral benefit. Conceptually, heaven as a state of blessedness and hell as a state of torment make absolutely no sense unless there is consciousness to appreciate such benefits or punishments. Lewis’ real interest is in dealing with the higher animals, but his levity (and I agree, it is a rather grim thought) here does raise the implication of relativity with respect to heaven.
Thirdly, your reading of animal understanding of heaven and hell is just flat out wrong. Your reading acts as if Lewis claims all animals experience pain only unconsciously as a mere succession but without consciousness of sequence (see p. 132).
Note the first sentence in paragraph 2 of question 3 (page 141 in my book; different though in yours): “The real difficulty about supposing most animals to be immortal is that immortality has almost no meaning for a creature which is not ‘conscious’ in the sense explained above.” Since heaven and hell are the prerequisite outworkings of immortality in a world where we die, then it is absolutely correct to say that the argument of heaven and hell is irrelevant. This takes us back to his argument about sentience and consciousness. Animals, he argues in that section, observe pain, not suffering. They recognize pain A, B, and C but do not recognize that one is passing into the other to make experience ABC. They simply, Lewis argues, recognize the pain itself (thus a beginning and an end) and draw no inferences about their condition beyond the pain.
Not only does Lewis NOT say this, he says that “It is certainly difficult to suppose that the apes, the elephant, and the higher domestic animals, have not, in some degree, a self or soul which connects experiences and gives rise to rudimentary individuality” (133). That is, he claims it is likely (if ultimately unknowable) that animals possess “a perception of succession.” He does later state that all animals “may” be in a condition or mere sentience (p. 138). But the thrust of his thought pushes in the direction that such is not the case (pp. 133, 138). He even goes as far as to suggest that animal “sentience is reborn to selfhood” through interaction with a human. Thus, it is not as if heaven has no meaning to an
animal. Lewis claims it has no meaning for the animal in itself (p 138). But when considering the animal in relation to humanity, Lewis claims “it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality” (139-140). Lewis’s claim is not that animals have no business in relation to heaven. Rather, he seeks to posit a theory in which animals DO have such business (141), but in a manner that avoids just hesitations on the issue (140).
Here is where you need to take a second look at Lewis’ argument, perhaps even reading it in light of his other writings at the same general time (thinking of the relationships found in Out of the Silent Planet, written 2 years earlier). Lewis is arguing that animals gain their “ego” or that which approaches consciousness in their relationship to men. Much like a memory continues with a person eternally (OSP), so too, does the ego of our domesticated animals. With wild animals, he takes that further in his discussion of the essence of “lion.” The implication is not so much a tangible physical eternal existence, but more of a spiritual existence in the context of men.
Finally, your claim that justice applies to humanity but not to animals appears nowhere in the text. Can you provide a quote? It seems to me you just made that point up. In fact, Lewis seems to suggest the opposite.
No, it appears right at the beginning in the discussion of the moral benefit of pain not being able to be applied to men. Throughout the matter, whether explicitly or implicitly, he is discussing justice; apart from the matter of justice, the questions he raises in this chapter have no meaning.
You’ll have to excuse my frustration on your outline. I publish on this topic and speak about the place of animals in human moral concern. It doesn’t necessarily bother me that people think animals warrant no moral concern (whether direct or indirect). But when people find a view “odd” (as you say of Lewis) and then simply misrepresent it so as to make it more palatable to preconceived notion, I find that dishonest. I don’t mean to accuse here. That is how your outlined appeared to me. But I acknowledge that your misreading might have been a mistake. Regardless, you ought to acknowledge that Lewis was bothered by animal suffering; he posited the possibility of animal immortality; he posited the possibility of animal selfhood. If you disagree, fine. But that isn’t the same as completely misrepresenting him. In short, please read this critique as one of genuine concern from a brother (not some crazy animal nut). I also implore you to acknowledge your misreading
and correct it for the sake of research clarity.
There is no question that Lewis was bothered by animal pain. If you know a bit about his life, animals played a significant role not only in his writings, but also in his life in general. He and his brother, Warnie, were often found visiting the zoo (in fact, he made his final decision to become a Christian on a motorcycle ride to Whipsnead Zoo with his brother). He loved watching animals play and it should not be a surprise that he explores these ideas in this context. On a personal note, I would venture as far as to say that those who have no moral concern with respect to animal pain is not only in sin (in the context of the dominion mandate, which Lewis points out), but such a person has a serious deficiency. Those who take no concern in (or even take pleasure in) the pain of animals will soon take no concern in the pain and suffering of humans. FBI profiles on serial killers often find that their tortures were begun on small animals. Like you, I am not “some crazy animal nut,” but God created animals to be under our stewardship. I also will say that I have no problems with hunters, though those who kill for fun and never use the meat are in a different class.
That said, I do not believe that I am misrepresenting Lewis’ argument. Again, my intent is not to provide a series of Cliff Notes so that someone need not read the book, but to provide some helps for those who would read it and who need some help with following the argument. My outline is designed to be a companion, not a stand alone. Given the number of hits I have received on this blog entry, it seems that many have benefited from the resource. So, I do take exception to the comment that I am misrepresenting Lewis intentionally because I consider his conclusions a bit odd. Now, I do consider the conclusions odd, but I think that Lewis’ own comments throughout this chapter reveal that he considered it a bit odd himself.
Your passion on the topic shows through, and while that is a good thing (particularly as you have made it a matter you speak and write on), I would suggest that your own zeal is coloring your conclusions in the matter as well. You read his conclusions much more definitively than I do. I read this chapter as a curious speculation; your passionate critique seems to imply that you are using Lewis’ thought here as a major tenet of your argument. To acknowledge a misreading would imply that a misreading were present and I am not convinced that there is in this matter. I will acknowledge, though, that the chapter seems to have impacted an area of thought that I was not aware of and in a way that I was not aware of, and for that, I appreciate your challenge.
