(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)
I had heard quite a bit about The Problem of Pain before I started reading it for this series. What I heard was quite accurate too – a very logical (for a lack of a better word at the moment) and a theological/philosophical look at pain and suffering. A very removed look. Did y’all feel that way?
I haven’t read A Grief Observed yet (it’s on the list for this series!), but I have a feeling C.S. Lewis is much more personal since it was written after his wife’s death. I don’t mean to say this wasn’t a good read or that I didn’t enjoy it, because there were definitely some gems throughout the pages. Although there were, as always with Lewis, some parts where I had to read it approximately 87 times before understanding (or not) what Lewis meant.
I also really loved his dedication to The Inklings. I admit, I have a random obsession with author dedications.
I like the arguments he brings in – the questions that need to be answered, like this from the Introduction: “If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground for religion: it must have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.”
I loved the quote like this from Mere Christianity, so I thought it was worth sharing here:
“The claim [that Jesus was the Son of God] is so shocking – a paradox, and even a horror, which we may easily be lulled into taking too lightly – that only two views of this man are possible. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, as is, precisely what He said. There is no middle way.”
I’m promise I’m not trying to point out all the quotes from the introduction :), but he had so many key points, especially against the argument that Christianity is a “crutch.” Early on he writes, “Christianity is not the conclusion of a philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event following on the long spiritual preparation of humanity which I have described. It is not a system into which we have to fit the awkward fact of pain: it is itself one of the awkward facts which have to be fitted into any system we make. In a sense, it creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”
In many debates, the idea of free will has come up. Again Lewis contributes to the conversation with this observation:
“The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: the choice implies the existence of things to choose between. A creature with no environment would have no choices to make: so that freedom, like self-consciousness (if they are not, indeed, the same thing), again demands the presence to the self of something other than the self.”
After talking about miracles (and why they are not common), I love what Lewis adds: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” (To read more on the miracles, check out pages 24-25)
I’m really trying to only pick a few quotes and points, but as always with Lewis, it’s nearly impossible. Also, definitely read the book.
These next couple of quotes were from the chapter on Divine Goodness.
“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a love God: you have one…How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in the Creator’s eyes.”
“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’”
I’ll end with my favorite quote in the book, from the section Human Pain:
“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.”
Questions for Discussion: Feel free to answer any or all!
1. Did you have a favorite section?
There were several I enjoyed. I was encouraged by many of them and several also had me thinking on the topic for a while. Example: I thought this response to those who opposed the doctrine of hell:
“In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid what is what He does.”
2. What were your overall thoughts on the book?
3. Have you read A Grief Observed? How did this compare if you have?
4. Did you have favorite quotes?
Just one more that I thought about a while after I finished the book :).
“Even a good emotion, pity, if not controlled by charity and justice, leads through anger to cruelty.”