Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Book Review: "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis

What a busy week! I've had a lot of fun setting up my other blog. I feel like it really uncluttered this blog, at least mentally - I had so much stuff running through my mind about both hyperemesis and homebirth midwifery that I just didn't know how to sort them out in one blog. I think that two blogs will work much better - as long as I don't double the amount of time I spend blogging!! I mean to keep a strict eye on that.

I've decided that I'll probably keep most of my "personal," i.e. day-to-day blogs on this blog, simply because my other blog is more of an interest-blog, while this blog is more wrapped up in my personal/spiritual/emotional life. I'll probably post occasional personal blogs on the other account, but I'll save most of it for here.

Well, I have three book reviews to do this week so that I can get these books back to the library, so here goes number two!!

The Problem of Pain
C.S. Lewis
Touchstone, 1962, 141 pages

"I can stand anything but pain!"
- Oscar Levant, in "The Bandwagon"

This is not an easy review to write. For me, trying to critique C.S. Lewis is something along the lines of like trying to critique God. It's not that C.S. Lewis is on the same level as God, of course, but simply that they both are so far beyond me that trying to critique either of them is something of an presumptuous absurdity! So rest assured that I am aware of that fact as I write this.

Whenever I read C.S. Lewis my mind and my soul mature by at least 50 years. In case you can't tell, I am a major, major fan of this man and his writings. I started out at a young age with the Narnian series and have been in love ever since. Oddly enough, though, I have not read all of his books - or even most of them. I was, therefore, pleased to have the job of reading this book just to catch up on more of his writings!

First of all, I will mention the one thing that I didn't like, and that is his chapter on animal pain. I had read a quote by Madeline L'Engle a long time ago, in which she said that she gave up on Lewis's writings for a long while after reading his dismissive treatment of animal pain in "The Problem of Pain." For the most part, I agree with her, and I do not particularly agree with Lewis's treatment of the subject of animal pain. I find it rather cold, callous, anthropocentric, uncompassionate, and others. However, I am not saying that he is wrong, simply because I do not have the mental resources to refute him! And for all I know, he may be right (though I doubt it).

Enough of that. Moving on....

I am a little confused as to how to proceed with this review, because if I wrote all that I had to say, I would be here for weeks - literally. There are so many good quotes here! Let me just pull out a few:

First of all, on the difference between the lovingkindness of God and the "kindness" which we all wish was an attribute of God:

"By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness, and by this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness - the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?'..... But since it is abundantly clear.... that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction..... There is kindness in Love; but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness.... is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it.... Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled; the legitimate sons... are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms; with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense." (p. 35-37)

It's so true! I do wish for a "kind" rather than a truly "loving" God - one who looks after my comfort rather than my ultimate good or holiness. Sometimes, I think, we do confuse kindness with love, and vice versa.

"The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it."(p. 82)

So true!!! The times of my greatest spiritual apathy are often when all is well and tranquil. When I am self-satisfied and complacent are probably my times of greatest self-wilfulness and pride. It is when my true nature and state are revealed to me that I truly turn to God.

"If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us." (p. 85)

What more can I say than "Amen!" He hits it right on the nail.

Thus, the purposes and/or reasons of/for pain, according to Lewis, are:

(1) The consequence of combining fallen nature and free will
(2) For the purpose of sanctification and/or leading us to redemption and faith

I concur completely with Lewis's assessment.

Lewis gives thorough treatment to the following aspects of human pain: man's Fall and wickedness, divine goodness, Hell, Heaven, and human suffering. It's very clear and easy-to-follow, and the treatment is excellent.

The one complaint I have (and it's not even really a complaint) was that this book seemed to touch me on only a mental rather than an emotional or "soul" level. I came away full of knowledge, but not satisfied. I think that that is the inevitable end of a work which treats such a deeply soul-wrenching subject on a theological or logical level. It's rather like going through a deeply hurtful time in one's life - a hug can do more than all the detailed explanations of why one is hurting. Thus, while I felt like this book was valuable and a "must read," I did not come away with all of my questions answered on a deep enough level for real satisfaction.

A friend mentioned that I should read "A Grief Observed" (also by Lewis) after this book, as it treats the subject on a more emotional level, and I plan to do so.

Unfortunately, as this was a library book, I was not able to underline and make margin notes, so many of the quotes that I had planned to bring into this review have quietly faded into oblivion. Well, it'll have to wait! Rest assured that this is an excellent book, well worth the read and the purchase, and one that I will definitely be adding to my collection.

Rating: The best!!

I'll be posting a review of Jenna Schmidt's "Body Mutiny" hopefully very soon, and after that I'll get onto "A Grief Observed" and the Book of Job.

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