What I appreciate even more, though, is the chance to pull out and re-read a section of a book that I have loved by an author that I love to read and re-read. For that, I am grateful.
I appreciate the well-reasoned response. I also apologize on two levels. First, for how long this reply took (life is, of course, good and busy). Second, for the tone of my original post. It was unnecessarily belligerent at times.
That said, I think we are in agreement about the admitted qualifications of Lewis’s view (i.e. he is entering into speculation here). However, I wouldn’t call this speculation a rabbit trail because such a view seems to suggest that it is not all that important (even for his argument). Yet it is the belief that the argument to explain human pain cannot be extended to animal pain that leads Lewis to declare: “animal suffering is appalling” (129, my version). If Lewis’s aim in this text is to address the problem of pain that arises out of an affirmation of the existence of God (as he suggests in the introduction), then appalling nature of animal pain is a central issue for theodicy because animals, in Lewis’s view, cannot benefit morally from it. That said, I would not call this move a rabbit trail that is inconsequential for the work. For Lewis, animal suffering is appalling, which is why the topic warrants an entire chapter—albeit speculative—in his work.
Your statement about the nature of the outline is important. As you say, it is an aid in reading, not cliff notes. Still, I do think that aids should not be misleading in and of themselves. That is, I believe your work would be strengthened if you acknowledged that animal suffering is “appalling” problem for Lewis; that it is important to his discussion on God’s goodness in the face of suffering, etc. But you are right to point out the nature of the outline.
To your response about suffering vs. pain: indeed Lewis makes such a distinction based on consciousness (and I agree the notion of ‘sentience without consciousness’ is a strange thought). However, your outline seems to emphasize that, for Lewis, the evidence suggests that not all animals suffering as selves. But Lewis also emphasizes that it is “certainly difficult to suppose” that the more complex animals do not. Lewis has a “strong conviction” (138, mv – though I must acknowledge caution here because we are, of course, still speculating) that higher animals have something of a rudimentary self. If it were not so, the problem itself (which for Lewis would not really be a problem at all) would hardly warrant a chapter of speculative thought. But the point is that for Lewis, some animals do seem to suffer, and this suffering is a problem.
To your response about mosquito heaven, I’ll say this in passing: I read your statement to my wife (without telling her why I was reading it). Then I read Lewis’s quote from the book. Her response (and I should clarify that my wife and I differ on the animal question) was, “That’s misleading.” Of course, this singular point means nothing in terms of whether your statement is misleading or not. But let me critique it another way. Your statement makes it sound as if a mosquito heaven and a human heaven are incompatible (for the former would necessarily be hell for the latter). Lewis’s statement makes no such claim. Granted, as you say, we are dealing with a bit of fun for Lewis here (much like Augustine’s recognition of the answer to “What was God doing before God created the world?”). Still, the notion that one creature’s heaven is incompatible with another creature’s heaven is a serious claim (and one that, in my opinion, misses both the levity and the intention of the original point).
Now, you are correct to note that Lewis emphasizes the argument that bears weight in the question, that of consciousness. You say:
“Animals, he argues in that section, observe pain, not suffering. They recognize pain A, B, and C but do not recognize that one is passing into the other to make experience ABC. They simply, Lewis argues, recognize the pain itself (thus a beginning and an end) and draw no inferences about their condition beyond the pain.”
To that point: we must again acknowledge Lewis’s caution here. He does not say, for instance, that the newt has no self. He says that “the newt probably has no self” (137, mv). This ‘probably’ leaves open the question whether or not terms like heaven or hell apply to such creatures. Thus, to claim that “heaven and hell as a question are irrelevant as animals cannot understand the concepts only feel when pain begins and ceases” (your outline) is to overstate Lewis’s caution with certainty. Yes, your outline is an aid and not a précis of the text. Still, it should not suggest a definitive conclusion when the word ‘probably’ appears. Lewis’ position is that IF a creature has sentience alone (i.e. has no self of which it is aware), then heaven, hell, and justice do not apply. It not that THAT creatures have sentience alone… Again, we must remember the caution with which Lewis speaks – “all animals may be in that position” (and I know now that you are very aware of such caution, but the issue is whether it translates into your outline).
Concerning the notion of justice, Lewis claims that justice would not apply to animals with no self. He makes no such claim concerning the possibility of innocent selves that suffer as selves. So again, I think the outline does more than over-simplify the point—it misrepresents Lewis. Granted, animals are only to be understood in their relation to humanity (and subsequently to God – On a side note, I find this claim odd).
Your point to read Lewis in light of other readings is certainly a good one. I am no Lewis scholar. Indeed, Lewis’s thought is not central to my work at all. Though, I do appreciate anyone who thinks things through. But, the contexts of Lewis’s statements in this text, in my reading, suggest in and of themselves that he recognizes the possibility of a ‘rudimentary’ self in the animals and the development of a ‘real self’ in their human owners. But the rudimentary self gives rise to the problem of suffering without the need of a real self (would you agree?). Though I have to admit that Lewis does use the memory argument as least as a possibility.
To your hermeneutical point: ‘I would suggest that your own zeal is coloring your conclusions in the matter as well.’ Absolutely, and I would never suggest otherwise. I bring a self to the text and that self inevitably shades what is seen. That is, I can only see as me, and that me always has something at stake. So I would completely acknowledge that I am reading the text from a location that shades my understanding of it. However, as I said, Lewis is not a central part of my work. That is, it does not matter to me where Lewis falls on the issue because Lewis’s thought does not equal canon for me (and my guess is you would feel the same way). My concern is whether or not Lewis is being represented as one who took the problem of animal pain (and the possibility of suffering) very seriously. My response to your outline was that it seemed to suggest he did not. That is, your outline has the feel of reigning in Lewis’s speculation to caution one against making suffering a problem when it is not. Granted, that is part of Lewis’s point. But it is only part. Would not Lewis also strongly caution against one who confidently asserted that all animal pain was not a problem because only humans suffer? This is the balance I found missing in your representation of Lewis.
