In case you missed the April devotions Pastor Thomas posted daily on Facebook and Instagram, we have collected them here for you.
1 April 2022
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).
At this point, Lewis lays out his aim for this chapter: to identify some of the presumptions, mindsets, and illusions that prevent us from acknowledging that we are in need of God’s perfecting love. As we shall see, these things are seldom truly “wicked” themselves, and only become obstacles to us when we misuse them by making them so.
The first such mindset that Lewis confronts is this: that we can content ourselves with being “comparatively” good. By this, Lewis means the ponderous calculus by which we use our evaluations of other people’s goodness to make an authoritative statement about our own. “I am not as bad as that person, who is a proper monster,” we might think to ourselves, “and I am no worse than that person, who is alright in my book, so I must be alright, too, on the balance.”
This, Lewis argues, is “outside” thinking, which errs by concerning itself solely with appearances. Only on such a superficial level can we presume to place ourselves within a larger pecking order of relative goodness. Human wickedness does not create hierarchy; instead, it is an equalizer: we are all broken no matter how well-maintained our public persona might be.
You, O God, know us. Help us to know ourselves. Amen.
4 April 2022
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me (Psalm 38:3-4).
Welcome back, friends! First, a quick bit of place-setting to give you a sense of where we are. For the last few weeks, we have been making our way through C.S. Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain, in which Lewis lays out the Christian account of why pain persists in a world created and sustained by a good and omnipotent God. Presently, Lewis is exploring humanity’s need for God’s perfecting love, and some of the mindsets that can prevent us from recognizing that need.
The next mindset that Lewis confronts is this: that there is really no such thing as individual sinfulness, only the collective sin manifested in the various social, political, and economic systems which order our world with varying degrees of success.
Do not misunderstand: Lewis believes in systemic sin and advocates, here and elsewhere, for its redress. However, Lewis also believes that evils of such magnitude can only be fruitfully confronted by people who are clear-eyed about their own imperfection. “We must learn to walk,” he writes, “before we can run.”
You, O God, attend to both the details and the big picture. Help us never to forsake either one for the other. Amen.
5 April 2022
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love […] Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:1-3).
The notion that “time heals all wounds” is a fiction, as anybody who has ever been wounded will tell you. And yet, C.S. Lewis argues, many Christians believe–consciously or unconsciously–in the truth of a similar proclamation: that “time cancels sin.”
By this, Lewis means the notion that all but our most egregious misdeeds will inevitably become the stuff of harmless dinner party anecdotes, provided that enough time has elapsed between the misdeed and the dinner party. The more distant a memory that a sin becomes, the argument goes, the less sinful it becomes as well, so why should anyone want to be better? All will be swallowed up by time in the end.
Such a mindset, Lewis argues, forgets that God has a very different relationship with time than we do. We feel ourselves to be moving through time, such that we perceive a past, a present, and a future. God, on the other hand, is present across time all at once, which means that nothing–including our sin–fades with the passing years. Lewis makes this point not to scare or shame us, but to remind us that we cannot simply outlive our imperfections.
You, O God, are the truth. Help us to keep time from numbing us to you. Amen.
6 April 2022
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8).
Humans, as a rule, like to be part of a crowd. There is no shame in this; we are social creatures, after all. Like most things, though, groups have upsides and downsides, with the latter often justified as simply reflecting “the way things are.”
This unhealthy underside of our group-oriented mindset is the source of the next objection to humanity’s need for correction that C.S. Lewis addresses in The Problem of Pain: the “safety in numbers argument.” The objection goes like this: if, as Christianity teaches, we are all sinful creatures, then sin must, at the end of the day, be readily excusable. It is, after all, “the way things are.”
Lewis responds by returning to a point he made at the very beginning of the book, the one about how our very dissatisfaction with the state of things in our world suggests that our moral outlook has been shaped by more than nature alone. By the same token, Lewis now argues, even the most insular group has some sense that theirs is not the only way of doing things. As long as that is so, “numbers” are never an excuse.
You, O God, are our only true source of safety. Help us to find it in you, not in numbers. Amen.
7 April 2022
Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness; answer me in your righteousness. Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you (Psalm 143:1-2).
Instead of moving on to the next potential objection straight away, C.S. Lewis lingers for a while on the question of “safety in numbers” and insular group values. He does so to critique the idea that the society of our present age is a clear improvement upon those that have come before.
