The Problem of Pain

by C.S. Lewis

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 28, 2024
The Problem of Pain
The Problem of Pain

Explore the profound insights of "The Problem of Pain" in this comprehensive book summary. Discover the unique perspectives on the role of nature, the paradox of atheism, and the Christian view of suffering. Unlock deeper understanding and practical application. Click now to delve into this essential read.

What are the big ideas?

The Role of Nature in Proving God

The book challenges the conventional approach of using nature to prove God's existence, arguing that canonical texts do not use natural phenomena for this purpose, suggesting a novel interpretation of religious proofs.

The Paradox of Atheism

The author explores the contradiction in the atheist viewpoint, which highlights the imperfections of the universe to deny a benevolent creator, yet struggles to explain the origin of the idea of a wise and good creator.

Elements Founding Religion

This book uniquely identifies three foundational elements in the origin of religion that jump beyond logical deduction: the experience of the Numinous, the moral law, and their combination, offering a fresh perspective on religious emergence.

Christianity and Pain

The book presents a unique view on Christianity by stating it introduces rather than solves the problem of pain, emphasizing the contradiction between the world's suffering and the Christian assertion of a loving, righteous ultimate reality.

Animal Suffering and Redemption

The book proposes a unique theory on animal suffering, suggesting it could stem from a fallen angelic being's corruption, and explores the potential immortality of tamed animals, linking their fate to human masters.

The Necessity of Hell

The book defends the difficult doctrine of hell as necessary within Christianity, supported by scripture, tradition, and reason, viewing it as essential for the free will and moral responsibility of humans.

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The Role of Nature in Proving God

The book challenges the common approach of using observations about the natural world to prove God's existence. It argues that canonical religious texts do not rely on this type of evidence to demonstrate God's reality. Instead, the book suggests a novel interpretation of how religious proofs should be constructed.

The conventional approach tries to infer God's existence from the characteristics of the physical universe, such as its vastness, emptiness, and the prevalence of suffering. However, the book contends that this strategy is flawed. If the natural world truly reflected God's nature, it would undermine rather than support belief in a benevolent, all-powerful Creator.

The book proposes that religious proofs must come from a different source, one that is not based on observations about the physical world. The author suggests that the reasons for believing in God's existence lie elsewhere, in realms beyond the empirical evidence of nature. This alternative approach avoids the contradictions inherent in trying to derive God's goodness from the apparent cruelty and indifference of the natural order.

Unfortunately, the provided context does not contain any specific anecdotes, stories, or examples that directly support the key insight about the role of nature in proving God's existence. The context discusses philosophical arguments about the nature of God, free will, and the problem of evil, but does not address the use of nature as a proof for God's existence. Without relevant examples from the text, I cannot provide a satisfactory response to the query. The context does not contain the necessary information to address this specific key insight.

The Paradox of Atheism

The paradox of atheism lies in the contradiction between the atheist's view of the universe's imperfections and the origin of belief in a wise and benevolent creator. Atheists often point to the universe's flaws - its vast emptiness, the prevalence of suffering, and the transient nature of life - to argue against the existence of a good God. However, this raises a puzzling question: how did the idea of a benevolent creator ever arise in the first place, given the apparent evidence against it?

The author suggests that the "direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief." In other words, the atheist's own case against God's existence relies on the assumption that the universe reflects the nature of its creator - an assumption that seems difficult to justify. If the universe is truly as bleak and uncaring as the atheist portrays it, then the belief in a wise and good God becomes inexplicable.

This paradox points to a deeper issue: the atheist's critique of religion may be based on a flawed understanding of the origins of religious belief. The author suggests that religion was not simply a product of ignorance or "pleasing illusions" about nature, but rather arose "in spite of" the apparent evidence of the universe. The belief in a benevolent creator, then, must have come from a different source than the mere observation of the natural world.

Here are the key examples from the context that support the paradox of atheism highlighted in the key insight:

  • The author notes that as an atheist, he would have argued that the universe is filled with "empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold" with few habitable planets, and that life on Earth is characterized by "death", "pain", and "misery" - yet he wonders how humans ever came to attribute this to "the activity of a wise and good Creator." This highlights the contradiction in the atheist viewpoint.