Again, I thank you for the kind response. I find truth is usually found in the conversation. Being that we are both busy, feel free to respond or not. Or perhaps just a short response on one or two points.
I appreciate the conversation. Peace, my friend.
Thank you, Ryan, for the dialogue and your candor. And yes, I forgive you for the tone of the previous posting; clearly a nerve was hit and you responded accordingly. But no harm and no foul was done; frankly, I enjoy honest dialogue even when it gets heated…so long as at the end of the day both of us can walk away having learned something and still in fellowship. So, thanks for your honesty.
You know, the interesting thing about this is that outside of Lewis’ essay, I think that there is more on the subject that needs to be said. Certainly humans are the only creature that bears the Imago Dei, but there is a level of empathy and even, to get at what I think Lewis was trying to wrestle with, empathetic pain in the higher domestic creatures. How often dogs and cats, for example, suffer when their master dies or is sick. I am not sure that I am ready to speculate very far or wager an explanation for these things as the Bible gives us very little to give us a concrete answer on those matters. The implication from your post is that this is one of the things that you have wrestled with as well.
I still hold that the chapter is fairly tangential to his argument and thus is a bit of a rabbit trail. The foundational matter behind Lewis’ book was that of human pain in light of a good and all-powerful God. I suppose that one may argue that “the creature” which he mentions in these early chapters can apply to all of the created order, but since he is writing to humans and not beasts, it would follow that human pain and suffering is the primary matter at hand. There is no question that Lewis finds animal suffering appalling, and you see this in his other works as well as the stance he took against vivisection and it is out of this spirit that Lewis decides to address the matter. To be fair, it is also Lewis’ method to run down these rabbit trails as he does not like to leave a stone unturned; in fact, it is this very thoroughness of Lewis that made me fall in love with him as an author.
To the comment on the Mosquito Heaven; fair enough, I will add some clarity to the statement and will rethink how I word that one. Of course, the key to the whole matter is that in heaven our nature is changed, so arguably the blood-sucking mosquito will cease to be a pest and to suck blood, but will join us and the other animals in becoming vegetarians. Of course, that raises the whole real self question. Note that Lewis states that animals finding their “self” in connection with humanity is only one option, though one he is gravitating toward. He knows he is on unsteady ground theologically and as he admits in many places, he is not a trained theologian and will be quick to be corrected if he is leaning in an unorthodox direction. This only goes to further the principle that this chapter is not fundamental to his argument, but serves to address a question that many will raise; himself included.
In terms of my personal agreement on the rudimentary self giving rise to the problem of pain without the need of a real self, yes, I would, though my conclusion is somewhat different than Lewis’. I would argue that all pain and suffering in the natural realm originated at the fall and God’s act of substitution in cursing the ground for the sin of Adam and Eve. Thus, the created order “groans” to quote the Apostle Paul, in anticipation of her redemption. Adam and Eve were to take dominion over the creation; it is because of our horrid stewardship that animals of all kinds suffer–from the mosquito to the dog, though certainly in different ways. That, of course is my take, though in an outline like this, it is my intent to subdue my own agenda and let the text speak for itself. Though I will confess that because I do not see this chapter as integral to Lewis’ argument, I did not develop it much in the outline.
All of that being said, I suppose that my greatest sin, in the case of our discussion, is in not developing the chapter very much or with very much depth, so probably my better bet will be to add some meat to that section of the outline. Of course, as we discussed, these outlines were created as helps (and study aids) for students in a CS Lewis class I used to teach several years ago in a Christian school in Florida, designed primarily to help the students keep focused on following the main argument of the text all of the way through.
Again, thanks for the dialogue. Check back in a couple weeks, when I have had a chance to update the outline some, and see if you feel I have treated Lewis’ chapter more fairly.
Peace to you as well,
Science provides an answer to “The problem of pain”. There is firm evidence that the universe was created 13.7 biliion years ago and theorists can model the evolution of stars, planets and life from all but the earliest instant of creation. The models show that if the constants of physics were chnaged by even tiny amounts, life would not occur. So we have only one universe that works, and it comes with sunsets, orchids and fjords, but also ebola, cancer and flesh-eating bacteria. And pain. Atheists assume thare are a ziillion universes and we just can’t find evidence for the ones that haven’t worked out. The simpler explanation is that the universe was designed to a very exact specification, so it had to have a Designer/Creator.
Dennis, thank you for the post. Allow me to respond to your final statement first and then to your opening proposition. You are right, the far simpler explanation is that the universe was designed to a very exact specification and thus had a designer/creator…from a Christian perspective, the God of the Bible. The evidence for design in creation is overwhelming and the only reason to deny it is because one has a prior commitment to an atheistic worldview. So, in that, we are fully agreed.
Where we will differ is in your assertion that science provides the answer to the question of the problem of pain. The question of pain and suffering is a moral and philosophical question, not a scientific one. The best that science can do is to affirm that “yes, pain and suffering exist in this universe in which we live.” They might even go as far as to suppose reasons for the development of flesh-eating bacteria, cancer, and violence. Yet, the problem of pain goes deeper.
For the atheist, the question becomes, why did this universe need to develop with such things? Perhaps not a hard philosophical question for the atheist, but a philosophical and not a scientific one.
Where the question of the problem of pain becomes a pertinent one is when the person holds to the existence of a creator/designer God…more specifically to hold that this creator God is good. Again, this is not a scientific question any more but a moral one that crosses between Philosophy and Theology; hence Lewis’ response is not a scientific one but a philosophical and theological one. The ultimate answer being the fall of man and God’s use of pain and suffering to draw people to himself.
You are very welcome.
Faith might be expressed in philosophical logic and this book brings great understanding in this area. This book has been translated many languages.
Thank you for the outline.
Indeed, it has been translated into quite a few languages and still quite in demand. Thanks for the good words, blessings,
this was very helpful! especially for me because I’m conducting a philosophical study on the problem of suffering and Lewis is one of my main sources. thanks a lot!