Here, the professor of Medieval Literature (for that is what Lewis was) rises up to defend his era of study from the sneers of modern folk, arguing that it is folly to assume the total superiority of one age over another. The truth, Lewis insists, is that every age has its particular virtues and vices, but when it comes to net goodness and badness, the needle does not move much from one age to the next.
It is tempting to dismiss this section as Professor Lewis putting in a good word for the Age of Chivalry, but look again. His point here is that the first mistaken mindset he explored, the idea that it is sufficient to be “comparatively good,” can be scaled up to apply to groups and historical eras, which often proves to be a very effective disguise.
You, O God, are the God of every age. Help us to regard our own with humility. Amen.
8 April 2022
My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long? Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love (Psalm 6:3-4).
Now that he has identified some of the problems with assuming the inherent superiority of our modern era–and using that assumption as an argument against humanity’s need for God’s perfecting love–C.S. Lewis does an about-face to stare down a similar argument made from the opposite direction.
By “opposite direction,” I mean in terms of outlook. Instead of seeing the modern era as a time of unprecedented promise, these objectors instead see our present age as one of unprecedented cruelty. The problem, the argument goes, is simply a lack of kindness, which calls into question whether or not Lewis has really been helping matters with his constant “harping” on the word.
Lewis responds by arguing that the issue is not the lack of kindness, but the “reduction of all virtues to kindness.” This strikes Lewis as counterproductive because we cannot be effectively kind without also being many other things–brave, humble, motivated, and charitable, just for starters. It is the disinclination to virtue generally which ails us, Lewis argues, and is “disinclination to virtue” not merely sinfulness by another name?
You, O God, embody all virtue. Help us to embody more of it. Amen.
9 April 2022
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:5-6).
What is the value of moral uprightness to the Christian? You may balk at that question, but C.S. Lewis does not. Instead, Lewis contends with the objection–made in his day as surely as it was made before and will continue to be made–that the Church has made a fetish of morality, elevating it above all else and undermining the Gospel in the process.
In fact, Lewis is fairly receptive to this argument, as far as it goes. He agrees that Christianity is not, in its essence, a set of rules or a call to general do-goodery. Rather, the essence of Christianity is worship of the living God. Remove that from the center and Christianity becomes, as one of my seminary professors once colorfully put it, “Rotary with candlesticks.”
Nevertheless, Lewis argues, the Gospel is also undermined when we fail to attend to the moral commitments of our worship. “God may be more than moral goodness. [God] is not less,” Lewis writes. “The road to the Promised Land runs past Sinai.” Likewise, the road to being transformed by God necessarily involves admitting that God’s moral instruction has a “claim upon us.”
Free us, O God, for joyful obedience, so that we may be transformed in you. Amen.
10 April 2022
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart (Psalm 119:33-34).
“Why begin ‘till we know that we can win? And if we cannot win, why bother to begin?”
This lyric, from Peter Stone’s musical 1776, expresses a common and understandable way of looking at things. Life is too short to waste on futile pursuits. We would do well to stick to things that will pay off.
This outlook informs the final objection to the notion of humanity’s need for God’s perfecting love that C.S. Lewis explores in The Problem of Pain: the objection of futility. The reasoning goes like this: humanity will never reach a point at which all will embody perfect virtue, so why should we try for it all?
Lewis responds that to look at perfection as a game that we cannot win is to miss the point. The Christian life is not about winning. It is about wanting: wanting to grow in the knowledge and love of God for our whole lives long, wanting to receive and reflect God’s love more perfectly even as we acknowledge that there will be times when we fall short, wanting to follow in the footsteps of Christ. God does not call us to win. God calls us to follow.
You, O God, have triumphed over sin and death. Help us to participate in your victory instead of fighting on alone. Amen.
11 April 2022
Hide your face from my sins, O God, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit (Psalm 51: 9-10, 12).
We come now to the end of The Problem of Pain’s chapter on human wickedness. Before carrying on, C.S. Lewis pauses to collect his thoughts and clarify a couple of things:
First, Lewis does not believe, as some Christians do, that humanity is too depraved to will and do good. If we were that wicked, Lewis argues, we would surely not be capable of acknowledging our own wickedness. Any account of the human need for God’s perfecting grace, Lewis writes, must bear in mind that said grace abounds.
