Why would a good God allow pain and suffering? It’s the age-old question. When we’re experiencing pain ourselves, or watching someone we love experience pain, no answer seems adequate, and our faith faces its severest test.
That’s why, as Ken Boa says on his latest Great Books Audio CD, it was a daring and risky project for C. S. Lewis to write the book The Problem of Pain.
As Lewis himself said, he was trying to tackle the intellectual side of the problem because he felt himself unequipped to tackle the emotional side. Lewis says in his preface, “For the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.” Beautifully said.
As usual, Lewis uses his characteristic blend of “logic and imagination” to tackle these tough questions. He explains that God takes the universe He created so seriously that He has to allow it to operate according to the rules He set up. Similarly, He has so much respect for our free will that He allows us to use it even when the consequences will be harmful.
As Lewis puts it: “It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives....Not even omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and inexorable nature.” He also says that if God corrected every abuse of free will at every moment, “freedom of the will would be void.”
But there’s more to it than that. There are times when God permits pain to enter our lives, not just as a consequence of evil actions, but because He can see the big picture, and He knows that in the long run these painful experiences will help us. With our limited perspective, this is so often hard for us to grasp. But God is so much wiser than we are that we cannot always understand His idea of goodness; it is not opposed to ours, but greater than ours. I have found this to be the case.
We often think that goodness simply equals happiness. Lewis writes, “We want in fact not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven: a senile benevolence who as they say liked to see young people enjoying themselves and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘A good time was had by all.’”
But God wants something more for us, Lewis says: “We are a divine work of art...something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” God has paid us “the intolerable compliment”: He takes us and our moral development seriously and is working to make us holy.
One day, Lewis reminds us, the problem of pain will be solved. Evil will be destroyed and we will be perfected. Until that day, as Ken Boa says, we can find help and reassurance in a book that “has helped thousands, millions perhaps, reach greater understanding and courage in the face of life’s pain.”
Be sure to visit BreakPoint.org today to subscribe to Ken Boa’s Great Books Audio CD series.