Thanks for the kind words.
Thank you so very much! You have a gift and are a blessing! Excellent outline-extremely helpful and the more I study the more in awe I am of Gods greatness, wisdom, goodness and mercy. I do still wonder what Gods plan is for the animals. C.S. has given us much to think about!
Thanks, Teresa, for the kind words. You have also reminded me that I promised that I would go back and fill this outline out in more detail, particularly in the realm of animals. The best intentions sometimes get buried under the urgent on the back of the desk.
Thank you. I read this at a time when the problem of suffering and pain was keeping me awake at night. I needed this information, and was unable to concentrate enough to read the entire work. Bless you for your hard work in bringing this to those in need.
Thank you for the kind words, Dawn, I am glad this was a blessing to you.
I’m trying to read the book for my grade 12 philosophy class but it’s kind of hard to read through. Any secondary material that you know of the could help?
It can be a hard read, but I can say, as a word of encouragement, that I taught this work several times with High School students and they seemed to grasp the main thread. In fact, I began blogging as a result of the encouragement I received from one of my students who was using material that we had discussed in class from Lewis’ book to debate online with an atheist.
In terms of resources, there are quite a few CS Lewis societies that have sprung up and many post their articles. I am a member of the CS Lewis Society of New York, though it does not look as if their journal is published online…that said, I highly recommend their work. Hopefully that will help give you some resources to work with.
A thought is that you might want to try reading CS Lewis’ novel Perelandra with your students either alongside of The Problem of Pain or before. I think that Lewis’ three major apologetic works (Miracles, Problem of Pain, & Abolition of Man) parallel the three novels in the space trilogy, with Perelandra (the middle novel) illustrating many of the ideas that Lewis unpackages more philosophically in the Problem of Pain. Perelandra is a quick and easy read and seems to have been most of my students’ favorite of the trilogy, so should not be too great a burden on your students — something to consider at least.
I’m actually a student in the grade 12 class. It’s more of individual read and make notes. I just don’t understand the concept of numinous and i’ve tried to research it but makes very little sense to me. Maybe you could help?
Numinous comes from the idea of the Spirit (Pneuma is the Greek term for spirit). It is derived from Rudolph Otto’s idea of the experience of that which is Holy and altogether transcendent from man — something that draws us yet fills us with dread at the same time (kind of a dialectic going on here). It is the essence of religion — not just cognitive but spiritual as well. I would need to pull out my old copy of the text to go into too many more details here to make sure I get them in context — the book is in my office at church, I will pull it out tomorrow and see if I can help with some more clarity.
Sorry for the delay, Mohit, I got busy and this got set to the side. My bad.
Let me start by also suggesting Colin Duriez’s book, “The CS Lewis Encyclopedia.” It is a great reference. This is how he addresses the matter of the “numinous.”
“Numinous: An all-pervasive sense of the other is focused in a quality of the numinous, a basic human experience charted by the German thinker Rudolf Otto in his book, “The Idea of the Holy” (1923), which deeply influenced Lewis. The primary numinous experience involves a sense of dependence upon what stands wholly other to mankind. This otherness (or otherworldliness) is unapproachable and awesome. But it has a fascination. The experience of the numinous is captured better by suggestion and allusion than by a theoretical analysis.”
“Many realities captured in imaginative fiction could be described as having some quality of the numinous. CS Leis realized this, incorporation the idea into his apologetic for the Christian view of suffering, “The Problem of Pain,” and he cited an event from Kenneth Graham’s fantasy for children, “The Wind in the Willows,” to illustrate it. The final part of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” particularly embodies the numinous, as travelers approach Aslan’s Country across the Last Sea.”
“Where the numinous is captured, its appeal is firstly to the imagination, which also senses it most accurately. It belongs to the area of meaning that we cannot easily conceptualize. CS Lewis found the numinous when he read George MacDonald’s “Phantasies,” describing the effect in “Surprised by Joy” as baptizing his imagination. It was years later that he was able to reconcile this experience with his thinking.”
-Colin Duriez, “The CS Lewis Encyclopedia”, page 149. Copyright 2000 by Inspirational Press.
If you look at the introduction to Lewis’ book, he unpackages the idea of numinous a bit — separating the idea of fear (the lion in the next room) from dread (the ghost in the room) from awe (the presence of the altogether holy God in the room). Like Duriez points out, it is not so much a tangible experience or feeling that one can put their finger on by analysis, but it is the twisting of one’s gut or perhaps the goose-bumps that arise on one’s arms or the small hairs on the back of one’s neck standing up in the presence of one totally not of this world.
I think that an excellent Biblical example can be found in the various theophanies we find in the Bible — Isaiah’s experience in the Temple in Isaiah 6, for example, where Isaiah’s only response is: “woe is me.” John the Apostle has a similar experience in Revelation 1, where his only reaction is to fall down as if dead. It is the kind of sense that we ought to get when we come into the presence of God for prayer and worship (though we are often way too casual in both of these areas).
In Lewis’ writings, he develops the idea of “the normal.” For a lack of a better way to describe it, it comes from the sense that there are certain attributes that are found pleasing to the eye — certain shapes, colors, combinations of sounds, proportions, for example, that just seem “right” and proper and others that seem at best unpleasant and at worst, obscene.
It is from the presence of the numinous that the “normal” gets its “rightness.” And that is what leads to the Problem of Pain. God is good and his presence of holiness (numinous) is right and holy. Why then does this God permit such wickedness to take place n this world of his?
Here is my suggestion. Plow through the book and get the gist of his argument, and then come back to this idea some, and hopefully this will help make things make sense. Hopefully you find this helpful, but don’t hesitate to raise questions, I am happy to help where I can.
