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The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

4.4 71
by C. S. Lewis

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C. S. Lewis, the master apologist, tackles the question that has plagued humanity for centuries. If God is both omnipotent and good, how can we explain the pain and suffering that people experience daily? And what of the suffering of animals, who neither deserve pain nor can be improved by it? With compassion and insight, C. S. Lewis proposes reasonable answers to


C. S. Lewis, the master apologist, tackles the question that has plagued humanity for centuries. If God is both omnipotent and good, how can we explain the pain and suffering that people experience daily? And what of the suffering of animals, who neither deserve pain nor can be improved by it? With compassion and insight, C. S. Lewis proposes reasonable answers to these critical theological problems, sharing his wisdom with those who seek true understanding.

Editorial Reviews

John Updike
I read Lewis for comfort and pleasure many years ago, and a glance into the books revives my old admiration.
“It is really a pleasure to be able to praise a book unreservedly, and that is just what I can do with The Problem of Pain .”

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The Problem of Pain

Chapter One


I wonder at the hardihood with which such
persons undertake to talk about God. In a treatise
addressed to infidels they begin with a chapter
proving the existence of God from the works of
Nature...this only gives their readers grounds
for thinking that the proofs of our religion are
very weak.... It is a remarkable fact that no
canonical writer has ever used Nature to prove God.

Pascal, Pensées, IV, 242, 243

Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, 'Why do you not believe in God?' my reply would have run something like this: 'Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one of them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believe that life and happiness were more than a byproduct to the power that made the universe. As it is, however, the scientists think it likely that very few of the suns of space — perhaps none of them except our own — have any planets; and in our own system it is improbable that any planet except the Earth sustains life. And Earth herself existed without life for millions of years and may exist for millions more when life has left her. And what is it like while it lasts? It is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, butin the higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables it to be attended with pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. In the most complex of all the creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence. It also enables men by a hundred ingenious contrivances to inflict a great deal more pain than they otherwise could have done on one another and on the irrational creatures. This power they have exploited to the full. Their history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror, with just sufficient happiness interposed to give them, while it lasts, an agonised apprehension of losing it, and, when it is lost, the poignant misery of remembering. Every now and then they improve their condition a little and what we call a civilisation appears. But all civilisations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man. That our own civilisation has done so, no one will dispute; that it will pass away like all its predecessors is surely probable. Even if it should not, what then? The race is doomed. Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at a low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter. If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.'

There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists' case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.

It would be an error to reply that our ancestors were ignorant and therefore entertained pleasing illusions about nature which the progress of science has since dispelled. For centuries, during which all men believed, the nightmare size and emptiness of the universe was already known. You will read in some books that the men of the Middle Ages thought the Earth flat and the stars near, but that is a lie. Ptolemy had told them that the Earth was a mathematical point without size in relation to the distance of the fixed stars — a distance which one medieval popular text estimates as a hundred and seventeen million miles. And in times yet earlier, even from the beginnings, men must have got the same sense of hostile immensity from a more obvious source. To prehistoric man the neighbouring forest must have been infinite enough, and the utterly alien and infest which we have to fetch from the thought of cosmic rays and cooling suns, came snuffing and howling nightly to his very doors. Certainly at all periods the pain and waste of human life was equally obvious. Our own religion begins among the Jews, a people squeezed between great warlike empires, continually defeated and led captive, familiar as Poland or Armenia with the tragic story of the conquered. . .

The Problem of Pain. Copyright (c) by C. Lewis . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and have been transformed into three major motion pictures.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) fue uno de los intelectuales más importantes del siglo veinte y podría decirse que fue el escritor cristiano más influyente de su tiempo. Fue profesor particular de literatura inglesa y miembro de la junta de gobierno en la Universidad Oxford hasta 1954, cuando fue nombrado profesor de literatura medieval y renacentista en la Universidad Cambridge, cargo que desempeñó hasta que se jubiló. Sus contribuciones a la crítica literaria, literatura infantil, literatura fantástica y teología popular le trajeron fama y aclamación a nivel internacional. C. S. Lewis escribió más de treinta libros, lo cual le permitió alcanzar una enorme audiencia, y sus obras aún atraen a miles de nuevos lectores cada año. Sus más distinguidas y populares obras incluyen Las Crónicas de Narnia, Los Cuatro Amores, Cartas del Diablo a Su Sobrino y Mero Cristianismo.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
November 29, 1898
Date of Death:
November 22, 1963
Place of Birth:
Belfast, Nothern Ireland
Place of Death:
Headington, England
Oxford University 1917-1923; Elected fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford in 1925

