Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Problem of Pain: The Goodness of God

Previous posts on this topic here and here.

"Love and kindness are not coterminous... Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes."

"You asked for a loving God: you have one. ... not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself... persistent as the artist's love for his work and despotic as a man's love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father's love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes."

"It is good for us to know love; and best for us to know the love of the best object, God. But to know it as a love in which we were primarily the wooers and God the wooed, in which we sought and He was found, in which His conformity to our needs, not ours to His, came first, would be to know it in a form false to the very nature of things. For we are only creatures: our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative."

"When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy. Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted... whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. "
-C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

C. S. Lewis clearly was a product of some of the worst cultural prejudices of his time, and its difficult for me to type out these quotes without ranting about the years I spent convinced by my religion that my very nature was abhorrent. However, the damage this version of Christianity does to impressionable young girls is not the point today. The point is how Lewis defines the love and goodness of God in order to get around the problem of pain in a world ruled by a loving God. Like I said in the previous post, Lewis admits that if God is loving as we generally think of the term, then there is no way to reconcile the reality of suffering people experience with the power of God. He solves this problem by redefining "loving" as "abusive."

I realize this is a bold claim, so to illustrate my point, here's a picture:
This is an infant with smallpox. According to Wikipedia, during (the first 3/4s of) the 20th century between 300 and 500 million people died of smallpox; 80% of children infected with the virus that causes smallpox died. Smallpox is not caused by any kind of human sin. Its not even sexually transmitted- you can get it simply from breathing near someone who is infected. Or you could, anyway, until it was eradicated with the use of vaccinations in a worldwide effort.

Since we measly humans were able to erase smallpox from the face of the earth, I have to assume that even Lewis' not-quite-omnipotent God had the power to do something about it, but didn't; therefore, either smallpox was created for some purpose or God just didn't care. Its clear from the selections above that Lewis believes the same thing I was taught growing up: God cares, and does have a purpose: any misfortune that can't be prayed away is actually a lesson from God specially designed to make one a better, more holy person. Its all for the best, see. God hurts you because he loves you.

I think Lewis' upbringing and cultural blindness influenced his philosophy of love. Influenced really isn't a strong enough word. Dictated, maybe- although maybe I'm being harsh on his culture and the deviance here is all Lewis'. The "love" Lewis describes is the blindly jealous obsession of the stalker who would kill the object of his affection rather than see her love another, the stubborn stupid pride of the father who disowns his son for choosing a career of which he doesn't approve. People who love do beautiful things, and they do horrible things, but I think that most people at least wish that their love would produce only things that are beautiful, and not horrible. Lewis doesn't seem to agree. For him, the horrible things done in the name of love are a more true sign of love than anything else. He patterns his God after the most twisted and evil side of human nature, and calls Him good.


The Torch said...

Hey sis,

I am enjoying your posts on this topic. It really helps me to see where you are coming from and how you feel about these things. I have a few questions/ponderings...


1) What would you say is the reason you decided to become an atheist? the straw that broke the camels back so to speak...

2) By definition God is someone or something that has, both more knowledge and power than we humans will ever comprehend or understand. So it stands to reason that we mere mortals could never truly know the reasons for some or even most of the things God chooses to do. Why is it so hard to let go and accept that you can't control things most of the time?

3) What exactly do atheists believe?

Just so you know, these questions are only meant to open dialog and help me understand better, I hope that none of this sounds frustrating or inflammatory. Because it is not and would never be my intention to do that.

Love you,
The Bro

Anonymous said...

P.S. Forgot to ask also...Did you order that John Piper book I suggested? He will have a totally different take on this whole thing than lewis. Also another book by C.S. Lewis that is good on this topic, is "A Grief Observed"...It was written, write after his wife died of some terminal illness, don't remember what...

Love you again,

Tayi said...

Hey, I will answer your other comments at length later, but as for your last one: the library here doesn't have the Piper book you recommended. They do have "The misery of Job and the mercy of God" though, is that one any good?