Hi Preacher Win,
I’m conducting a comparative study on C.S. Lewis’ and Albert Camus’ concept of the problem of human pain and suffering. I just have a slight confusion regarding Lewis. I figured that throughout the problem of pain, Lewis blames human wickedness as the reason or source of human suffering. That man, given his freedom, have decided to abuse his freewill and resulted to inflicting suffering to his fellow creatures. However, I noticed that Lewis only argues about the suffering that is caused by man to his fellow creatures. So is suffering for Lewis only about the pain that man inflicts to his fellow creatures? or is Lewis also points out that man is the reason for the sufferings that is caused by nature(like diseases, calamities, etc.)?
Hoping maybe you can shed a light on this one.
Ralph, good question and an interesting pair of people to contrast with one another.
I think that for Lewis, pain is part of a much bigger picture. Yes, it was caused by Adam and Eve’s fall and it often comes at the hands of other men, but as you note, Lewis is not oblivious to the reality that there is also suffering in the natural world (disease, disasters, etc…). Yet, the focus of his book is not so much on the reason that there is pain and suffering, but the reason that a good God permits pain and suffering. And while on the surface that might initially seem like a nuance, it really is important for the big picture as Lewis’ argument is that God uses that pain which he permits to shape us into the image of Christ, preparing us for glory.
I suppose that the exception falls in the area of animal pain, which personally I think was an odd direction to take, where Lewis attributes animal pain to the fall of Satan, not so much to the fall of man. Thus, for animals, their suffering is not so much an act of ennobling, but is maliciously caused by demonic activity. If you want to see a fictional approach to how he works this out, check out his novel, “Perelandra.”
Hopefully this is helpful, let me know if I can qualify anything further.
Thanks for the quick response!
I have another question. Lewis would say that God can only do the intrinsically possible. He believes that everything that is intrinsically impossible in nonsense. Therefore, it cannot be attributed to God but at the same time it does not affect God’s omnipotence. So Lewis argues that God’s omnipotence is ‘limited’ only to the intrinsically possible. My question is, Isn’t it already self contradicting to put such limit into God’s omnipotence?
Thanks you very much!
To get at this one, you have to outside of Lewis, I think, though Lewis is accurate in his position. When I word the position, though, I usually word it that God is capable of doing anything that is consistent with his character.
The contradiction is only possible when one confuses logical possibility with metaphysical possibility. Logical possibility deals with what can or cannot be, for example, it is only possible that 2+2=4 given the use of a base-10 system of mathematics. It is essentially an expansion of the Law of Non-Contradiction with the inclusion of the character or ontology of (in this case) God.
Metaphysical possibility deals with the question of what might or could be true but might not be. For example, there might be a parallel dimension where the laws of thermodynamics or gravity work differently than they work here.
While it is a metaphysical possibility that God is capable of nonsense, it is not a logical possibility. Thus, we can conceive of the question: “Is God capable of creating a rock so big that even he can’t move it?” but as that question creates a nonsensical impossibility for an omnipotent God, it is not a logical possibility.
Philosophers, when talking about God’s omniscience, usually state that God knows everything that is both logically and metaphysically possible but that omnipotence only acts within the realm of logical possibility. And the realm of Logical Possibility is what Lewis has in his sights in this matter.
Hopefully that is helpful.
That’s very enlightening.
Thank you very much sir!
Always. I am glad this was useful to you.
I’ve enjoyed reading your post. A very hard to read book, so I need to ask a question:
– Where there any influential experiences that C.W. Lewis had gone through that you know of that inspired Lewis to write this book?
I know he wrote this book before passing of his wife. So, that would not count.
I would love to know your thoughts on this.
Of course, you are right. Lewis’ wife, Joy, died of cancer in 1960, about 20 years after his writing “The Problem of Pain.” If you want to read his thoughts at the time of his wife’s death, you can pick up a copy of “A Grief Observed,” which are his personal journals during that time. These are an equally difficult book, though not for the same reason, but because the pain is so raw. It is a clear-eyed picture of a man suffering great loss and being brutally honest about it. Some have thought that Lewis lost his Christian faith during this time, but that is a fairly shallow reading. The reality is that these are merely personal journals that, in his own words, were written to keep him from losing his sanity. They were published at the insistence of a friend and originally under a pen name.
Prior to writing “The Problem of Pain” Lewis had written some smaller Christian pieces like “Out of the Silent Planet” and was increasingly recognized as a Christian intellectual. He was in turn asked to write “The Problem of Pain” to address the question: “If God is good and all-powerful, then why do his creatures suffer?” Remember, this is 1940 and WWII was going on; it was a topic on everyone’s mind.
But even apart from WWII, at the age of 7 or 8, Lewis’ mother, Flora, died of cancer, leaving his father a crushed and broken man. His father sent both boys off to boarding schools (horrid places) and became distanced. When Lewis was wounded in WWI, and healing back in England, his father never once came down to visit him, always having an excuse of needing to take care of the business (his father was a Solicitor in Belfast). So, with the loss of his mom and the distance of his Father, this is a topic that hit Lewis pretty close to home.
In addition, Lewis’ best friend, Paddy Moore, was killed in WWI, leaving Lewis to care for Paddy’s mom and sister after the war. By the time he was writing “The Problem of Pain”, Lewis was still caring for Mrs. Moore as a surrogate mother.
So, to answer your question, yes, there were a lot of events in Lewis’ life that drew him to speculating on this question, though I believe it was his publisher who requested the book be written.
Thank you so much for the good information and a prompt response. I was blessed…
Thanks, Randy, blessings to you,
Another question, when ever you get to it, would like to know your thoughts on:
– Lewis was not a theologin, but did he, apply what he wrote in the Problem of Pain to his personal life?
I know the meat of the book is the two middle chapters, but so far have not been able to pick any applications.
That is a question that is debated. Some feel like “The Problem of Pain” was done in the abstract and thus see a radical contradiction when they read “A Grief Observed.” I don’t happen to see the contradiction between the two. The first is certainly a more abstract and philosophical expression of thought while the latter is more experiential, but several themes do connect the book together — that of God’s goodness and our call to trust and obey that God even when we cannot see the goodness. In some ways, one also ought to bring in his book, “The Great Divorce,” to bridge the books.
