Friday, February 22, 2008


The Problem of Pain is C. S. Lewis’s 1940 theodicy – his attempt to explain why, if God is omnipotent and good, bad things happen in the world and people suffer. His target audience is Christians; non-Christians are likely to dismiss this work out of hand.

In this book, Lewis addresses the goodness and omnipotence of God, the fall of man and human wickedness, human and animal pain, and heaven and hell. In doing so, he gives a strong case for the free will of humanity (stronger even, perhaps, than might be biblically defensible).
As per usual, most of Lewis’s arguments are logically rather than theologically based. The problem is, in this book, his logic is noticeably faulty. It does often tend to be “either/or” – Lewis will say, “this must be X or Y”, almost arbitrarily, and will not leave room for other options. Much of Lewis’s logic here is based on the rampant speculation he makes without theological or biblical support, particularly in his chapters on hell and animal suffering. The illustrations Lewis uses in this book tend to be general and academic, and he qualifies many of the things he says.

At one point, Lewis breaks from his own argument to embrace a personal position in direct opposition to the case he has been making. Lewis says that he presupposes that “the good man ordinarily continues to seek simple good. I say ‘ordinarily’ because a man is sometimes entitled to hurt (or even, in my opinion, to kill) his fellow, but only where the necessity is urgent and the good to be attained obvious…” The reader familiar with Lewis knows that his position here is strongly rooted in the time he spent in the military and fighting in World War I. But here he has contradicted things he’s said earlier in the book, and in other books, about love and good. Obviously the urgency of necessity and the obviousness of good are often completely subjective. Lewis really dropped the ball here.

It is interesting to note (although it really has little to do with the quality of the work) that Lewis here both embraces evolution and says quite clearly that he believes that the creation accounts in Genesis are myths. Neither of these cause any problem for his faith.

The Problem of Pain is hardly Lewis’s finest work. The logic is often faulty and the illustrations he uses are too hypothetical and vague. There is some good here also, particularly the message that God can use pain to reach and change people. But this is far from being the definitive work on pain.