Second, Lewis’s goal in plumbing the depths of human badness has NOT been to make us all feel perpetually ashamed. Such feelings, Lewis argues, are only made valuable by the holy pursuits to which they lead. There is nothing to be gained–and much to be lost–from being made to feel ashamed as a rule. Rather, the reality of our sinfulness is meant only to humble us, and Lewis notes that “humility, after the first shock, is a cheerful virtue.”
Your love, O God, is greater than our shortcomings. Help us to remember this, and to rejoice. Amen.
12 April 2022
Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call (Psalm 102:1-2).
At this point, dear reader, you may be wondering when our man C.S. Lewis is going to talk about the problem of pain in his book called The Problem of Pain. Fear not; he has not forgotten. He is lining things up, preparing us for the big conversation by making sure that we all mean the same thing when we talk about the persistence of pain in light of a good and omnipotent God. A recap of what we have lined up so farr:
Pain need not disprove the existence of a good and omnipotent God; indeed, our sense that pain is wrong suggests just the opposite.
God is omnipotent, but God also desires that we be free to make our own choices, even the bad ones.
God is good, but the aim of God’s goodness is to perfect us, and being perfected can be an uncomfortable experience.
And yes, we need God’s perfecting love.
There is just one more duck left for Lewis to put in the row before tackling the problem of pain straight on: how we came to need God’s perfecting love. Stay tuned.
You, O God, know our story. Help us to see how ours is wrapped up in yours. Amen.
13 April 2022
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes (Psalm 19:7-8).
In answer to the question of how we came to need God’s perfecting love, C.S. Lewis turns his attention to the Christian account of the origin of sin and death (and thus, pain): “the Fall,” as it is often called.
If you were reading along with us back in February and March–when we were making our way through Athanasius’s On the Incarnation–you will remember the Fall. If you were not, have no fear. The cliff notes version: God created everything, and at the outset, everything was good, including us. God created us with free will, however, which allowed us to turn away from God’s sustaining love. This, in turn, made sin and death a part of our lived experience.
For Lewis, this account serves only one function: to guard against incorrect understandings of God. The God of the Fall narrative is neither the morally indifferent source of both good and evil nor a force for good set against an equally strong force for evil. The God of Christianity is all good, and all powerful, just as Lewis argued in previous chapters.
You, O God, do not enact evil. Help us not to do so, either. Amen.
14 April 2022
Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you. Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human (Psalm 9:19-20).
C.S. Lewis makes his point about “the Fall” serving only as an affirmation of God’s character because he knows all too well that the Christian account of how evil and death came into the world has been used–wrongly, in Lewis’s view–to inform other, more dubious ideas. Lewis addresses this reality by stating plainly what the doctrine of the Fall does NOT do:
The Fall does NOT suggest the possibility that creating the universe may not have been a good thing to do. If God is good–and Lewis argues that God is–then our being created was a good thing.
The Fall does NOT invite us to understand sin, evil, and death as a generations-long punishment, God’s retribution for human disobedience. Such a god, Lewis argues, would be vengeful and petulant in the extreme, and thus plainly NOT good.
Lewis’s main point is this: the Fall is not a story about the transgressions of our distant ancestors, who then left us holding the bag. The Fall is a story about all of us, the choices we make every day, how those choices affect those around us, and where grace comes in.
You, O God, do not hold grudges, but instead give grace. Help us to do likewise. Amen.
15 April 2022
God’s delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:10-11).
Now that he has established what the story of the Fall is, and what it is for, C.S. Lewis considers a pair of alternative stories about the trajectory of human development that challenge the logic of the Fall.
The first challenge goes like this: the story of the Fall tells us that sin, evil, and death persist because humanity’s corrupted nature persists, but humanity has clearly improved itself over time. Surely, on the balance, we are better–meaning more advanced and civilized–than our ancestors.
Lewis concedes that we have certainly learned to make better tools, but he argues that it is a mistake to equate material progress with all-around betterment.
The story of the Fall, Lewis writes, has no quarrel with the theory of evolution, or with the human capacity to innovate. Rather, it is the pseudoscientific idea that technological accomplishment entails moral superiority that Lewis rejects. The “lower” animals may not possess virtue, Lewis writes, but neither do they possess ambition, and there is no creature more dangerous–in any century–than a human being driven by blind ambition.
Turn us, O God, from those ambitions that distract us from you and yours. Amen.
16 April 2022
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment (Psalm 51:3-4).