  • The author states that "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." This further illustrates the paradox of using the imperfections of the universe to deny God, when the idea of a benevolent Creator did not originate from observing the universe.

  • The author notes that for "centuries, during which all men believed, the nightmare size and emptiness of the universe was already known." This shows that the perceived flaws in the universe did not prevent belief in a good Creator, again highlighting the contradiction in the atheist argument.

Elements Founding Religion

The author identifies three key elements that form the foundation of religion, going beyond mere logical deduction:

The experience of the Numinous - a profound sense of awe and reverence towards a higher, mysterious power. This transcendent, non-rational experience is a core part of religious consciousness.

The moral law - a sense of ethical obligation and guilt that arises within the human mind, independent of external facts or circumstances. This moral awareness is a fundamental aspect of religious thought.

The combination of the Numinous and the moral law - the identification of the awesome, numinous power with the source of moral authority. This surprising leap, where the two disparate elements are fused together, is a crucial step in the development of religion.

These three elements - the numinous experience, the moral law, and their synthesis - are presented as the foundational building blocks that give rise to religious belief and practice. They represent a profound, non-logical jump in human consciousness that transcends mere logical deduction from empirical facts. Understanding these core elements provides a fresh perspective on the origins and nature of religion.

Here are the key elements founding religion identified in the context, supported by specific examples:

  • The experience of the Numinous: The context describes this as "the awful haunter of nature" - the sense of a powerful, mysterious, and awe-inspiring presence in the universe. For example:

    • "the awful Presence haunting black mountain-tops and thunderclouds"
  • The moral law: The context describes this as the moral code that humans feel compelled to follow, even though they fail to fully live up to it. For example:

    • "The moralities accepted among men may differ—though not, at bottom, so widely as is often claimed—but they all agree in prescribing a behaviour which their adherents fail to practise. All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt."
  • The combination of the Numinous and the moral law: The context explains how the identification of the awe-inspiring Numinous presence with the moral law is a key leap in religious development, even though the two seem contradictory. For example:

    • "Once again, this may seem to you very 'natural'. What can be more natural than for a savage haunted at once by awe and by guilt to think that the power which awes him is also the authority which condemns his guilt? And it is, indeed, natural to humanity. But it is not in the least obvious. The actual behaviour of that universe which the Numinous haunts bears no resemblance to the behaviour which morality demands of us."

The context presents these three elements - the Numinous, the moral law, and their combination - as foundational to the emergence of religion, going beyond mere logical deduction from the facts of experience.

Christianity and Pain

Christianity does not provide a simple solution to the problem of pain. Rather, it acknowledges the profound contradiction between the world's immense suffering and the Christian belief in a loving, righteous God.

The Christian faith does not aim to eliminate the "terrible task" of suffering, but instead offers ways to make it more "tolerable." For example, Christianity teaches that the sacrifice of Christ has already been accomplished, so believers need only "set right a misdirection" in their nature, not undergo complete renunciation like in Buddhism.

However, the book argues that the "real problem" is not why some suffer, but why some do not. The author suggests that the Christian doctrine of being "made perfect through suffering" is not incredible, even if it is not palatable. Ultimately, Christianity confronts the paradox of a merciful God allowing immense pain in the world.

Here are some key examples from the context that support the insight that Christianity introduces rather than solves the problem of pain:

  • The context states that the "peculiarity of the Christian faith is not to teach this doctrine [of suffering] but to render it, in various ways, more tolerable." This suggests that Christianity acknowledges the reality of suffering rather than providing a complete solution.

  • The passage notes that while Christianity "demands only that we set right a misdirection of our nature" and does not have "a quarrel, like Plato, with the body as such," it still requires "sacrifice in its supreme realisation" from followers, even if "in varying degrees." This indicates that Christianity recognizes suffering as an inescapable part of the human condition.

