Book List: The Problem of Pain

Oftentimes it appears that  Christians are afraid to address the fact that there is pain in this world. I think that this is fed within the church by people not truly understanding grace and fearing that people will kick them when they’re down if they reveal their struggles, and outside of the church by viewing the perpetuated myth of Christian perfectionism and hypocrisy. This idea couldn’t be further from the message Christ gave, yet between human fear of approval and the numerous opportunities we’re given each day to mess up, it’s no wonder that people try to avoid dealing with the hard and painful things in the corporate setting of a Church building.

By this point in life, I’m convinced that I’ve a touch of artistic melancholy flowing through my veins, which means that I probably dwell on pain’s place in the world more than most. I admire people who are willing to be vulnerable and admit the painful things in their life, especially when it is an internal struggle not obvious to the rest of us without the person explicitly mentioning it. Along that line of admiration, I’ve slowly picked my way through C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain recently, and upon my last reading, I was struck by several passages that I wanted to share.

  1. In relation to the fact that we always return to some gnawing emptiness, C.S. Lewis asserts that we experience pain because it reminds us that there is more to our existence than our experience in this broken world. He writes in a chapter creatively called “Human Pain, Continued”,
    “The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with out friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
  2. In the book’s last chapter “Heaven”, I found some great quotes, one of which is rather lengthy.It’s basically a discussion of the idea that each of us is created for a unique purpose, and that only that particular purpose will bring each individual the satisfaction he or she seeks.
    “I am considering not how, but why, he makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fir a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.”
  3. Lastly, in the Appendix to this book, Lewis adds to his composition with some credit to a R. Harvard, MD. in this two page section, he addresses what I often feel most strongly. I would rather hope that at the end of things, it can be said of me that there is heroism in my life and actions, even if I am never able to shake the bouts of darkness that still periodically cloud my outlook on life.
    “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken’. Yet is the cause is accepted and faced, the conflict will strengthen and purify the character and in time the pain will usually pass. Sometimes, however, it persists and the effect is devastating; if the cause is not faced or not recongised, it produces the dreary state of the chronic neurotic. But some by heroism overcome even chronic mental pain. They often produce brilliant work and strengthen, harden, and sharpen their characters will they become like tempered steel….Pain provides and opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.”