Yesterday, we saw C.S. Lewis answer a common challenge to the logic of the Fall story–the counter-assertion that humanity has not fallen into sin, but is growing further out of it with each passing generation–by differentiating evolutionary development from moral improvement.
Today, we shall see Lewis answer another such challenge. It goes like this: the Fall recounts humanity’s turn toward sin, but sin can only be identified if there is an existing moral standard to violate, something against which to sin. Such a standard can only be generated by society. Therefore, the logic goes, sin is a social phenomenon and not a product of individual sinfulness, as the Fall story asserts.
As we have seen Lewis believes in the reality of social sin, but he insists upon the reality of individual sinfulness as well. His reasoning is this: the sin that precipitated the Fall was not the sin of human against human, but of human against God, and that sort of sin requires no preexisting social code. It only requires that we choose to live for ourselves rather than for God as ourselves.
We live because of you, O God. Help us to live for you. Amen.
17 April 2022
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory (Psalm 63:1-2)
Now that C.S. Lewis has answered what he judges to be the two most pressing arguments against the essential truthfulness of the story of the Fall, he sets about retelling that story himself, with particular emphasis on how this all figures into the problem of pain.
Notably, Lewis does not make more than passing reference to the version of the story with which people are most familiar: the one that includes Adam, Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the crafty serpent. Instead, Lewis digs into the basic act which that story dramatizes: humanity’s turning away from God and inward, toward ourselves.
This, Lewis argues, is what the Christian tradition means when it talks of the Fall of humanity. By endowing us with consciousness–the ability to know ourselves as individuals distinct from others, and from God–God gave us the opportunity to enter into a truly mutual relationship with God, but also–crucially–the opportunity not to. As the old maps say, here be dragons, or rather, serpents.
Because of you, O God, we know ourselves. Help us to know you. Amen.
18 April 2022
Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands […] You change them like clothing, and they pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end (Psalm 102:25, 27).
It is the freedom of the will, which we explored yesterday, that C.S. Lewis identifies as the condition of created humanity which leaves open the possibility of the Fall. It is “the risk which God apparently thinks worth taking” in order to maintain the potential of a truly mutual relationship with us.
Unfortunately, Lewis argues, we have not–on the main–used this gift for its intended purpose. Instead, we have used it to displace God from the center of our self-perceptions and replace God with, well, ourselves. We have made idols of ourselves, in other words, and made God the servant of our will rather than the other way around.
This is a bad thing, of course, but Lewis allows that the situation he has described is not without appeal. We all want to be our own boss, after all. Such an approach to life, however, does not merely offend divine morality. It is also unsustainable. Unlike God, we lack the power to sustain life. As Lewis playfully puts it, we are adjectives. We cannot stand on our own. We need a noun.
Deliver us, O God, from our restless struggle to go it alone. Help us to rest in your grace. Amen.
19 April 2022
God loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth (Psalm 33:5-6).
By this point in The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis has recounted the story of the Fall, writing that God created humankind such that each person possesses a consciousness and will all their own. As a result, although we were created good, we are free to take or leave God’s offer of mutual relationship. We tend to leave it, which is a problem because God is the source of all life. To turn away from God is to become subject to sin and death. Thus, the Fall.
But what might the onset of the Fall say about the character of God? If God did not see it coming, is God omniscient? If the Fall is all part of the plan, and sin and death are merely punishments, is God good?
Lewis responds to these questions by reminding us that God does not experience time the way that we do. What we experience as distinct historical moments are, to God, all part of the same “dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil, arising from the creatures” a conflict that is only resolved when God assumes–and redeems–our suffering nature.
Help us, O God, to dance with you, for yours is the dance of life, abundant and eternal. Amen.
20 April 2022
In my distress I cry to the Lord, that he may answer me: “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue (Psalm 120:1-2).”
C.S. Lewis concludes his chapter on the Fall story by turning his attention to the question that he knows is lurking in the backs of our minds: whose fault is this? How do we think about blame and responsibility when considering humanity’s fall into sinfulness?
Now remember, Lewis is not looking to pin the blame on a specific figure (i.e. Adam or Eve). Rather, he is talking about all of us: how we ought to understand our role in the Fall.
Lewis argues that to think about our own responsibility, well, responsibly, we must hold two truths together, though our temptation will likely be to drop one in favor of the other. The first truth is that we are born with the inclination to sin, which is not, strictly speaking, our fault. The second truth is that when we indulge in that inclination, the resulting sin is of our own making.
