Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Problem of Pain

This chapter of The Problem of Pain (chapter 6) addressed some very thought-provoking ideas. Lewis first distinguished pain in two senses:
1. A particular kind of sensation, ex. a headache
2. Any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes, i.e. suffering, trouble
Lewis concentrated this chapter on the 2nd conception of pain.

Man was made to imitate the Creator, but due to sin, we are (according to Newman) "rebels who must lay down our arms." Surrending our self will is a kind of death that must happen daily. Thus, this process cannot be without pain, but paradoxically, "mortification, though itself a pain, is made easier by the presence of pain in its context." Lewis described this phenomenon in three ways:

1. The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Pain is recognizable and impossible to ignore. As page 91 so clearly says, "But pain insists upon 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 world." Pain can of course lead to final and unrepented rebellion, but it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment."

2. Pain shatters the illusion that wht we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Lewis' friend said, "We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it." The only way we turn to God is if we have tried "any other resort where it (happiness) can even plausibly be looked for." God knows that modest prosperity and happiness are not enough to make people blessed, and Lewis makes a case that our "troubles" are actually "a Divine Humility." For our sake, God must shatter our illusion of self-sufficiency.

3. With sin, we have a whole new set of desires, and it is hard to know whether we are acting for God's sake or under the influence of our own inclinations. Thus, "the full acting out of the self's surrender to God therefore demands pain. Lewis then acknowledged the paradox whether God commands certain things because they are right, or whether certain things are right because God commands them. I don't really understand that whole argument about the "nature of morality" because I've never taken philosophy, and it sounds like a whole "did the chicken come first or the egg" type issue.

Lewis said that, "Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God's, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it." I found this argument to be profound and influential.

The question still must be addressed, however, "From our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do not." Lewis discussed two points here:

1. The actual moment of present pain is only the center of the whole "tribulational system." Lewis gave the example of himself "progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition," only to experience pain, at which point, slowly, "I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times." This is what Lewis called the "terrible necessity of tribulation."

2. We must be careful to attend to what we know and not to what we imagine. Lewis observed, "I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects."

I also loved Lewis' last point concerning poverty: "Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere 'opiate of the people' have a contempt for the rich, that is, for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from 'liquidation,' and place in them the only hope of the human race."

This essay struck my attention with the very word "pain." For the last two years, my brother has had this phantom chronic pain and he's seen specialists all over the state. None of them can figure it out. My brother has since turned away from his faith (part of that is the transition to a very non-spiritually nourishing secular school), but sometimes I'm sure he struggles with the reconciliation of his pain and belief in God. I know my mom has talked to me about it. She prayers for him every day, and she can't understand why God would let him suffer like this. I found Lewis' arguments very helpful in my understanding of suffering and the good that might come of it. Human suffering is a difficult concept for a Christian to comprehend, and I thought his points were good.

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