Top Quotes from C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”

I’m angry at pain.

I don’t like it. It hurts, it’s terrible; I wish I could make it go away forever.

But life wouldn’t be life without pain. And as I’ve wrestled with this issue in the past, I’ve found beauty in the Jurgen Moltmann’s fearless and raw exploration of the “open wound of life” and also in C.S. Lewis’ beautiful picture of the powerful lion shedding tear after tear.

Lewis’ metaphor of a God who wraps us in his arms of comfort, and weeps right alongside with us in our pain — it’s probably one of the most beautiful, raw and real pictures of God’s love I’ve ever seen.

lewisSo when I learned that Lewis had written and entire book on the subject of pain, I wanted to check out. To be honest, I’ll always love Lewis’ stories more than his expository texts. I’m able to better grasp truths in The Great Divorce and the Narnia books than in Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. I’ll always hear truth stronger through a story than in a detailed, theological explanation.

So while I enjoyed this book and learned plenty, Lewis’ exposition of pain still has nothing on that beautiful, kind lion who wrapped sobbing and anguishing Digory in his arms and shed tears of sorrow.

So, with that ridiculously long explanation, here are my top quotes from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain.

In a world determined to ignore him, how does God get our attention?

1.”God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (91)

But we’re doing so well on our own. Do we really need him?

2. “Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terribly saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God in an interruption.”

I work hard, I reason, and I plan. Seriously: I’ve got this.

3. “The creature’s illusion of sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered […] And this illusion of sufficiency may be at its strongest in some very honest, kindly, and temperate people, and on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall.” (96)

But if it really comes to it, sure, I can turn to God.

4. “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hoped he’ll never have to use it.” (94)

If God is good, does pain exist? Why can’t the world just be full of joy and love?

5. “I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed by such lines [where happiness and kindness abound and they always lead to good things]. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction. … Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. … Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.” (32)

God’s view of ‘good’ vs. our view of ‘good.’

6. “On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in his eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.

On the other hand, if God’s moral judgement differs from our so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white’, we can mean nothing by calling Him good. […] The escape from this dilemma depends on observing what happens in human relations, when a man of inferior moral standards enters the society of those who are better and wiser than he and gradually learns to accept their standards–a process which, as it happens, I can describe fairly accurately, since I have undergone it.” (28-29)

Shattering the illusion — then the choice is up to us

7. “Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other ‘up against’ the real universe: he either rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deep repentance at some other stage) or else makes some attempting at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead him to religion.” (93)

Lewis’s personal feelings about pain.

8. “You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess, for I will tell you; I am a great coward. But what is that to the purpose? When I think of pain–of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a dessert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s hear out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and are suddenly increase […] If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” (105)

The end goal of pain.

9. “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” (34)

What we get when we give up our need for control.

10. “If pain sometimes shatters the creature’s false self-sufficiency, yet in supreme ‘trial’ or ‘sacrifice’ it teaches him the self-sufficiency which really ought to be his — the ‘strength, which, if heaven gave it, may be called his own’ […] Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God’s, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it.” (101)

God has me for a moment, then I’m back to myself.

11. “And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back […] God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over–I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.” (107)

How God uses evil for his good.

12. In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of the evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute. Now the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse–though by mercy it may save–those who do the simple evil. (111)

Pain is not easy to think about. It isn’t fun. But all of us have been in that place: of hurt, of misery, of anguish. If that’s where you are right now (it’s where I am–though I’ve chosen to leave that out of this, because I’d rather not play the game of ranking my particular levels of pain against yours) perhaps Lewis’s words can offer hope. Maybe he can offer a different perspective. A different lens through which to see your current struggle.

This is a training ground. A time of great struggle and growth. God is slowly, but with great care and intention, changing you into the person God has created for you to be. The process will hurt at times, and hurt deeply. But the person it is changing you into in the end–strong, wise and able to face more than you ever imagined–THAT is exactly the person God wants for you to be.

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