Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some thoughts on God and Evil from C. S. Lewis's "A Grief Observed"

    My wife and I are reading through A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. It is the record of C. S. Lewis's thoughts about his grief after the death of his wife. When he married her, she had already been diagnosed with terminal cancer. After their marriage she had a brief remission and then died. This is an amazing book to read, written by the man who also wrote The Problem with Pain. He deals with the problem of pain in this book as well, but from a different perspective. I would encourage you that as you read these words, you remember that these are the thoughts of a man who has just lost the person he loved the most in this world, and is dealing with the loss. Some of the things he says, if they had been said by anyone else, would seem inconsiderate and insensitive.

    We have both, and I'm not ashamed to say it, cried and laughed because of what he says. Sometimes his thoughts are difficult to take. The book has been very pertinent for us as my wife is frequently plagued with unexplained pain. This suffering has been put into perspective by Lewis's thoughts. I'd like to share some of his thoughts that have been particularly thought provoking for us.

    "You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? ...Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. (p.22-23)"

   "If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to 'glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild. (p. 26-27)"

    Concerning Materialism, Lewis says, "If H. 'is not,' then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren't, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared. But this must be nonsense; vacuity revealed to whom? Bankruptcy declared to whom? To other boxes of fireworks or clouds of atoms. I will never believe - more strictly I can't believe - that one set of physical events could be, or make, a mistake about other sets. No, my real fear is not of materialism. (p. 28-29)"

   Concerning some of his writings that seem harsh, he says, "Aren't all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it? Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. (p. 33)"

    "From the rational point of view, what new factor has H.'s death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned - I had warned myself - not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accepted it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn't for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which 'took thse things into account' was not faith but imagination. (p. 36-37)"

    "What is grief compared with physical pain? Whatever fools may say, the body can suffer twenty times more than the mind. (p. 40)"

    "The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed - might grow tired of his vile sport - might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't. (p. 43)"

    "What do people mean when they say, 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never been to a dentist? (p. 43)"

    Discussing the feeling he has that in his deepest sorrow God does not seem to be present, Lewis says this, "The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like a drowing man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. (p. 46)"

    "God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down. (p. 52)"