Also, as I mentioned before, to see disparity there presumes that Lewis had never really experienced suffering and loss prior to the death of his wife and that is not a fair assessment. Post-War England especially understood what suffering was and meant — something that Lewis was not isolated from.
I mentioned Perelandra also. In many ways, this is the fictionalization of “the Problem of Pain” and works out in practical ways Lewis’ ideas.
Another thought is that in his essays and talks, Lewis spoke of two kinds of faith — an intellectual one and an experiential one. For Lewis, it was the former that led to the latter. Yet, for Lewis also, it was the intellectual assent of faith that kept us grounded when difficult things are going on in life and we are not experiencing the hand of God’s goodness. With that in mind, “Problem of Pain” represents that intellectual grounding that is meant to anchor the experiential. The fact that he returned to a faithful life, though wizened and wearied by Joy’s death (Lewis would only die 3 years later), reminds us that this anchor stood.
And I suppose that the practical application can be found more in the life he lived, his interviews, and some of the sermons he spoke. “Problem of Pain” is meant to answer a philosophical and apologetic question, he was largely trusting that application be made by individuals and practical theologies be developed by theologians.
Again brother, thank you so much for your insight. It’s a blessing to read your posts. I’m also follwoing some of your teachings that you have posted. Great material.
Thank you for the kind words, Randy, I am glad these have been a blessing to you.
I am making a thesis on C.S. Lewis concept of human suffering. I am confuse, my question goes like this,
Isn’t the existence of human suffering contradictory with God being omnipotent and omniscient?
Once again, I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, hopefully this still comes in time to be helpful. The existence of human suffering is only contradictory with God being Omnipotent, Omniscent, and benevolent (need to include this in the conversation) if God does not have a purpose for our suffering that matures us into the image of Christ. Yet, God does (Romans 8:28-29). Thus, God uses the evil of the world to mature his own, to separate the sheep from the goats, and to demonstrate Christ’s love for us. Though we suffer, it draws us closer to God and thus is part of his perfect design.
Is there a limitation on divine omniscience and omnipotence?
I am just puzzled and curious because how does a good and powerful God allows such evil.
I suppose it depends on how you want to use the term “limitation.” For example, there are things that God cannot do. He cannot lie, he cannot sin, he cannot cease to be God, etc… They are limitations in the sense that he is not able to do these things but not limitations in the sense that his removes omnipotence or omniscience from his character.
Think about it this way, the medieval monks liked to create paradoxes as they pondered the nature of such a God as ours. One of the questions that they posed is, “Is it possible for God to create a rock that is so big that even he cannot move it?” I expect you can see how this works, the question structured like this creates a limitation on God no matter how you answer the question.
Philosophers have wrestled with this question a bit, but the best answer is to state that God’s omnipotence extends to all things that are ontologically possible. Or, to put it another way, God is capable of doing all things that are consistent with his character. For example, it is not possible for God to also be the devil (Jesus condemned the pharisees harshly for suggesting such!). This is not a limitation on God’s omnipotence, it is something that would be a nonsensical possibility based on the character of who God is. At the heart of this, it is an appeal to the law of noncontradiction. Thus the impossibility of God acting inconsistently with his character is not so much a limitation on Him or his omnipotence, but it is a simple matter of what is logically possible given who he is.
In terms of God’s omniscience, that is slightly different in that it can be said that God not only knows what will happen (that which God has ordained) but he also knows what would have happened differently had he ordained things differently. Thus, his ordination of all things reflects the first plan and best design for God’s creatures. Why then does God permit such evil? If nothing else, it forces God’s own to cling to him. Augustine pointed out, as well, that without the Fall and the evils around us, we would not know the love of Christ and Christ’s willingness to suffer and to die for our sins. We would also not know the depth of mercy of God and what it means to be redeemed — those things that Peter reminds us are things into which even the angels long to look. Yes, God has permitted great evil to inhabit this earth; the greatest evil we find in the wrath that his Son took on our part…a process of crushing that Isaiah 53 reminds us that pleased God to do…for the end result meant our redemption.
What does this passage of C.S. Lewis mean: Joy’s death made Lewis painfully aware that every attempt to use God as a means to some other end is a house of cards.
what does he mean by house of cards? thank you!
Ariel, sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I have been slogging through trying to finish up another writing project this summer and it took longer than I expected.
To answer your question, a house of cards is something that is fragile and easily toppled over. People sometimes take a deck of playing cards and stand them on ends to build a “house” or a tower of sorts (thus, “a house of cards.” These easily fall with but a breeze or a bump of the table. When his wife, Joy, died, Lewis came to realize that much of his pleasure had been drawn from his relationship with her and that if he was ever to recover from his grief and sorrow and find joy in life again, he must seek the fullness of joy in one who is transcendent from the human experience of death…from God himself in his Son, Jesus. Further, that will never happen until one lets go of “control” (trying to “use” God to serve one’s own purposes) and fully submits to the benevolent hand of the Father, even at times when that hand does not “feel” so benevolent, if that makes sense.
Blessings, Ariel, hopefully that proved helpful.
Sir, can you define what is the main definition of metaphysical and logical possibility in relation to Divine omnipotence and omniscience?
Metaphysical and Logical possibility are oftentimes defined a little differently. For someone like Plato, Metaphysical Possibility would not only include the nature of what is, but also the nature of what could be. Thus, for Plato and those who would follow him, Metaphysical Possibility can include what is not because what is not can be imagined. That is worth noting because of philosophy and science’s fascination today with the idea of “alternate worlds” or “alternate realities.”
For later thinkers, like Kant and the Positivists that would follow, Metaphysical possibility focused on what is. Thus, if it is not, it is not a possibility (i.e. it is not a Metaphysical possibility for large, heavy bodies not to have a gravitational pull).
