The Problem Of Observed Pain: A Study Of C. S. Lewis On Suffering -- By: Robert Walter Wall

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 26:4 (Dec 1983)
Article: The Problem Of Observed Pain: A Study Of C. S. Lewis On Suffering
Author: Robert Walter Wall

The Problem Of Observed Pain:
A Study Of C. S. Lewis On Suffering

Robert Walter Wall*

John Locke once wrote that “pleasure and pain, like other simple ideas, cannot be described, nor their names defined; the way of knowing them… is only by experience.” Yet few, including myself, are ever content to leave Locke’s advice well enough alone. The history of theological and philosophical speculation is replete with examples of those who have refused to leave discussions of pain to the intuitions of experience. This results in discussions, organized in the appropriate dogmatic categories, which seem to never quite translate the feelings of pain—both tangible and intangible—from one person for the next. But the genre of “problem of pain” papers and books marches on—sometimes painfully so.

Whether philosophical or theological, discussions about the problem of pain seem always to be carried on within the dispassionate confines of dogmatic categories. Whether intentioned or unintentioned they seem to remove the mysterious, the unknowable, the ambiguity from the very center of human experience. Indeed human suffering cannot be organized and articulated to make it seem reasonable. For the one experiencing pain, everything seems to be in disarray. Suffering, although a part of human existence, is not very humane. Indeed it has been my experience that suffering transforms the way I think about humanness. Beauty may be transformed into ugliness, statements of dogmatic certitude may become translated into questions of doubt and skepticism, suffering may make one numb to the needs and even to the love of others. Such moves are not toward community with Creator and with creature but rather toward an insulated sell centeredness, and all of this at the same time when one should know better. Perhaps part of the problem is that theological advice just does not prepare one for what pain really does to human experience. Theological advice too often seeks to demystify that which is essentially mysterious. Why in the world do people need to suffer, and in fact do suffer, sometimes for an even worse end? Dogmatic answers simply do not prepare one for the blows of doubt and depression that result from ruined plans. Indeed, if taken too seriously such answers merely intensify the problem.

This need not completely rule out the various “problem of pain” advice that abounds in the world. Reason is critical for reasonableness, of course, and books built with profound theological insight, such as Lewis’ own Problem of Pain, can help rebuild the chaos suffering leaves behind and even help anticipate the inevitable suffering of human suffering. But what is needed is balance. Sometimes suffering makes no sense at all. Sometimes suffering calls a people or a person to...

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