NB: I know that this book crosses pretty far into the “Christian” side of the discussion here, but I am reviewing it in some detail for a couple of reasons: first, I think the problem of no pain directly contributes to the meaning crisis which directly contributes to the loss of purpose in man, and therefore to our loss of liberty; second, I want to understand better the counter to a tired criticism – if God is love, why is there pain?
Since the life of Christ is every way most bitter to nature and the Self and the Me (for in the true life of Christ, the Self and the Me and nature must be forsaken and lost and die altogether), therefore in each of us, nature hath a horror of it.
Theologia Germanica, XX
The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis
Lewis offers the example of an accomplished artist. One can envision such an artist sketching a quick picture for a young child, not so concerned about details or exactness. But what of the painting meant for grand display? Are we not that for God?
One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed us for a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but less.
The more that a father loves his son, the more care he takes in the son’s development; sometimes the form of this care is less than agreeable to the son. Love is something far more than ensuring a son’s continuous happiness:
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.
Why would a good God allow such pain? Who says that His paramount objective is to ensure such pain is never experienced? Who says that the avoidance of our pain is God’s purpose?
To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God…. I do not think I should value much the love of a friend who cared only for my happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest.
Unless we are asking our friend to no longer be our friend.
…man, as a species, spoiled himself…good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or corrective good.
Pain plays some part in the remedy. We see this every day: one decides to pick himself up only after he recognizes and understands that he has hit bottom. Without this recognition, no remediation would take place.
A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad.
Once we accept this, we can understand pain. Why would we expect paradise and peace in a world of fallen man? As we are fallen, why would we not want to learn how to get up? As we are weak, why would we not want to learn the measure of our true strength?
Per Lewis: Good descends to us from God; evil is produced by rebellious man; God exploits that evil for His purpose; this produces the complex good to which accepted suffering contributes.
It is my understanding that one of the primary reasons for the exponential growth of the early Church was its work in alleviating the pain and suffering of those living under the yoke of Rome.
Abraham takes Isaac to be sacrificed to God…
But as St Augustine points out, whatever God knew, Abraham at any rate did not know that his obedience could endure such a command until the event taught him: and the obedience which he did not know that he would choose, he cannot be said to have chosen.
I had to look up the Theologia Germanica – the source of the quote at the beginning of this post – wanting to understand something about it. It was written in the fourteenth century by an anonymous author. According to Martin Luther:
Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands from which I have learned more of God and Christ, and man and all things that are.
So, Luther loved it. John Calvin, on the other hand:
…says it is "conceived by Satan's cunning... it contains a hidden poison which can poison the church."
The Church placed it on the list of prohibited books in 1612; it remained on the list until the latter half of the twentieth century.