  • The author states that "all arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment," suggesting the difficulty of reconciling suffering with the Christian conception of a loving, just God.

  • The passage explores the "problem of animal suffering" as something that "the Christian explanation of human pain cannot be extended to," further highlighting the challenges Christianity faces in addressing the existence of suffering.

In summary, the context portrays Christianity as acknowledging the reality and difficulty of suffering, rather than providing a complete resolution to the "problem of pain." The religion is presented as introducing this dilemma rather than solving it definitively.

Animal Suffering and Redemption

The book proposes a fascinating theory on the origins of animal suffering. It suggests that the corruption of the animal kingdom may have been caused by a fallen angelic being, who encouraged animalistic behaviors to slip back into a more primal, destructive state. This corruption parallels the fall of humanity, where our own animality was no longer under our control.

Interestingly, the book explores the possibility of animal immortality, particularly for tamed, domesticated animals. It posits that these animals may attain a form of soulhood or selfhood through their relationship with human masters. Their destiny would then be tied to that of their human counterparts, potentially granting them a form of derivative immortality as part of the redemption of the entire created order.

This theory avoids the common pitfalls of either attributing animal suffering directly to God's design, or viewing it as a mere compensation for their earthly trials. Instead, it situates the fate of animals within the broader cosmic drama of the Fall and Redemption, where their suffering is not the result of divine caprice, but the consequence of a deeper spiritual corruption that afflicts the entire created world.

Here are the key examples from the context that support the proposed theory on animal suffering and redemption:

  • The author suggests that animal suffering may not be God's direct handiwork, but rather the result of "a mighty created power" like Satan corrupting the animal kingdom before humans arrived. This is described as "the Satanic corruption of the beasts" analogous to the corruption of humanity.

  • The author proposes that one of man's original functions may have been "to restore peace to the animal world" and that if man had not "joined the enemy", he may have succeeded in this to an "extent now hardly imaginable."

  • Regarding the potential immortality of animals, the author suggests that for "tame animals" their immortality would be "related to man - not, this time, to individual masters, but to humanity." The author explains this by saying the animal's "personality is largely the gift of man" and their "mere sentience is reborn to soulhood in us."

  • The author acknowledges the "complete silence of Scripture and Christian tradition on animal immortality" but argues this does not preclude the possibility, as Christian revelation is not intended to answer all intellectual curiosities, only "our immediate practical necessities."

Key terms and concepts:

  • Satanic corruption: The idea that an evil angelic being like Satan corrupted the animal kingdom before humans.
  • Restore peace to the animal world: The proposed original function of humans to bring harmony to the animal kingdom.
  • Tame animals' immortality: The idea that some domesticated animals may have an immortality tied to their relationship with humanity.
  • Mere sentience reborn to soulhood: The concept that animals' basic consciousness is elevated through their connection to humans.

The Necessity of Hell

The Christian doctrine of hell is a necessary component of the faith. It upholds the free will and moral responsibility of human beings.

Scripture, tradition, and reason all support the existence of hell. The Bible depicts hell as a place of punishment, destruction, and privation for those who reject God. This aligns with the idea that evil must be confronted and not simply ignored. A world without consequences for grave moral failings would undermine human agency and the very purpose of creation.

While the imagery of hell can be disturbing, the doctrine serves an important function. It guards against flawed theological views that either make God the source of evil or posit an independent evil force. Instead, Christianity asserts that God is good and that evil arises from the misuse of free will by His creatures. The doctrine of hell upholds this crucial tenet.

Ultimately, the Christian vision of hell, though difficult, is a reflection of the gravity of moral choice and the seriousness with which God regards the human person. It is a sobering truth, but one that points to the high dignity and responsibility entailed in being made in God's image.

Here are examples from the context that support the necessity of hell within Christianity:

  • The author states that the doctrine of hell is not "tolerable" but can be shown to be "moral" through a critique of objections against it. This suggests hell is a difficult but necessary doctrine.

