C.S. Lewis remarked in his book “The Problem of Pain” (Macmillan 1962) how pain is God’s megaphone “to rouse a deaf world.” it is His way of getting our attention and anyone who has had severe pain knows why the expression is so poignant. Lewis was no stranger to it: he had continuous arthritic pain in his thumbs and was an invalid the last few years of his life.
In his introduction to the book, Lewis claims that “If any real theologian reads these pages he will very easily see that they are the work of a layman and an amateur. [….] If any parts of the book are ‘original’, in the sense of being novel or unorthodox, they are so against my will and as a result of my ignorance.” The thoughts that I give were stimulated by Lewis’s book on Pain but are meager and of less consequence.
What seems to us to be good—such as not having pain—may not be good in God’s eyes “and what seems to us evil may not be evil.” Lewis tries to alert us to divine goodness and perspective. We do not see God’s reality due to the way we look at the outside of things. For example, we discuss corporate guilt rather than our own. We also have the illusion that time will cancel sin and that we can take refuge in the fact that all men—not just us—are bad. We are in a mess when we cannot see the horror within ourselves.
Man has made himself ill-adapted to the universe by the abuse of his free will. Lewis sums up his comments on the fall of man by noting that his thesis is simply “that man […] spoiled himself, and that good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or corrective good.”
As humans we often inflict pain upon one another but, as Lewis says, “we would like to know the reason for the enormous permission to torture their fellows which God gives to the worst of men.” The kind of pain which Lewis discusses is any experience, physical or mental, that we dislike. Such pain requires attention. and it should be turned towards God—even if we find God an “interruption.” But what about “humble, pious, believing people” who suffer? Lewis rephrases it to ask “why do some” not suffer? Pain, like pleasure, can be a two-edged sword. Regardless, of how we act, God’s purpose will be carried out and it is better to act like John than Judas. “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
Lewis has a lot to say about hell in his writings and reminds us that “Dominical utterances about Hell, like all Dominical sayings, are addressed to the conscience and the will, not to our intellectual curiosity.” He does not try to make the doctrine of Hell “tolerable.” We must remember that “Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.” Jesus conveyed Hell in terms of three symbols: punishment, destruction and privation or exclusion (banishment).
“We know much more about heaven than hell, for heaven is the home of humanity and therefore contains all that is implied in a glorified human life: but hell was not made for men. It is in no sense parallel to heaven: it is ‘the darkness outside’, the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.”
Lewis also writes about animal pain (see “The pains of animals” in God in the dock: Essays on theology and ethics, edited by Walter Hooper, Eerdmans, 1970) and notes that “the Christian explanation of human pain cannot be extended to animal pain” because animals are incapable of sin or virtue, so pain will not punish or improve them. Animal suffering cannot be traced to the Fall of man because, in Lewis’s view, animals existed long before humans. Further, animals are not “immortal” because the word has no meaning for a creature without consciousness. However, when we see pain in both people and animals, we can “feel” that pain.
When we read of the pain inflicted upon Jesus for our sakes, we should immediately be burdened with sadness. It only turns to joy by virtue of the resurrection and His subsequent promises to us.