My Problem with The Problem of Pain

C. S. Lewis never claimed to be a theologian or pastor.  He makes some big theological boo-boos, but he was a great thinker.  But some of his thoughts in The Problem of Pain are a problem for me, if true.

Take for example two of his contentions about pain. There is no doubling of pain, and animals don’t feel pain. If a person has a toothache, the amount of pain in the room doesn’t double if another person with a toothache comes in. Animals have nerves and senses but they don’t have minds to feel. Lewis, therefore, will say pain can take place in an animal but not that the animal can feel pain (132-4). These contentions seem counterintuitive and even more importantly contra Scripture.

We say to someone, “I don’t want to add to your pain.”  Is that merely one of those sayings that is more figure than fact like “I don’t want to rain on your parade?” But when Jesus doesn’t go to a sick Lazarus and then waits to go till he is four days dead isn’t Mary’s and Martha’s pain added to?  But maybe John says the Lamb of God carries away the sin of the world not the sins and Paul says Jesus was made to be sin not sins because pain can’t be doubled.  Nothing can be added to the damning or punishing that even one sin deserves.

But I can’t shake the conviction that pain can be added to.  I have found that if you direct a newly widowed woman to one who was widowed less than a year before, the two together make for more pain.  Don’t you get that sense about group therapy?

And what about animal pain?  I’m no animal right’s activist, but most who hunt believe in taking an animal so its moment of pain is brief.  By the way, animals not taken by a bullet or arrow die much more painfully. (Here I am committing the error of petitio principii which is mistranslated as “begging the question” but really means “assuming the initial point”.)  Animals very rarely fall asleep in peace.  No, weaker animals are quickly pounced on. Older animals starve to death for lack of teeth to chew. Aside from whether animals die by weapon, weather, predator, or hunger, didn’t Paul say the whole world travails in pain together?  If the mountains and trees and lakes and streams are in travail I think the creatures that inhabit them feel their pain.

This isn’t an abstract point with me especially when it comes to the point of pain not being doubled. Physical loads can be added to and people definitely feel that, so why not immaterial ones like pain? Also I think of the Good Friday hymn, “No pain that we can share/ But He has felt its smart; / All forms of human grief and care/ Have pierced that tender heart” (O Perfect Life of Love, 3). The long and short of it is that if pain seems to be able to be added to my puny heart, I find no comfort if it was not added to the heart of Jesus.

Perhaps Lewis conclusion stems from another error he makes.  He says the finite brain of Jesus was not capable of the infinite and to think it was is to risk becoming a Docetist (134). Though this is not the way Lewis argues the point about there being no doubling of pain, it seems that if you think the finite not capable of the infinite you would also think that nothing finite could be added to the infinite, and so pain could not be said to be doubled. If He bore one pain, He bore it infinitely.  Actually, I can see how this could be said. But I find more comfort in my Lord knowing what it means to have a backache added to a toothache added to heartache, and that He bore the innumerable pains and the unfathomable weight that my sins cause myself and others.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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