Evaluation: “The Problem of Pain” by CS Lewis & “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner
The preliminary observation on CS Lewis’ work does not pose one definite position on the problem of pain. He is careful enough not to draw a conclusion based on one proposition. He does not claim that suffering is directly connected, as a judgment from God, to one’s sin. Nor does he assert that God uses pain as a means to bring people to him.
Lewis introduces Divine Goodness before he enters the topic of pain and makes some comments to disclose the possible range of meanings of the word ‘goodness’. He does not simply jump into the conclusion by affirming that righteous suffers. He examines the divine nature of God and his entities. He builds his own world through analogs and set forth how a created being is different than Creator.
The paradoxical view of God being too far away to reach and very close to us at the same time also acknowledges the unique relationship between God and a man. In his own words, Lewis writes, “God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being”. He is too far away from us in a metaphysical sense that he is an Aseity – self-existing and self-sufficient – God. “Because we are the objects of His love,” such an infinite, immutable, and eternal God loves us. Since God is self-existent and self-sufficient, he does not need man not does he existed for man, but a man needs him because he is the center of all creation.
God is good and the Father holds this attribute. He is the provider. It is not a mere anthropomorphic exaggeration. The reality is the incarnation of the Word into flesh and lived among the creatures. “In that sense, all His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give and nothing to receive”. Therefore, man is such a scornful creature who owes God the least of the things in his life. And the issue of the problem of human suffering and the omnipotence and goodness of God reconciles when we apprehend that God is love who manifested his love for us through Jesus Christ.
Kushner’s work is full of doubt; however, it is straightforward and easy to understand. He rejects those seven possible reasons why bad things happen to good people and offers his unique view of the nature of God – He has no dominion over all creations.
I strongly oppose his approach and do not agree with his explanation of innocent suffering. His rebuttal of those theistic opponent views leads to the screwed image of God. Having said this, I do not necessarily agree with those traditional theistic views either. Kushner’s own personal painful experience and the observation and assessment of suffering of those whom he is acquainted and ministering to in the past led him to raise the very ethical and practical questions that every human being faces one or another turn in life.
Christianity itself has many tragic historical events which are followed by the problem of pain and suffering in the course of a long spiritual journey. Regarding the problem of pain, Christianity is mysterious in the sense that people are left to resolve the problem of pain by fitting it into their own exposition of the Scripture. But this does not necessarily mean that you can make the Bible say what you want it to say. The simple way to look at this problem is to reflect upon the very nature of God-Man who also suffered along with us.
In the classic masterpiece of ancient literature, the book of Job is one of the books that adds new horizon to the traditional perception on the problem of pain and suffering. It says that a man suffers without any reasonable cause that a human intellect cannot comprehend. Life and world around is very mysterious, and we do not have wisdom to know what lies before us. We are limited to our understating and knowledge of God and his work in the universe.
Throughout the book, the innocent sufferer Job is not answered why he suffered. Since the characters in the book have a common belief that suffering is the dire consequence of sin, the book invalidates the rigid law of retribution theology. By which means, our suffering is not always connected to our sins. Sometimes, we do not know why righteous suffers.
As we have examined the nature of God, sometimes he refines our faith like a pure gold. Most of the time, as Lewis suggests, we are the ones who bring pain in our lives. But in the case of Job, he is an innocent sufferer. There is no accusation against him. His innocence and suffering are juxtaposing without providing any concrete explanation why he is in the position of total rejection. The ultimate answer to his WHY question is simple: God does not answer ‘why’ question. This is not a true resolution to the problem of pain and suffering. On the other hand, no man can be fulfilled and satisfied in his heart by mere words.
Nevertheless, the book of Job is the epitome of the human problem why righteous suffer, it is also the enriched story with spiritual and moral teaching about the meaning of suffering. As God puts Job in the spot where he comes to know the oxymoron – his insignificance worthiness, and harsh kindness of God, he simply submits himself and realizes the divine providence of God. God’s providence cannot be read as a book. There are certain things that we do not understand, and we cannot push God reluctantly to answer the mysterious of lives. However, we can be comforted to know that he is working for our redemptive purpose even in odd circumstances. Thus, there is a great relief to know his providence, just as Job was relieved from all agony and turned into God-like character. It is good to know who God is rather than knowing why God did such and such.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)