Logical possibility deals with what is logically sound by definition. This is where things like the Law of Non-Contradiction come into play. 2+2=8 is an example of a logical impossibility (given common definitions for mathematics). 2+2=4 is not simply a Metaphysical possibility (Kantian) because it is … it is a Logical possibility because it is impossible for it not to be so. Is that helpful?
Now, bringing in the character of God, with respect to his omnipotence. God is perfect, God is good, and God is sinless. In fact, by definition, Good is that which God does. Furthermore, sin is that which God does not do. That is why it is a logical impossibility for God to sin or not to be good; these things strike at the very definition of God. Thus, while it may be a Metaphysical Possibility (Plato’s perspective) that God is able to do evil, it is not a Logical possibility (nor would it be a Metaphysical Possibility from a Kantian perspective, though there are lots of problems with Kant).
In terms of Divine Omniscience, God comprehends not only the Logical possibilities, but the Metaphysical possibilities (even using Plato’s broader definition). He ordains that which is consistent with his character and metaphysical design for his creation.
do you have any idea about the obstinate toy soldier found in Mere Christianity?
Tin soldiers were a common childhood toy in Lewis’ day. In fact, I still have a number of tin soldiers that had been my grandfather’s when he was a boy…about the same time Lewis was a child.
These soldiers were painted and decorated army men made from hollow tin. In Lewis’ analogy, they were empty, and not real men, but just painted tin exteriors with hollow bodies.
Jesus then becomes a Tin Man, but not a hollow one, a true man, binding his tin (referring to the flesh) to the born-again living soul. It is the notion, as he begins the chapter, that the Son of God became man so that man could become sons of God.
Jesus offers to give new life, thus changing the men of tin into real men. The tin soldier is obstinate because he rejects this offer, preferring to be tin alone and not a real man. In fact, Lewis even takes it a bit further by arguing that the obstinate Tin Soldier, disliking the idea of being a real man, fought against it with all of his strength.
The idea of the hollow man is a recurring theme in Lewis (see The Abolition of Man, for example) and the notion is that we never become real (or full) men or women until we are born again, indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
Lewis’ essay “Man or Rabbit” also touches on some of this idea.
Hopefully this was helpful,
Sir, going out in the topic of the problem of pain. What are the main points in Lewis sermon, the Weight of Glory and his 1st prose, the Pilgrims Regress? Can you give me an overview?
Pilgrim’s Regress is a combination of Lewis telling his own story and a retelling of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress — Lewis, emphasizing the rebellion of his own life. Thus, the character of John in the story can be seen to apply to Lewis himself (note that Lewis went by the name “Jack” to all of his friends and “Jack” is a”nickname” for John in England and America).
The picture, then, is of Lewis’ first experience with Law and the church. To begin with, the law that he could not understand and then following that with the law that could not be explained to him (because the adults also did not understand it. The Steward is the Pastor or Rector of the church he was taken to…a man, when talking informally, was kind and gentle, but who when speaking for God (this is the Mask…which reflects the manner of the pastor when preaching).
What Lewis is describing as an introduction is that often, Religion is seen as nothing more than a list of “don’t do this” (like the child left with in his pocket) and this list is impossible for any to live up to, so even the pastor (without the mask) tells the child to ignore portions of the list and to make use of it however he chooses. Lewis will argue much of his life that this is the attitude that many professing Christians take toward Christianity, but that is not Biblical Christianity. In fact, the list of “don’t do this” tends to lead people into more and more sins (as the Apostle Paul relates in the earlier chapters of Romans). The book is worthwhile, just remember that Lewis is telling an allegory.There is a great deal of symbolism here.
In terms of his essay, “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis seems to really be setting forth two notions. First is that beauty has degrees (compare the beauty of worldly things to the beauty of Greek poetry) and thus our desire for that beauty ought to have degrees as well. Further, though, that as we discover the beauty, we discover that the beauty is not in the poem, but that the poem points you to that which is beautiful. In the ultimate sense, beauty is meant to point us to heaven.
The second thing that Lewis is doing, as he develops the idea, is to argue that beauty points us to glory and that glory is not our fame in the eyes of one another, but the acceptance or favor of God. In the Hebrew, the word for glory is Qavod which also means “heavy” (thus the analogy of the “weight” of glory). It is a weight that we cannot bear but must bear for one another in the strength of humility. Thus the glory given us is not that which leads to pride but one that leads to worship in humility. We experience that in part here in our earthly lives but it has its culmination in the life hereafter with God.
Hello sir win,
I am confused on how CS Lewis applied the concept of logical possibility and metaphysical possibility. Can you give me clarification regarding these concepts?
Thank you for your kindness
Logical possibility, broadly speaking is that which must be true on the basis of logic — the Law of Non-Contradiction, for example does not permit “a” to both be “a” and “non-a” at the same time and in the same sense of the term. For example, as I am writing this, I am drinking a mug of hot tea (Earl Grey to be specific). It is not logically possible for the tea in my mug to be both tea and not tea at the same time and in the same manner. Fair?
Metaphysical Possibility adds a layer to Logical possibility. While something might be logically possible on paper, it might not be possible in reality. For example, it is mathematically possible (thus a logical possibility) for a body to fall faster than 9.8 meters per second per second. Yet, given the gravitational forces of the earth, it is a metaphysical impossibility to do so.
Lewis applies this notion to the essential nature of God, particularly with respect to the statement that all things are possible with God. What Lewis argues is that when we use the statement that all things are possible with God, we are only speaking of metaphysical possibility, not of logical possibility. For example, it might be logically possible for God to cease to be God but it is not metaphysically possible because God always acts in a way consistent with his character. And God’s character, being unchanging, is such that it is impossible…even is nonsensical…to speak of God ceasing to be God. This principle is then applied to a variety of other things given the character of God. Thus it can be said that God cannot sin, he cannot lie, he cannot cease to be God, he is incapable of nonsense.