In other words, though we need not bear the blame of sin itself, we are nevertheless responsible for ourselves, and the pain that we cause to ourselves and others by our sin.
And speaking of pain, Lewis is finally ready to face that subject head-on. Stay tuned.
When we fall short, O Lord, help us to remember that your grace is enough. Amen.
21 April 2022
For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin (Psalm 38:17-18).
At last, C.S. Lewis turns his full attention to the problem of pain. “It has been a long time coming,” you might be thinking, but the proceedings chapters were not digressions. Bit by bit, Lewis has been defining the problem.
Defining terms can sound like a dreary exercise, but Lewis shows it to be a vital one. How can one talk about God’s omnipotence without a definition of “omnipotent,” about God’s goodness without a definition of “good,” or about a fallen world without a definition of “the Fall?”
There is but one word yet to define: pain, and Lewis begins this climactic section of his book by seeing to that. He observes that by “pain,” we can mean one of two things. The first is the biological sensation of pain. The second is an experience that one dislikes and believes to be rooted in some sort of wrong.
Lewis argues that we can disregard the first meaning because it has no moral dimension (an aching muscle, for instance, can be the result of needed exercise and thus “feel good” even though it is painful). It is the second definition with which we will henceforth be concerning ourselves.
Help us, O God, to know you, and in knowing you, to praise you well. Amen.
22 April 2022
How can people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your Word. With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you (Psalm 119:9-11).
By this point in The Problem of Pain, Lewis has argued that the existence and persistence of pain in our lived experience makes sense within the framework of Christian belief. If this is so, it follows that pain must have the potential to be of some use, that God is capable of taking pain, which is unquestionably bad, and putting it to work for good.
Lewis meets this argument by naming three ways in which pain might be made to serve God’s interests–and, by extension, our own.
First, Lewis writes, pain reminds us more forcefully than almost anything else that we are not hosts unto ourselves. Our need for God’s sustaining love–to say nothing of the support of our fellow people–is well-disguised during seasons of pleasure and plenty. Then, we can imagine that we control the fullness of our destiny. When this illusion is shattered by the onset of some crisis or other, it is often painful, but by and by, it may liberate us from the tyranny of believing that we have no one to depend on but ourselves.
Help us, O God, to depend on you, and in depending on you, to be transformed by you. Amen.
23 April 2022
My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word.When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes (Psalm 119:25-26).
Before naming the second way in which pain might be made to serve God’s purposes, C.S. Lewis pauses and takes a moment to acknowledge the weight of the subject that he has taken on.
This moment harks back to the book’s introduction, when Lewis wrote that his aim in writing The Problem of Pain was to present the Christian account of pain’s existence and persistence in our lives, but he was under no illusion that such an account should make pain any less painful.
Here, Lewis again acknowledges the limitations of what he is trying to do. In arguing that God can use pain to serve God’s purposes, Lewis is NOT arguing that this makes pain good in and of itself, that we ought to wish pain upon ourselves and others, or that those who are experiencing pain have no cause for complaint.
Such notions, Lewis writes, could not be further from his meaning here. In arguing that God can make use of pain, Lewis does not mean to minimize its impact upon us. Instead, he means to suggest that “when pain is to be borne,” it can be borne in hope.
Help us, O God, to seek you in joy and in pain, so that we may see you at work in the fullness of our lives. Amen.
24 April 2022
Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was humbled I went astray, but now I keep your word (Psalm 119:66-67).
Having made clear that God’s ability to make use of pain in no way entitles us to dismiss it, C.S. Lewis names a second way that pain might be put into God’s service: it can remind us that God is not meant to be one object of worship among many.
Lewis notes that pain often seems most objectionable when the people involved seem to be living basically inoffensive lives. By “inoffensive,” we usually mean that they have achieved things in life that we consider good, like working an “honest job,” or that they possess personality traits that we admire, like thrift.
It is good to be good, of course, but Lewis’s point is that accomplishments and virtues are not “get-out-of-pain-free” cards. To suppose that our good deeds or most winning qualities ought to protect us from pain is to make those things objects of our worship–idols, if you will. The only proper object of our worship–the only true protector in our time of need–is God, and pain can help us to recognize that we have been leaning too heavily on gods of our own making.
Help us, O God, to seek you before all else, so all that we see and all that we do may be in light of you. Amen.
