Life in Enemy Occupied Territory

    In suburban Washington, D.C., a sniper strikes at random, killing one stranger after another, throwing their families into the grip of sudden, agonizing grief. Pain -- human suffering -- is a part of every life. When it strikes close to home, it often causes people to question the reality of God -- His nature, His power, His very existence. Why does a good God allow this? The problem of human suffering fascinated two of the last century's most influential thinkers: Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. But as Harvard psychiatrist Armand Nicholi notes in his book The Question of God, these two men drew very different conclusions about God from their own encounters with pain. Both Lewis and Freud experienced profound suffering. Lewis lost his mother when he was a child, endured the horrors of World War I, and watched his beloved wife, Joy, suffer an excruciating death from cancer. Freud also lost precious family members: a daughter and a grandson. He experienced vicious anti-Semitism, endured ridicule from other scientists, and suffered physically from a painful cancer. Human suffering led Freud to conclude that God does not exist -- that no loving God would permit people to endure such pain if He had the power to prevent it. He believed that men's fates were determined, not by a supernatural Father, but by "obscure, unfeeling, and unloving powers." Lewis concluded otherwise -- but not without a struggle. After his wife's death, Lewis wrote that the danger was not ceasing to believe in God, but "of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him." Like Freud, he wondered how a loving God could allow him to suffer so terribly -- and why evil-doers appear to go unpunished. As Nicholi notes, "Freud argued that the notion that good is rewarded and evil punished by 'the government of the universe' just does not square with reality." By contrast, Lewis pointed to biblical teachings about a "Dark Power" abroad in the universe, "a mighty evil spirit . . . the power behind death and disease and sin." We are, Lewis concludes, living in "enemy occupied territory." Lewis also reminds us of the relationship between evil and free will. The human tendency to abuse free will -- to rebel from God and to violate the moral law -- is what leads to human suffering. We're at fault, not God. On one thing Lewis and Freud agreed: that other people are the source of most of our pain. As Lewis writes: "When souls become wicked, they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another . . . It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs." No life is free from pain. "How we react to it determines how it influences the quality of our lives," Nicholi writes. "If we believe, like Lewis, that a Supreme Being loves us and ultimately controls our destiny, we may endure with patience and hope. But if we hold to the materialist worldview, we are left with Freud's [despairing] exhortation to [simply] submit to the harsh realities which confront us." Armand Nicholi's book The Question of God is based on the course he has taught for years at Harvard. Many students, simply comparing the two worldviews, have chosen the one of faith and hope. Give the book to some of your skeptical friends, and they may do exactly the same. For further reading: Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (Free Press, 2002). C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Harper, 2001). See the Washington Post's coverage of the sniper shootings. David Ropeik, "Be Afraid of Being Very Afraid," Washington Post, 20 October 2002.


Chuck Colson


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