Is this helpful?
I am here again struggling with C.S. Lewis’s concept of death. Especially in his book The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, and Mere Christianity.
The question is, What is the relation of death to human suffering?
The Great Divorce is a bit of an oddity in terms of your question as Lewis is not so much addressing the nature of death but the nature of heaven and hell as well as the nature of the relationship with God that one must have to enter the heavenly realms. The distinction is subtle and has led some people to accuse Lewis of advocating a kind of purgatory or second-chance at salvation, which he did not agree with (based on his other writings). The bus trip was more of a literary device that allowed for the visions of both heaven and hell. So, don’t let that confuse you as you work through Lewis’ other works.
A Grief Observed is singular as a piece and again, one must be careful about drawing too many theological principles from the text. The meditations contained therein were simply Lewis’ personal journals as he was going through his grief after his wife, Joy, died of bone cancer. They are raw and written without the normal precision that one is used to finding in his other writings. The value of the text is that it reminds you of the humanity (and even the questioning of God’s goodness) that this believer went through and reminds us that it is okay to go through a season of doubt in the midst of intense grief. In fact, it is quite normal, though many would not openly admit to that. Lewis is being brutally honest in this little work partly because he never intended it to be published and when pressed by a friend, he only agreed to publish it under a pen name.
That leaves us with Mere Christianity, the Problem of Pain, and to some degree, Miracles, to give us a more thought through account of heaven (I would also commend to you some of Lewis’ reflections on the Psalms for insight into his view of heaven).
Ultimately, for Lewis, death is both the apex of our suffering and the end of our suffering. Humanity (prior to the fall) was not created to die, but instead we were created to live, so in a very real sense, death is the hardest thing for humans to face because it is that which is most unnatural. Yet, for the believer, it is the end of suffering. For the unbeliever, it is the beginning of true suffering.
Note, here, though, that when Lewis thought of Hell and the suffering therein, he focused on the notion of separation — separation from God, from fellow man, and from anything good and pleasant. He did not focus on fires and destruction, that he did not deny, but he felt that in his day the notion of separation was under-emphasized and should be brought to the front of discussion. That is where The Great Divorce is really very helpful as it describes the suffering of hell in terms of infinite degrees of separation from one another — walls that kept out people but did not keep out the rain, etc… For Lewis, the greatest of all suffering was caused by separation, hence the intensity of his language in A Grief Observed as well.
Hi sir win, again
As you mentioned that C.S. Lewis did not agree with the idea of Purgatory. What then is the proper term for a second-chance salvation in which it prepares man to achieve God’s salvific intentions? Is this repentance? Forgiveness?
Is it correct to say that one connotation of heaven and hell is really within us? When Lewis said that the seed of eternity is planted within us? Is this what he means?
Again, In The Great Divorce, Lewis includes that idea of the second chance, but more as a literary tool than as a theological statement. This allows him to get people on the “bus”, if you will, in the story.
Overall, Lewis holds to a pretty orthodox notion that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven…in other words, there is not a second chance to repent after you die. The chance is to repent in the here and now and to embrace Christ.
Because Lewis was a professor of literature and not a professor of systematic theology, he will sometimes press theological orthodoxy for the good of the story. For example, in the final book in the Narnia series, he articulates a form of universalism and many have suggested that he held to such, yet from a reading of the rest of his writings, he was clearly not a universalist in his thinking or theology, in the case of Narnia, it simply helped to move the story forward.
In the Great Divorce, like many who have gone before him, he is telling a dream or a story that is first and foremost meant as a warning (repent!) and secondly meant as a picture of the beauties and solidity of heaven and the horrors and ethereal state of hell. For Lewis, what was most real was heaven and we are in a kind of “Shadowlands” here on earth…for believers, we have yet to become really real and whole. Hell is real, but is the shadowland to its furthest extent. So, not really contained in us outside of perhaps that spark or sense of eternity that we all have. I think that it is in The Problem of Pain that he describes humans as having in them a sort of keyhole and only God has the key that will properly fit it. It is Augustine’s notion of us all having a sort of hole in our beings that can only be filled by God. So, we have a seed of eternity planted in us, as Solomon would write in Ecclesiastes 3, but I would be careful about how far I pushed the idea into Lewis’ fictional narratives, for they are largely designed to illustrate what he wrote in his non-fictional texts.
Thank you for the answer sir. You provided such a perfect comprehension, this is a big help for my research.
By the way sir, if you are to discuss, for example, death, how will you begin and end with it? What are the topics to be discussed?Thank you again for the another help.
I guess the question is in what context. Obviously, I would discuss death differently with someone who is dying than I would with a theology or philosophy classroom.
Assuming the context of the classroom, I would begin with creation and the Fall, the notion that we were created to live eternally and the fall brought both death and separation that extends beyond our human existence and even into the created world of animals, plants, etc… It is a pretty depressing picture, but it is meant to be. Death is not only the cessation of physical life, but it is the entrance into punishment for one’s sins. Lewis focuses on separation, which is important, but I also focus on positive retribution (justice for one’s sins) and destruction (the opposite of the building up in the presence of God).
One then needs to take the listeners to the work of the atonement, that the God who needed no redeeming chose to take on flesh and do the redeeming for the ones who could not redeem themselves. One could go into great details as to aspects of the atonement, when I have taught on the topic, I oftentimes spend the better part of 4-5 hours of lecture time on the matter. But that then takes you to the Gospel, that the effects of death were met for the believer by Jesus.
On the matter as to how I would approach this with the dying, I am much more narrow in this, talk to them about sin and then the offer of the Gospel to those who repent and believe.
I am not sure that I answered your question here, but perhaps this is a start. Let me know if I can address something more specifically here.
Is it ok for you to get your email so that I can let you read my research all about C.S. Lewis? Thank you.
I would love to see the material. You can send it to: email@example.com