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Problem of Pain 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
Ezekiel12224 More than 1 year ago
I am inbetween college semesters and on my seventh book of this break, which is Alister McGrath's Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. My sixth book was C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain. To put it bluntly, this book is simply amazing! The other books I've read this break have been good and great, but C.S. Lewis just blows my mind. I have read C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, and Mere Christianity, and while I cannot say this book is better than Mere Christianity, both books are on my top ten books list. There is no question that the problem of pain and suffering is one of the biggest challenges to Christianity. Not too long ago, Dinesh D'Souza debated Bart Ehrman on this topic at the University of North Carolina, and it is an important philosophical and theological question for both intellectual and emotional reasons. This book gives the most intellectually satisfying answers to the problems of pain that I have ever heard. Highly recommended to the Christian and skeptic alike!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If there could ever be a perfect book written about why their is pain in the world if there is a good God,this is it.
puppetmaster More than 1 year ago
The Problem of Pain by Christian Apologist and Author C.S. Lewis is an exploration of pain and how is raises so many theological and intellectual problems. It focuses on one question, but explores every aspect of the debate thoroughly. Why would an all-loving, all-knowing God allow people to experience pain and suffering? Reading this great book is not for the casual reader and you should expect to be intellectually challenged. The Problem of Pain is a very difficult read, but it brings up ideas and concepts that most writers ever attempt to bring up, but as long as you can get past all of the big words, the lessons to be learned are much bigger. Mainly, we tend to believe that an all powerful God who loves us would allow us to live without the smallest amount of pain. C.S. Lewis argues that instead of wanting God to love us more, we want him to love us less. To not want pain is to not want his love. The nature of love is that the beloved is to be perfected as to be able to love them more. Each chapter of the book then goes on to expound on various arguments against pain. He makes a great argument for pain in that any possible universe in that freedom and the self are included there must be pain. Next he establishes his argument for the total corruption and the sin nature of man, as without a sin nature there is no reason to be corrected. Then it is shown, in Lewis' understanding of creation, a very peculiar vision of the fall of man into sin. His storytelling ability shows through as he describes the fall of man and also how he compares man and the correction sent by God to a man and his dog. The next section of the book goes deep into the implications of pain itself and how it is to be understood. Lewis is also honest in his work as he does admit the difficulties in his arguments. He concludes his work with sections on Heaven, Hell, and the very interesting question of why do animals experience pain and what does that imply? Certainly, if you would like your mind to be stimulated in a new and exciting way, this is the book for you. I say new, though this amazing read has been around for many years. However, it introduces new concepts to many Christians today in a world filled with many questions and criticisms of our faith. These concepts would certainly enlighten many Christian readers to the truths of why there is pain in our lives and the lives of others. Lewis is incredibly knowledgeable about all things spiritual and it would help many christians to read this great book! I would recommend buying The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for yourself as we all could stand to learn from this book. Check it out at Amazon.com or Christianbook.com or any other bookseller! Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), known as Jack to his friends, was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably the most influential Christian writer of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. His major contributions in literary criticism, children's literature, fantasy literature, and popular theology brought him international renown and acclaim. read this and other reviews of mine at http://fablefreak.wordpress.com
Matthew000 More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put down Lewis' stunning treatment of the age old question, "can a good God and evil coexist?" He explains in sparkling clarity from first principles and everyday analogies, and he brings a down to earth perspective that stands out like a diamond from modern approaches to the question. He writes for both believers and skeptics, and expands our understanding of reality and God through his absolute integrity in his questions for truth. A must read!
Lawrence Shamley More than 1 year ago