  • The author discusses the case of an evil, unrepentant man who remains "perfectly convinced that the laugh is on his side" and continues in "ghastly illusion." The author argues that for such a person, it is better that they "know it'self a failure, a mistake" rather than remain in eternal, contented delusion. This illustrates how hell serves to assert justice and truth against unrepentant evil.

  • The author states that "the demand that God should forgive such a man while he remains what he is, is based on a confusion between condoning and forgiving." This suggests that hell is necessary to maintain the distinction between condoning evil and truly forgiving it.

  • The author cites Thomas Aquinas' view that suffering can have "a certain goodness in particular circumstances" - i.e. when it serves to make one aware of evil. This supports the idea that hell, as a form of suffering, is necessary to confront unrepentant sinners with the truth about their evil.

In summary, the context presents hell as a difficult but essential Christian doctrine that upholds justice, truth, and moral responsibility in the face of unrepentant evil, rather than condoning it. The examples illustrate how hell serves these vital theological purposes.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "The Problem of Pain" that resonated with readers.

A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.

The idea that humans can diminish God's glory through their actions is a misconception. God's power and glory are not dependent on human recognition or worship. No matter how hard one tries to reject or ignore God, His greatness remains unaffected, much like the sun continues to shine brightly despite someone's futile attempts to obscure it.

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.

Emotional suffering can be more pervasive and difficult to endure than physical pain. People often try to hide their mental anguish, which only adds to their burden. It's easier to admit to physical discomfort than to confess emotional turmoil, like a broken heart. This secrecy can exacerbate the pain, making it harder to cope with.

You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw -- but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of -- something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat's side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it -- tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest -- if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself -- you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say "Here at last is the thing I was made for". We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

There's a profound, unspoken connection that binds us to the things we love, a thread that weaves together our deepest desires and passions. This ineffable quality is unique to each individual, a secret signature that resonates within us, often remaining just out of reach. It's an eternal longing that transcends fleeting desires, a yearning that echoes through our lives, seeking fulfillment.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "The Problem of Pain"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. Why do traditional proofs of God’s existence using natural observations face criticism in the book?
2. What alternative does the book propose for the proofs of God's existence?
3. What is the flaw in arguing for God's existence based on the characteristics of the physical universe according to the book?
4. What inherent contradiction does pointing out the flaws in the universe pose to the atheist's argument against a benevolent God?
5. Why is the belief in a benevolent creator considered inexplicable in the view of atheists who highlight the universe's imperfections?
6. According to the text, why might the origins of religious belief not solely be attributed to observations of the natural world?
7. What is the experience of the Numinous and how does it contribute to religious consciousness?
8. How is the moral law described as an element of religious thought?
9. Explain the significance of combining the Numinous with the moral law in the development of religion.
10. Why does Christianity not offer a simple solution to suffering?
11. What is the 'real problem' of suffering according to the insight discussed?
12. How does Christianity aim to address the issue of pain and suffering?
13. What does it mean that believers only need to 'set right a misdirection' in their nature according to Christian teachings?
14. How does Christianity view the concept of achieving perfection through suffering?
15. What does the proposed theory suggest as the cause for the corruption of the animal kingdom?
16. How might domesticated animals attain a form of immortality according to the theory?
17. How does the theory explain the reason for animal suffering in relation to cosmic events?
18. What could have been humanity's role in relation to animal suffering if humans had not joined the enemy?
19. Why is the concept of hell considered a necessary part of Christian doctrine?
20. How does the doctrine of hell impact the theological understanding of God and evil?
21. What is the significance of the severe depiction of hell in Christian theology?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "The Problem of Pain". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. In what ways might you initiate discussions or debates that challenge the conventional approach of inferring divine presence from the physical world?
2. How can you use the concept of contrasting perceptions to engage in more constructive dialogues about belief systems?
3. In what ways can acknowledging the universal sense of moral law influence your personal or communal ethical decisions?
4. How can you integrate the understanding of suffering as part of human nature into your daily life to build resilience and empathy?
5. How might you alter your treatment of animals based on the concept that they might share in a broader spiritual and moral narrative?
6. In what ways can you contribute to the peace and well-being of the animal world, reflecting the concept of restoring peace as an inherent human role?
7. How can you engage with others in a discussion about the importance of consequences for moral actions to reinforce the idea of moral responsibility?
8. What steps can you take to better understand and explain the balance between divine justice and mercy in your faith community?

