C. S. Lewis & The Problem of Evil

Suffering

The existence of pain and suffering in mankind’s world is self-evident. In De Rerum Natura Epicurean poet Lucretius powerfully captured mankind’s “well befitting” cry “for whom remains/ in life a journey through so many ills”(Lucr. 5.224) that  begins the moment infants are born.

Sudden rains, flaws of winds with furious whirl, torment and twist, savage beasts, and death are but few of so many ills Lucretius named that mankind faces. These were major proof, for Epicureans, that the gods did not interfere with mankind’s welfare. Going beyond Epicureans’ position are some contemporary atheist philosophers of religion. The existence of pain and suffering, they argue, does not only challenge the idea of divine providence but also the very existence of a benevolent and omnicompetent God.

“In light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world,” representatively contended William Rowe, “the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinarily absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.”(Rowe 1990: 131)

The problem of pain and suffering did not escape the ink and papers of twentieth century’s most tremendous Christian defender Clive Staples Lewis. In The Problem of Pain Lewis presented two major responses to this challenge, viz., the Free Will Defense and Soul-Making Theodicy. This two parts article concisely explored a part of Lewis’ Free Will Defense¹ found in his work, The Problem of Pain.

Pain and suffering were not strangers in C. S. Lewis’ life. Three months before he turned ten years old, cancer stole his mother’s life and estranged his father. The God who his mother taught him, the God he encountered in the Church of Ireland was then for Lewis  cruel and probably just a vague abstract. Within the next four or five years Lewis lost his belief in God and became a self-confessed atheist.

According to Lewis, the strongest case that assured his atheism is found in Lucretius’ line: “Had God designed the world, it would not be / A world so frail and faulty as we see” (Lucr. 5.198-199). It was not until in his early thirties that Lewis returned to the faith he lost and became one of Christianity’s greatest defender the 20th century has ever produced.

In The Problem of Pain Lewis set the deductive problem of pain and suffering as follows:

If God were good, He would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power or both (Lewis 1996, 23)

If a being that is rightly called God must by necessity possess perfect goodness and almightiness as essential attributes, then lack of either or both would mean that there cannot be such a being.

The second part of this article looks at a small but significant part of Lewis’ Free Will Defense, namely his challenge to hidden assumption that an omnipotent God can, without exception, do all tasks.

Next: C. S. Lewis & Omnipotent God


[1] A biblical-based and personal response to this challenge is found in A Grief Observed as Lewis wrestled with the death of his wife.

Cover Image: Dan DeWitt, Mere Imagination © 2011 Theolatte

Bib.

Lewis, C. S. (1996) The Problem of Pain. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura Trans. William Ellery Leonard & E. P. Dutton (1916) Perseus Digital Library Project.

William Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” in The Problem of Evil, ed. by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (1990) Oxford: Oxford University Press. First published in American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 335-41.

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7 thoughts on “C. S. Lewis & The Problem of Evil

  1. Pingback: Omnipotence and Human Freedom | Mythos/Logos

  2. We have a book called ‘C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil’ by Jerry Root that you might find interesting. There has been a lot published on him this year but it’s nice to see someone really exploring his work and psychology – good job!

  3. Lewis not only lost his mother to cancer but later in life he lost his wife, Joy, to the same disease. Yet Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain topples the house of cards of our state of being, forcing us to stop and examine ourselves.

    Intellectual answers can never give specific reasons for why God permits the particular evils we encounter. Job never received an explanation for his sufferings. Instead, after a long silence, God asked a series of questions to show Job the limitations of his own understanding. Lewis eventually came to the place where he not only believed in God, but chose to trust him even when he didn’t understand God completely and despite his anger at times of suffering and pain. We can too.

    The Bible is startlingly realistic when it comes to the problem of endured suffering. God would not allow suffering to happen to anyone unless there was a reason. A reason He knows, and we don’t, because with God’s eyes, he sees so much; and with our eyes we see so very little.

    Great post Prayson.

    • Thank you Leroy. The Problem of Pain is indeed more philosophical attempt to answer the problem of evil. After losing Joy, A Grief Observed is more biblical attempt. Lewis began with God and move towards the problem, and not the problem towards God.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement Roy.

  4. A fascinating subject and a master apologist.

    As I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I praise God for blogging friends like you who keep me coming back with engaging essays and faithful reflections. Keep up the great work.

    Have a blessed holiday season.

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