C.S. Lewis is absolutely amazing in tthis book! His insight into God's use of pain and suffering in the life of the believer is phoenominal. On top of that, I learned a LOT of new words. I only had two issues with the book: his treatment of the Fall and Hell. It's clear that he doesnt take some scriptures seriously. Other than that, it's an awesome book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a fantastic read.Even though sometimes Lewis' intellect outruns mine and I have to back up and reread a few paragraphs,I found this book to be invaluable in equipping one to answer the question of pain and a loving God.The tone of the book,while very intelligent,never comes across condescendingly,and maintains a humility throughout.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Navy SEAL saying (probably also other Special Forces) is that pain is just weakness leaving the body. It's a nice platitude, but doesn't help understand it when one is in the midst of it. C.S. Lewis, one of the preeminent Christian writers of the 20th century, experienced pain, both physical and emotional. He lived through two World Wars and observed the pain that resulted. He loved and lost (to cancer) when he expected to be single all his life. His exposition of the conflict between God's will for good for his creation, and the effects of the free will with which we are gifted, is important. He addresses fear, in both the "I'm terrified of something" and the Biblical meaning of awe and overwhelmed respect. This is an important book in trying to see God's hand in dire circumstances, and in understanding that through free will, God allows things to happen the He would never make happen (short of a miracle, which Lewis discusses). To me, this is one of three essential books to understand much of what's happened over six decades on this planet. The other two are "A Grief Observed" (his journal of the emotional pain of losing his wife), and "The Great Divorce" (an exposition on the choices we make that lead us to heaven or hell). I have friends who love "The Screwtape Letters" or "Mere Christianity," and they are good books. But I've been personally affected by pain and loss, and found the works I've mentioned to be helpful in those settings.
MereChristian More than 1 year ago
In C. S. Lewis' <i>The Problem of Pain</i> , the author deals with how Christians confront the issues of suffering and pain. This is important, because, as Randy Alcorn points out in his recent book, <i>If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil</i> (which is very much in the same vein of logic and theology as Lewis in <i>Problem</i> ), this issue is the one that challenges many people, and causes them to doubt God's existence, goodness, or power. I can see why, and if we are honest, we all can. You see, how do we maintain belief in a good God when the universe is so evil? Or how can we believe a good God is omniscient and omnipotent in this life that is at times so terrible? Lewis attempts to answer this problem. He starts in a simple direction, as in all of his writings, by beginning with simple concepts of pain, justice, our understanding of these and other factors. He then expands on his thesis until he gets to the meat and bones of how the Bible addresses this issue. The only area I have problems with his arguments is on the issue of animals. Animals do not have souls in the ways we do, but they do have some type of soul. Some type of internal life granted them by the Divine will. The Bible is clear on this, and states that they will be in Heaven, are in Heaven right now, in fact. Maybe it won't be the same animal we knew, maybe it will be. We can eat animals, and we can have them to experiment on, humanely, of course. That is not the issue. The issue is that they are still loved and valued by God, so while we rule over them, we must do so humanely. This was a really nice treatment of the topic, though I admit that I prefer Randy Alcorn's book earlier described. It is more complete and thorough, but for a quicker and less time-consuming handling of the topic, <i>The Problem of Pain</i> works great.
BrianIndianFan 6 months ago
No one is immune to the pains of life. It is part of being human. It is how we respond to and overcome that pain that will determine how much our life can impact others. Seeking to understand the pain in my life, I came to C.S. Lewis tome in search of answers. Lewis starts at the beginning, with God. Or, to be more general, the recognition humans have for the supernatural and a sense of morality. Naturally, the apologist goes directly from there to a discussion of God. God is the guardian of morality and He needs to have THE historical event - Jesus' death and resurrection in order to reconcile humanity to Himself. Even though God is omniscient, He assumes great risk in creating creatures with free will. God must know that - as much as He loves His creations - some of them will not love Him in return. Further, free will allows for both courtesy and competition; humans who think of themselves will be inclined to compete with his fellow man and (most likely) injure them. Lewis goes through an apologetic detailing the fall of man and his wickedness, a deep discussion of human pain, as well as heaven and hell. The book seemingly gets off course towards the end with a discussion of animal pain. However, this is a minor quibble. The book is deep and ponderous; it is a book best read at a slower pace in order to understand the deep truths encountered within. BOTTOM LINE: A helpful book for those looking to understand the pain they feel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All true Christians live up to please God and serve him. That means save teens who recklessly "nook sex" ad "date" in romance and porn book reviews. Save people enslaved by sin. Change them and let God be known. We can only do so much for him, so how about doing eveything we can? Servant of Christ, leader of RP
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Sarah Bowden More than 1 year ago
Cs lewis does not dissapoint. Hes just as mindblowingly brilliant as ever. Constantly making the reader think like they never have before. Im only on pg 26 but loving it already.
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