Chapter Notes

1: Introductory: The Problem of Pain

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Argument from Nature Against God's Existence: The author notes that many people try to prove God's existence from the works of nature, but this only gives readers grounds for thinking the proofs of religion are weak. The author argues that no canonical writer has ever used nature to prove God's existence.

  • The Atheist's Perspective on the Universe: The author describes his previous atheistic perspective, which viewed the universe as mostly empty space, with few bodies that could sustain life, and a world where life is characterized by pain, suffering, and death. This led the author to conclude that the universe is not the work of a benevolent and omnipotent Creator.

  • The Problem with the Atheist's Perspective: The author notes that the very strength of the atheist's case poses a problem - if the universe is so bad, how did humans come to attribute it to a wise and good Creator? The author argues that the direct inference from the evil in the world to a virtuous Creator is staggering and must have a different source.

  • The Origin of Religion: The author identifies three key elements in the origin of religion: 1) the experience of the Numinous (a sense of awe and dread in the presence of the divine), 2) the moral law and consciousness of guilt, and 3) the identification of the Numinous with the moral law. The author argues that these elements cannot be logically deduced from the facts of experience, but represent a "jump" in human understanding.

  • The Unique Claim of Christianity: The author identifies a fourth element in Christianity - the historical event of a man claiming to be one with the Numinous and moral law. The author argues that this claim is either that of a lunatic or the truth, and if true, makes credible the Christian claims about the significance of this man's death and resurrection.

  • The Problem of Pain in Christianity: The author argues that Christianity does not solve the problem of pain, but rather creates it, by asserting that ultimate reality is righteous and loving, in contrast with the painful realities of the world. However, the author finds the Christian assurance compelling, despite the lack of logical compulsion.

2: Divine Omnipotence

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Omnipotence and Impossibility: Omnipotence means the power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not the power to do the intrinsically impossible. Intrinsic impossibilities are not "things" but "nonentities" that even God cannot perform, as they are self-contradictory. However, humans may sometimes mistake what is intrinsically possible or impossible.

  • Self-Consciousness and Freedom: The minimum condition for self-consciousness and freedom is that a creature must be able to apprehend itself as distinct from God. This requires the presence of an "other" or environment, which leads to the necessity of a stable, independent "Nature".

  • The Role of Matter: Matter serves as a neutral "field" or "world" in which free creatures can interact and make their presence known to each other. For this to be possible, matter must have a fixed nature and obey constant laws, which can lead to both beneficial and harmful consequences for the creatures.

  • The Necessity of Suffering: Given the requirements of self-consciousness, freedom, and a stable natural order, some degree of suffering (e.g., pain) is an inevitable aspect of any possible world. Attempts to eliminate all suffering would undermine the very possibility of a world with free creatures.

  • The Unity of Creation: The various necessary elements of a world (e.g., matter, natural laws, the possibility of suffering) are not independent parts that could be "tinkered" with, but rather aspects of a single, self-consistent act of creation by God. The idea of "possible worlds" that God could have created instead is too anthropomorphic, as it implies a choice between alternatives, which is incompatible with God's perfect goodness and wisdom.

3: Divine Goodness

  • The Dilemma of God's Goodness: The author presents a dilemma - if God's moral judgement differs from ours, we cannot meaningfully call Him good, but if His goodness is the same as ours, it threatens the notion of His superior wisdom.

  • The Process of Moral Growth: The author uses the example of a person entering a society with higher moral standards to illustrate how our conception of goodness can evolve - the new standards are not simply a reversal, but a continuous progression towards what we already recognize as better.

  • Distinguishing God's Goodness from Mere Kindness: The author argues that the common conception of God's goodness as mere kindness or benevolence is inadequate, as true love involves a desire for the beloved's moral perfection, not just their happiness.

