In chapter seven of The Problem of Pain Lewis presents six paradoxes. The paradox in his first proposition is very fascinating to me. I have actually thought about the problem before, but not to conclusive ends. As usual, Lewis was able to articulate the matter in an almost transcendentally clear and understandable way.
A summary of the paradox is as follows: The bible says that those who suffer, and those who are poor, etc are blessed. This would seem to imply that suffering is good, and therefore should incline us as Christians to pursue it. However, the bible tells us to try our best to alleviate both poverty and suffering. We are warranted fleeing from persecution, and praying for deliverance from suffering. In fact, as Lewis mentioned, Christ himself prayed that he would be delivered from his suffering prior to being beaten and crucified.
However, Lewis gave an explanation for rejecting the claim that suffering is good. First, he distinguished that the simple goodness of God is different from the complex goodness that results from creatures rebelling against the simple good, producing evil, and God utilizing the situation for redemption and growth. Lewis further explains the difference between self-inflicted suffering and the unintentional suffering used by God. He explains how there can be benefits to practices such as fasting, though it comes with dangers.
It is generally in accordance with nature to avoid pain, and basic self-preservation enables us to live and stay healthy to do the activities God calls us to do. On the other hand, we have to be able to accept suffering as an inevitable part of life, as resulting from the sin of man, but as something that God by his mercy still utilizes as a means for good. In fact, Lewis specified that suffering ought to be viewed as sometimes a means for good, but not the actual end of good itself to be pursued. I think that statement in itself is an effective summary of the discussion.
I think this most important lesson that I learned from The Problem Of Pain In short, the fact that God blesses those who suffer, yet wants us to minimize it. It was personally the most significant discussions because, though I had by my own pondering arrived at the same conclusion as Lewis, I had no effective way to articulate why.
In other words, I had little logical argument against seeking and self-inflicting suffering. Lewis’s breakdown of the matter really helped clarify it for me, as his writings have such a propensity to do. He somehow is able to write about deep, rich philosophical topics on a high intellectual level, while being very easy and crisp to follow. All the while he avoids “stepping on toes” amid controversial topics without compromising conviction or truth. I am digressing from the discussion at hand though.
There is one thing I have yet to mention, but that stood out to me when I read it. In positing the idea of pain as a means, but not an end, Lewis gave some examples of justification for using pain as a means to good. Though I’m not sure about the morality of war in some cases, he gave one example I consider particularly effective. He mentioned that surgeons have authority from their patients to inflict pain as a means to accomplish a good, namely improvement or preservation of ultimate physical health. Few would debate the virtue of at least certain surgical procedures, so the example seems like a very strong one.