The Casting Dock

The Problem of Pain.

I feel like a college student again today.  I am sitting at Panera with my scrumptious 460 calorie cinnamon crunch bagel (they post the calorie counts now–it doesn’t give me one second’s pause), a warm cup of green tea, Jerry’s laptop (thanks, hun!), a book, and Christmas cards to address. It’s a beautiful sunny day here, and I am experiencing my usual morning giddiness.  It’s going to be a good day.

Today I am starting CS Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, which tackles the ever-challenging question, If God is good and all-powerful, why does He allow His creatures to suffer pain? It’s Jerry’s year-three pick for me (we choose a book for the other to read each year of our marriage), but I would have read it on my own anyway.  It’s been on my mind for a while; for some reason, it’s a book that’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying to me, the latter of which has caused me to drag my feet until now.  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why I have had that reaction.  It’s just such a huge, important, and oftentimes quite divisive question.  I put so much stock in CS, his brilliance, and his understanding/relationship with God; I want his thoughts and arguments in this book to be outstanding and affirming of the way I view God and perceive this topic, and I don’t want to deal with processing the implications if they’re not. I guess that might be the root of the terrifying part (just being honest).  Plus, it’s just uncomfortable to really focus on and attempt to wrap your mind around the depth and breadth of suffering in this world. It’s not a sexy topic or a “fun” way to spend your time and mental energy. Obviously it’s necessary and beneficial for being a competent and compassionate member of society, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable.

For the most part, I am okay with the general Christian explanations for suffering–the corruption of both man and the natural world with sin, the tear in the perfect fibers of the first universe God created initiated by man’s free will to make his own decisions. I’m okay with the notion of God not routinely stepping in to alleviate or eradicate suffering because that would negate free will and essentially would negate the value of human goodness and virtue. I’m okay with the notion of God, similar to a parent, allowing us to make our own mistakes instead of rushing in to rescue us every time. We are designed to learn from experiences, to build character in difficult times–that’s oftentimes where we learn the most about ourselves, others, God, and life. I’m okay with that. Thankful for it, in fact. But what I can’t wrap my mind around and reconcile is two-fold: large-scale human evil along the genocide lines and enormous numbers of people, especially children, who suffer their entire lives and die from lacking basic human needs of food and clean water. I know in my head that my beliefs about suffering, if they stand on the aforementioned principles and premise, should remain regardless of the scope of the suffering. I have no right or authority to impose my own “judgment line” to delineate “regular suffering” from suffering that is too extreme to fall under the scope of my aforementioned beliefs. I know that it my head, but I just can’t reconcile it internally. And I know there’s also the element of heaven and it’s role in making sense of suffering. I do think sometimes we get so consumed in our own lives and world, that we miss or simply fail to comprehend the bigger picture, of which heaven surely plays a substantial part. As I said, it’s a complex and divisive issue.

I watched a debate between Bart Erhman, an agnostic professor of Religious Studies at UNC and Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative Christian author, public speaker, and President of King’s College yesterday on the topic of suffering. It got the wheels turning and ultimately pushed me over the edge to dive into The Problem of Pain. Despite the discomfort, I’m looking forward to the journey.

5 comments

1 Brittany Gaylord { 12.02.10 at 4:00 pm }

YOU are a MAGNIFICENT writer MRS LISA! I MISS YOU & having conversations with you like this LIVE (; (even if we were in middle school, ha)

2 Rhonda { 12.02.10 at 6:22 pm }

The topic you are attempting to tackle arm in arm with CS Lewis is a pivotal point for many who will not even consider serving a God that allows such suffering. It is funny, we would love it if God had a string tethered to his heart that we could pull when we wanted Him to intervene and discard it when we don’t. The thought of someone being sovereign over suffering is a mind blowing idea, especially when we measure all action by our own human sense of justice. I don’t believe anyone has the market on understanding this very hard concept of suffering, even your beloved Mr. Lewis, but it is wise not to stick our head in the sand giving up on the quest. I look forward to reading any insight you gleam as you plow through the book!

3 bryan { 12.03.10 at 12:04 am }

Hey Lis!

Ya know I read Mere Christianity as a teenager and enjoyed it. Mom just dug up a copy of The Screwtape Letters at my request because I’ve been very stressed out lately and thought an apologetic type of work would be more based in logic than tension. But I haven’t really dug into it yet.

Curious – What book did you choose for Jerry?

Somewhat related, I was looking at the modern library site the other week — when I decided to read Gatsby. Anyway, they have a list of the top 100 novels of the 20th according to them (or their critics) and then a similar list determined by voters.

The critics say the best novel of the past 110 years is Ulysses. The voters say Atlas Shrugged! Lots of libertarians vote on these sorts of things I guess. Also voters said Battlefield Earth was 3rd best book. Maybe many Scientologists submitting votes as well?

4 noche { 12.02.10 at 9:38 pm }

Maybe we aren’t supposed to understand it. Maybe we would become hardened to the suffering and instead focus on the expected end result. Nevertheless, suffering, as well as watching loved ones suffer, makes heaven all the more desirable.

5 bridget { 12.16.10 at 5:26 pm }

hey lisa! i read it! great post, by the way. i should read that book. c.s. lewis is genius (you already knew this). and for me… i think the biggest problem i have IS with the natural disasters, the starvation, the cancers and car accidents… i don’t sit well with calling them a product of free will/fallenness/adam & eve (i don’t think i even buy the literal adam & eve story)… so i guess that’s where i am sort of at a standstill. i know a lot of people argue that through suffering, we become closer to God and that that in and of itself can redeem it but why can’t God make himself more visible then… do SOMETHING else so that we can draw closer to him without the suffering. he makes himself invisible… and then causes/allows (i’m going with the latter) suffering so that we’ll draw closer to him… can’t he think up a better way for us to draw closer to him??? anyway, i’m fairly content being at my place of ‘i don’t know’ really. i think it’s good overall and will strengthen my faith. i hope you’re content at that place as well!

i was at that debate between d’souza and ehrman! it was so great. gah, i could go on but i won’t!

feel free to email me :) you know where to find me!

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