  • The Unique Relationship between Creator and Creature: The author explores analogies like the artist-artwork, man-beast, and father-son relationships to elucidate the unique intimacy and authority in God's relationship with His creatures.

  • The Selflessness of God's Love: The author contends that God's love is fundamentally different from human love, as He has no needs or passions to satisfy, and His love creates the very goodness in the beloved, rather than being a response to it.

  • The Purpose of God's Demands: The author argues that God's demands for our worship, obedience, and moral transformation are not for His own benefit, but for our own good, as He desires to make us truly happy by fulfilling our nature.

  • The Inevitability of Finding Goodness in God: The author concludes that there is no alternative to finding our good in God, as He is the only true source of goodness, and any other pursuit will ultimately lead to misery.

4: Human Wickedness

  • The Sense of Sin is Essential to Christianity: The author argues that a recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad, and until we truly feel this assumption to be true, we cannot fully understand what He is talking about.

  • Kindness is Easily Attributed to Oneself: The author suggests that "kindness" is a virtue that is fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on inadequate grounds. We often console ourselves for our other vices by a conviction that "our heart's in the right place" and that we "wouldn't hurt a fly," even when we have made no real sacrifices for others.

  • The Danger of Overcoming Shame: The author argues that the modern attempt to overcome the sense of shame is misguided. Shame is a natural and important response to our own wrongdoing, and trying to eliminate it can lead to a "frankness" that is merely the result of being "sunk below shame."

  • The Illusion of Safety in Numbers: The author suggests that we may be deceived by the feeling that if all men are as bad as the Christians say, then badness must be excusable. However, he argues that the fact that the whole human race may be a "local pocket of evil" does not make our individual corruption any less real or any less deserving of God's wrath.

  • The Relevance of Virtue: The author argues that the standard of virtue that seems "impracticable" to us is actually terribly relevant to the conditions of the world, and that a consistent practice of virtue by the human race would bring about peace, plenty, and well-being.

  • The Danger of Shifting Responsibility: The author warns against the tendency to shift the responsibility for our behavior onto inherent necessities in human nature or the nature of being finite. He argues that while perfect obedience to the moral law may not be possible, we are still responsible for the degree of obedience that is within our power.

  • The Humility of the Saints: The author argues that the humility of the saints, in which they acknowledge their own vileness, is not a "pious illusion" but a record of truth with "scientific accuracy." He suggests that the holier a person is, the more fully they are aware of their own corruption.

5: The Fall of Man

  • The doctrine of the Fall is the Christian answer to the origin of evil, asserting that man made himself evil through the abuse of his free will, not because God made him so.
  • The doctrine of the Fall does not answer the question of whether it was better for God to create than not to create, nor does it justify punishing individuals for the sins of their ancestors.
  • The developed doctrine of the Fall claims that man was originally completely good and happy, but disobeyed God and became what we now see. This is not disproven by modern science, which does not show that early humans were more "brutal" or "savage" than later humans.
  • The sin that caused the Fall is described as Pride, where a creature tries to set itself up as the center rather than God. This is a sin committed daily by all people, as we constantly try to make our own plans and desires the center rather than submitting to God.
  • The pre-Fall "Paradisal man" was fully conscious and in control of his physical and psychological processes, commanding all lower life forms. He had a direct, effortless relationship with God.
  • The Fall occurred when this Paradisal man, tempted to "be as gods" and have his own independent existence, turned from God to himself, losing his delegated authority and falling under the control of natural laws.
  • This Fall resulted in a radical alteration of human nature, with the human spirit becoming a "prisoner" in its own body, subject to pride, ambition, and other sinful desires. This corrupted nature was then passed down to all later generations.
  • While the specifics of the Fall may not be fully comprehensible, the doctrine serves the important function of asserting that the evil in the world is not due to God, but to the misuse of human free will.

6: Human Pain

  • Pain as Inherent in the Existence of Souls: The possibility of pain is inherent in the existence of a world where souls can meet. When souls become wicked, they will use this possibility to hurt one another, accounting for a significant portion of human suffering.

