Friday, December 29, 2006

This is my first paper for the Masters Class on CS Lewis and his writings. I was asked to write papers that are not "author said" but not research. I've met the requirements with some level of success, although the original paper had 8 works cited. I'm sorry to say the endnotes don't seem to be replicable in this format.

The Problem of Pain

For suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character, hope.
St. Paul: The Letter to the Romans

In the beginning, we are told, humans were created in God’s image. They were to be the stewards of the land, and over other animals, and in that state of perfection “they felt no shame.”1 Unlike the rest of creation, man was given free will. Even though God walked with them in the Garden of Eden, our ancestors had a choice to commune with him or not. For them the choice was very simple; to love God above themselves, or themselves above God. To them the will of God was a presence that seemed to carry them along, and a delight to do so, but as the woman in Perelandra discovered, “I thought that the good things he sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands, but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms.” This free will, which allows us to distinguish ourselves from God, though he is everywhere and in all, was the gift that God gave humanity. When mankind fell, it became the cause of pain.

Lewis sums up the Doctrine of the Fall of Man thus; “He made all things good, and for the sake of their goodness; that one of these good things…the freewill of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil, and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.” The first sin was naturally the most simplistic; that for the first time humans chose themselves over God. Humans were convinced of the lie that we all believe so readily, that God is withholding some happiness, and by our own power we intend to get it. That striving for what we think we want is the root of all the suffering, pain and misery we experience. We can see that all around us. Every time we choose to do something, and to hell with the consequences, we have twisted something that may have been meant for our good. Sometimes God will say no, and we’ll go ahead with our own plans, only to find out that the path we wrested from him by our own will was the path he intended for us all along. The action isn’t as important as the will behind it. In everything we do we must add the preface,“Your will be done, and if it isn’t what you want, take it from me.”

While suffering is a natural byproduct of the fall, it also serves as our redemption from it. Pain is the means by which God alerts us to our present state of wretchedness. “It is true that everything teaches man his condition…what are we to conclude from all our darkness but our unworthiness.” Pain serves three functions; to help us surrender our self will: to shatter the illusion that we have all we need; and in an extreme case, to force us to act (for our own good) in opposition to our inclinations. Pain is not good in itself, but like all in our fallen world, it is used by God for our salvation and development of character. The danger of free will is that humans can still choose how to react to the pain they encounter. Either we can use the opportunity to submit to God and refine virtues such as patience or charity, or we can rebel against Him. We can say with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” or with his wife “curse God and die”.

One paradox that Lewis introduces, but doesn’t solve is the good aspects of suffering and the Christian (and Judaic) admonition to alleviate suffering wherever it is to be found. Throughout history God has been concerned with the sufferings of those who cannot defend themselves. Judaic law protected the widows, orphans and foreigners. The prophets often mentioned abuses of those laws as one of the key reasons that Israel was allowed to be overrun by the reigning nation du jour. In Christ’s wake “blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor.” Lewis does not address this issue in The Problem of Pain except to say that the paradox exists. It is certain that suffering in others allows us to practice the virtue of Charity. Our own suffering, if we will let it, can not only benefit ourselves, but allow those around us to come to our aid and offer support, encouragement, and expressions of Faith. Speculative charity will “soon become the corroding rust that will destroy the best feelings of our nature.”

The chapter on animal pain is the section that Lewis addresses the least. Since animals are incapable of sin and virtue, they neither deserve pain nor are benefited from it. We tend bestow on animals our own human emotions. They do feel pain and react to it, but not on the same level. Biblically speaking, animals were said to be herbivores until the fall, but scientific evidence shows that animals were carnivorous long before humans were in the picture. Animal immortality is not mentioned in the Bible, but that hardly serves as evidence since human immortality was a concept introduced only at the very end of the Old Testament. It is only with the coming of Christ that the Kingdom of Heaven becomes a real place. Perhaps one of the purposes of unfallen humanity was the redemption of animals. In Perelandra the Green Woman is surrounded by animals that are almost rational. The woman says, “we make them older every day…is that not what it means to be a beast?” This process of making animals more rational is theoretically what would give them immortality. “In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ…flows over into them.” Perhaps animals will be saved, but it will not be on account of the suffering they endure on earth. That is the sole prerogative of humanity. It is hard to picture heaven without other creatures. But as Aslan says we are never told any story but our own.

What struck me most, was in the section on Heaven; the idea of that something “other” that we catch glimpses of in books, movies, music and nature. Sometimes while reading I’ll come across a passage that reminds me of something I’ve never seen. “I don’t know what it is. But sometimes I see something. And maybe it’s beyond.” I find the beyond at the end of Lord of the Rings, when Frodo leaves for the grey havens; in The Blue Castle when Valancy lives on the island; when Wendy and Peter fly off to Neverland as the music swells; throughout Marc Adamo’s Little Women; and at the end of John where it supposes that all the things Jesus did were written down there wouldn’t be room in the whole world for all the books that could be written. Numinor. The numinous. That sense of awe we feel when for just a moment the curtain drifts aside and we catch a glimpse of something beyond ourselves and our small lives. It is that longing that makes me yearn for heaven. That longing makes all of the suffering more bearable. It is that sense of beyond that makes all of the wonderful small blessings we come across so special: because in them we see reflections of that which is waiting for us, if we can only “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” and one day, to cross over. “One day you will either find that you have attained it, or that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.”