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The Problem of Pain

By Curtis Freed, MA, BCC

C.S. Lewis, the famed Christian writer of the mid-twentieth century wrote a number of books defending the Christian faith. Lewis’ most famous works include Miracles, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and the children’s classic series entitled The Chronicles of Narnia.  He also wrote The Problem of Pain a number of years before his beloved American wife, (Lewis was British) Joy Davidman, died of cancer.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, Lewis presents a convincing argument of bringing together the central core of Christianity that God is love. At the same time, Lewis presents the mystery of suffering.  Lewis brings forth the age-old question of how could a loving God allow for suffering and pain in this world.

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The mystery of suffering is complex in a world created by a good and loving God.

In the first paragraph of Chapter 2, entitled “Divine Omniscience”, Lewis brings forth the focus of the book by stating: “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 the either goodness, or power, or both.” He says this is “the problem of pain, in its simplest form”. Thus, the argument of reconciling God’s love and goodness with the problem of pain cannot be answered.  Still, in the following chapters, Lewis attempts to address this basic theme.

Lewis devotes two chapters to the subject of human pain. He defines pain as “any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes…[pain] is synonymous with ‘suffering’, ‘anguish’, ‘tribulation’, ‘adversity’, ‘trouble’ ”. Lewis believes pain is a channel in God gets our attention. He writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”.

Pain speaks to us on several levels. First, it “shatters the illusion that all is well”. Second, pain shatters another illusion, “that we are self-sufficient and all that we have is of our own doing.” Third, pain teaches us to rely on God. When we make decisions, it is out of the strength we have in Him.

In reading The Problem of Pain, a person can come to the conclusion that pain will always end with positive results.  However, Lewis does not suggest this.  Pain can have a negative impact as well. In other words, the pain and suffering a person experiences in this life may lead to bitterness and rebellion toward God.

Lewis concludes his book with a chapter on heaven.  The danger of discussing heaven may give people a false sense of hope, or as Lewis puts it, an “escape…into dreams of a happy world elsewhere.” However, Lewis strongly believes that heaven is the desired outcome of many.

The Problem of Pain was first published by C.S. Lewis in 1940. Lewis’ style is far different from many of today’s contemporary writers.  However, its contents are very applicable today for many who are suffering in various ways.  I found Lewis’ book compelling to say the least.

Article published in Senior Perspectives July-August 2020 Issue (distributed and published by Senior Resources)


About the author

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Curtis Freed is a Spiritual Care Counselor for Harbor Hospice.  He is a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC).  Prior to joining Harbor Hospice, he worked as a chaplain at Mercy VNS & Hospice for 3 years.   In addition, he worked as a chaplain for Spectrum Health at Butterworth and Blodgett Hospitals for 9 years.  He is a graduate of Liberty University (1987) and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (1990).

For over 37 years, Harbor Hospice has provided compassionate end of life care for terminally ill patients and their families, addressing medical, emotional and spiritual needs regardless of ability to pay. Serving residents of lakeshore West Michigan, their team of professionals and volunteers connect patients and families with resources to align their goals of comfort and improved quality of life.

As a leader now in palliative and hospice care, Harbor Hospice and Harbor Palliative Care is committed to alleviating patients’ symptoms and providing choices to help the patient achieve optimum well-being.

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