  • Two Senses of Pain: Pain has two senses - (A) a particular kind of sensation, and (B) any experience, physical or mental, that the patient dislikes. The problem of pain arises with pain in the B sense, which is synonymous with "suffering", "anguish", "tribulation", "adversity", or "trouble".

  • The Necessity of Surrendering the Self-Will: The proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator. This self-surrender is inherently painful, as it involves the death or mortification of the usurped self-will, which has been inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation.

  • Three Ways Pain Facilitates Mortification: (1) Pain unmasks the existence of error and sin, which are often masked evils. (2) Pain shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency, making the creature more receptive to God. (3) Pain enables the creature to choose obedience to God in the absence of natural inclination, making the act of self-surrender more genuine.

  • The Intrinsic Goodness of Obedience: While the content of our obedience to God is always intrinsically good, the mere act of obedience is also intrinsically good, as it enacts the creature's proper role in relation to the Creator.

  • The Doctrine of Death and Resurrection: The doctrine of death and resurrection, where the creature must die to itself in order to be reborn in God, is not unique to Christianity but is a universal truth found in various religious and philosophical traditions.

  • The Variability of Suffering among Believers: The degree to which believers experience suffering and sacrifice varies, with some experiencing the "supreme realization" of sacrifice, while others seem to get through life relatively easily. The causes of this distribution are unknown.

  • The Limitations of Justifying Suffering: While the author attempts to justify the doctrine of suffering, he acknowledges that such arguments are unlikely to make the experience of pain more palatable. The author's own experience of pain is one of cowardice and a desire to escape it.

7: Human Pain, Continued

  • The Paradox of Tribulation in Christianity: Christianity teaches that suffering is blessed, but also that we should try to alleviate poverty and avoid persecution. The resolution is that suffering is not good in itself, but what is good is the sufferer's submission to God's will and the compassion it evokes in others.

  • The Distinction Between Simple Good, Simple Evil, and Complex Good: In the fallen and partially redeemed universe, we can distinguish between (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.

  • The Difference Between Inflicting Pain and Accepting Tribulation: Inflicting pain on others, except in cases of urgent necessity and clear authority, is simply evil, even though God may use it for complex good. Accepting tribulation sent by God, on the other hand, is a means of submitting the will to God and reducing the rebel will.

  • The Difference Between Ascetic Practices and Tribulation: Ascetic practices that strengthen the will are only useful as a means of preparing the will to offer the whole person to God. Tribulation, on the other hand, does the work of reducing the rebel will directly.

  • The Impossibility of a Heaven on Earth: A Christian cannot believe in promises of a heaven on earth, as tribulation is a necessary element in redemption and will never cease until the world is either redeemed or no further redeemable. This does not, however, discourage social work, as a strong sense of our common miseries is a good spur to remove present evils.

  • The Unique Nature of the Christian Doctrine of Obedience: The Christian doctrine of self-surrender and obedience is a purely theological doctrine and cannot be used to draw any political conclusions about forms of government or civil authority.

  • The Scattered Nature of Joy and Pleasure: God withholds from us the settled happiness and security we desire, but has scattered joy, pleasure, and merriment broadcast. This is because the security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God.

  • The Unique Nature of Pain as an Evil: Of all evils, pain is the only one that is "sterilized or disinfected," as it has no tendency to proliferate in its own right. Unlike error and sin, pain, once over, is sterile and does not breed more pain.

8: Hell

  • The Doctrine of Hell: The doctrine of hell, where some individuals are not redeemed and face eternal damnation, is a difficult but necessary Christian doctrine. It is supported by Scripture, tradition, and reason, even though it is deeply unpalatable.

  • Free Will and Responsibility: The possibility of hell is a consequence of human free will. If humans have the ability to freely choose, then they must also have the ability to reject God's redemption, which leads to their damnation.

  • Retributive Punishment: The idea of retributive punishment, where the wicked are made to recognize the evil of their ways, is not inherently unjust. It reflects a moral demand that evil should not be left unchallenged.