25 April 2022
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice because I have hoped in your word (Psalm 119:73-74).
The third way in which God might put pain to positive use requires some review. Recall that in his discussion of the Fall, C.S. Lewis argued that our principle stumbling block to living as God made us to live is the gulf which now separates our will from the will of God. We want different things for ourselves than God wants for us, which prevents us from flourishing as we otherwise might.
Here, Lewis argues that because of the gulf between God’s will and ours, most of our attempts to bring our wills into greater alignment with God’s are going to be painful, to some degree. Lewis takes care to explain that this does NOT make things which we like inherently bad for us, nor does it make things which we do not like inherently good for us. Such a faith would be nothing short of sadistic. Rather, Lewis’s point is that if we mean to align our wills with God’s, some discomfort will be involved.
Help us, O God, to turn towards you, so that we may grow in virtue and holiness. Amen.
26 April 2022
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law (Psalm 119:108-109).
With that, C.S. Lewis has just a few more loose ends to tie up before he has said all that he has to say about the Christian account of pain. He advances six points, in no particular order.
The first point begins with a reminder of something that Lewis first noted some chapters ago. God may indeed put pain to positive use but this does NOT make pain inherently good. If good does come of pain, that is only because God has intervened and made a way for it to serve God’s good purposes.
The importance of this insight, Lewis writes, can scarcely be overstated. The act of assigning positive moral value to pain in advance of its occurrence opens the door to all manner of evil. Looking outward, it can lead us to suppose that we are helping others by inflicting pain upon them. Looking inward, it can lead us to suppose that we are helping ourselves by inflicting pain upon ourselves.
Neither supposition is true, but the error of both is only revealed if pain remains a fact of our fallen existence that God is manipulating to serve what is good, not a good unto itself.
Prevent us, O God, from conferring goodness upon those things which only you can make good. Amen.
27 April 2022
This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God (Psalm 18:31-31)?
The second of C.S. Lewis’s six closing observations concerning the problem of pain recalls a point he made when discussing the Fall. There, Lewis showed that this doctrine has no quarrel with what scientists tell us about the development of humankind by distinguishing between material and moral advancement. Certainly, we as a species continue to fashion ever-finer tools, but that does not make us more just.
In rejecting this narrative of inevitable human progress, Lewis writes, we should also reject the idea that any one adjustment to the makeup of our society–be it “economic, political, or hygienic”–will be sufficient to solve all of our problems and eliminate pain from our lived experience.
Certainly, it is incumbent upon followers of Christ to help fashion a society that better serves our neighbors. Lewis fully endorses the pursuit of a more just world, but means to warn us against making idols of our preferred solutions. A given policy proposal or ideological stance may indeed accomplish good, but unlike God, such things are not ends unto themselves.
You, O God, are our one true end. Help us to pursue good with you in mind. Amen.
28 April 2022
All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God (Psalm 86:9-10).
“Since political issues have crossed our path,” C.S. Lewis writes as he introduces his third closing observation concerning the problem of pain, “I must make it clear that the Christian doctrine of self-surrender and obedience is a purely theological, and not in the least political, doctrine.”
This point, made by Lewis as he watched Europe become engulfed in war at the hands of Nazi Germany, is always in urgent need of being made. We often speak of people abusing the power they wield–of “playing God”–and, here, Lewis pins down just what we mean by that. He has just spent a whole book arguing, among other things, that our greatest happiness is to be found in obedience to God, in giving over our whole selves to God’s perfecting love. Unfortunately, presumptuous people in power–in all places, in all times, and on every scale–have long asserted that they, too, can bring about perfect happiness in exchange for total obedience.
The trouble with such a view, Lewis argues, is that no amount of power can transform a member of creation into its Creator. God is the only one who can return flourishing for obedience because it is God who makes creation flourish.
Help us, O Lord, never to claim your position as our own. Amen.
29 April 2022
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion (Psalm 20:1-2).
How happy are we meant to be in this life? Down through the centuries, different voices in the Christian tradition have offered a myriad of different answers, some helpful, some less so. C.S. Lewis takes up the question here, in his fourth closing observation on the problem of pain, and contributes his own answer.
His conclusion is this. On the one hand, we are certainly meant to experience “joy, pleasure, and merriment” in this life, and we are equally meant to work for the alleviation of pain for ourselves and others. On the other hand, Lewis argues, the existence and persistence of pain–of sufferings which prevent us from experiencing