Summary of The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

Basic Summary:

The Problem of Pain is C.S. Lewis’ first apologetic book, in which takes on the great challenge of reconciling the notion of an all-powerful and loving God and the existence of pain & suffering.

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.” This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form (560).

Key Concepts:

#1: Pain makes us realize… our need for God!

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world… No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul” (604, 605).

Pain & suffering can often destroy our sense of self-sufficiency in this world and make us look outside of ourselves & to God for an answer. Therefore, pain & suffering is a way that God gets our attention. It’s his “megaphone.”

One of the problems in today’s culture is that we look more and more to technology, science, and politics for answers!

#2: Pain is permitted by God… to make us like God!

Pain & suffering is allowed by God because God created us with free will to choose between good & evil. If God were to remove evil, true freedom would be lost.

This same logic helps us to understand the reality of hell, in which God allows humans to use their free will to choose between themselves and God – and thus respects that choice.

“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” 626

Since God is perfect love, He only permits pain & suffering because He can bring about a greater good (see Romans 8:28). And that ultimate purpose is to make us like God – to transform us into living images of Jesus – who lay down our lives in self-sacrificial love for others.

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 memorable sense. 570

“If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it,” Lewis writes. “I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made “perfect through suffering” is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” 611-2

Ultimately, it’s a paradox that pain is somehow blessed and yet ought to be removed.

For further reading & to get a full picture of Lewis’ perspective on pain, check out C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, which is Lewis’ personal psalm of lament from within pain itself – after the death of his beloved wife.

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