  • Eternity and Proportionality: The apparent disproportionality between transitory sin and eternal damnation can be addressed by understanding eternity as a "plane" or "solid" rather than a mere prolongation of time. The finality of death may be a Divine mercy, as it prevents us from making an even greater mess of our lives.

  • Imagery and Symbolism: The vivid imagery of hell, such as fire and torture, should not be taken literally. These are symbolic representations of the unspeakable horror of being separated from God, which can be described as destruction, privation, and the loss of one's humanity.

  • Mercy and Charity: The objection that a merciful God would not condemn anyone to hell is based on a confusion between condoning and forgiving. Forgiveness requires acceptance, which the unrepentant sinner cannot provide.

  • Omnipotence and Free Will: The possibility of the ultimate loss of a soul does not negate God's omnipotence, but rather reflects the miracle of creating beings with free will, which necessarily entails the risk of defeat.

  • Personal Reflection: The discussion of hell should not focus on the damnation of others, but rather on the possibility of our own damnation. The chapter is a warning to the reader, not a judgment on specific individuals.

9: Animal Pain

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Distinguishing Sentience from Consciousness: The chapter argues that animals may have sentience (the ability to feel sensations) without necessarily having consciousness (the ability to recognize and connect those sensations as their own experience). This distinction is important for understanding the nature and extent of animal suffering.

  • Possible Origin of Animal Suffering: The chapter suggests that animal suffering may have originated from the corruption of the animal kingdom by a fallen, angelic being (e.g., Satan) prior to the creation of humans. This hypothesis provides an explanation for the existence of carnivorousness and the "intrinsic evil" of animals destroying each other.

  • Potential Immortality of Tamed Animals: The chapter proposes that tamed animals, whose personalities are largely shaped by their human masters, may have a form of derivative immortality by being "in" their masters in a Pauline sense. Their immortality would be tied to and dependent on the immortality of their human caretakers.

  • Uncertainty about Wild and Mistreated Animals: The chapter acknowledges the difficulty in extending the theory of tamed animal immortality to wild animals or domestic animals that have been mistreated. It suggests that their fate may be different and more uncertain.

  • Avoiding Anthropomorphism and Compensation-based Explanations: The chapter cautions against anthropomorphizing animals and imagining their immortality as a simple compensation for their suffering. It argues that the answer must be more nuanced and organically connected to the broader narrative of the world's fall and redemption.

  • Possibility of Corporate Animal Selves: The chapter entertains the idea that some animal species may have a "corporate self" rather than individual selves, and that their immortality may be expressed in a way that is difficult for humans to imagine or comprehend.

10: Heaven Awaits The Faithful

  • Heaven is a central tenet of Christianity: The chapter argues that any Christian solution to the problem of suffering must account for the joys of heaven, as this doctrine is "woven into [Christianity's] whole fabric." Denying the existence of heaven would undermine the Christian faith.

  • Desire for heaven is innate, though often unrecognized: The author suggests that the desire for heaven is a "secret signature" on each soul, a longing that underlies all our other desires, even if we are not fully aware of it. This desire is often obscured by more immediate passions and concerns.

  • Heaven is a place of individuality and communion: In heaven, each soul will have a unique relationship with God and a unique contribution to make to the "communion of the saints." This diversity will not undermine unity, but rather enhance the "symphony" of heavenly worship.

  • Self-giving is the key to heaven: The author argues that the law of self-giving, of constantly pouring oneself out for others and for God, is the fundamental principle of reality, from the Trinity to the individual soul. Heaven is a place where this self-giving is perfected.

  • Heaven is not a "bribe" or "escape": The author rejects the notion that the promise of heaven is a mercenary incentive or a way to avoid the duties of the present world. Rather, heaven is the fulfillment of the deepest human longing, a longing that is not selfish but rather a desire to know and be known by God.

  • Suffering and pain have meaning in light of heaven: The chapter suggests that the "sufferings of this present time" can only be properly understood in the context of the "glory that shall be revealed" in heaven. The joys of heaven give meaning and purpose to the pains of earthly existence.


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