Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 7 - Human Pain continued

For anyone new here, I am doing a series of "book club" posts going through "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. The format I post in is similar to my bible posts, section headings in bold, summary in regular text, my comments in italics. The only difference here is there are no section headings in the book so I make them up.


Apparently, this chapter will have 6 propositions which are necessary to "complete our account of human suffering" and don't follow from one another. Obviously if they don't follow from one another the order is arbitrary

1. Paradox: suffering is good but you should reduce suffering

There is an apparent paradox in Christianity, it says that suffering is good and the poor are blessed, and yet Christians are supposed to reduce suffering and give to the poor. At first it seems like these two ideas are at odds, but if we look at it a little more in depth we can see that things are a little bit more complicated and the two ideas can coexist. For one thing, it is not the suffering itself that is good, but it is the act of submission to God in the face of suffering that is good.

This idea I have a little bit of trouble with. I guess it really depends on what "submission to God" means. I think some people use it as an excuse to not really do anything and wait for God to take care of things. This is clearly a terrible idea. I also hear people who say that God helped them do something that they "couldn't have done on their own". This is obviously just my opinion, but I think they just sell themselves short and they did do it on their own. In those cases though, what really matters is they were able to get through whatever they were going through ok.

There are a couple of things we can identify, the first is simple good performed by good people who are following God's commands. The second is simple evil performed by people who are rebelling against God. The third is the fact that God can exploit the simple evil for his own "redemptive purposes". And the final thing is the complex good that comes from this action by God, the redemption of the evil actions. So the person just doing simple good is obviously a good thing. The person doing evil can be used by God for a more complex good. Therefore, doing good to end suffering is something that we want to do because it helps God do the more complex good.

As long as people have a reason why they can be motivated to help people who are suffering I guess I am ok with it. Seems like simple empathy should do the job though.

2. Tribulation will ~never end

Tribulation is necessary for redemption, so we should never expect that it will end unless God decides that the world is completely redeemed or too far gone. So any time someone claims that if we make some change in social policy that it would fix all of our problems, we should view it with skepticism as it can't fix all problems without God's approval.

I agree with his conclusion but not his reasoning. Any time someone says that their policy would fix all of our problems (whether it be raising or lowering taxes, letting the free market control everything, letting the govt control everything, or whatever else) we should view it with skepticism. But not because God won't let it fix everything, but because the world is complex and most of the time when you fix a problem you create another. The goal should be to try to improve one thing while having as few unintended side effects as possible. Also, under his worldview, couldn't the "magic bullet" policy potentially be what God wants that would make everything better? It seems to me like the possibility that God would approve of some action and fix all of our problems would be the only situation in which any action could potentially have that effect.

3. You can't apply Christian principles to politics

Specifically referring to the doctrine of obedience and surrender, they don't apply to politics.

Well this seems like a cop out. 

4. We can have isolated happiness

We cannot have the complete settled and secure happiness that we crave, this is because it would be a barrier to God because it would allow us to rest in our hearts. But there are plenty of places that we can have isolated fun and happiness. We should not mistake these inns of happiness for permanent homes.

It's funny, this reminded me of the new simpsons episode for this week. I agree with the general idea of what he is saying here, we are never completely safe from unhappiness and we should strive to be happy in the moment while also being aware of the fact that it won't last forever. But this is just because that is the way of the world. Nothing lasts forever. The idea that it is this way because God doesn't want us to get to comfortable and it will keep us away from him is silly to me. Also, if that is true, then how does heaven work? Are we eternally happy there or not? If so why isn't there a barrier to God there? It really doesn't make sense to me.

5. Don't sum human suffering

It is a mistake to consider the sum of all human suffering. If I have a toothache that causes pain x, and another person has the same, is there 2x worth of suffering? No, because no one is suffering that much. Adding up all of the cumulative human suffering is nonsense.

It appears he is countering an argument, so it is hard to comment very much without knowing exactly what he is talking about, but I really don't like what he is saying here. If 2 people are suffering it is worse than 1 person suffering. A million people suffering is worse than 1 is it not? Perhaps all that matters is the maximum amount that a single person is suffering. But I think that the number of people suffering that much also matters. Again though, it is hard to argue effectively when I don't know the context

6. Pain is sterilized evil

Pain and sin have some things in common, after they are over, they both may recur, so we need to go and remove the cause. But with pain that is all, once it is done it is done. With sin, we also need to repent.

That's fine I guess, I don't have much to say here except this bit just seems silly to me.


Well that is all, next week chapter 8 - Hell

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