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C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

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For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?

This is the question that C.S. Lewis is attempting to answer in this book, The Problem of Pain. And if you’ve ever read a C.S. Lewis book before, you’ll know that he is very good about writing the book he wants to write (unlike the last book I read).

Splitting the book up into small sections, Lewis unravels the answer to this oft-asked question in such a way that you can’t doubt that he is right. He writes in such a considerd way, I found myself nodding along with what he was saying constantly.

That said, Lewis is a very clever man. And in some places, I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again because I just couldn’t get what he was trying to say. Obviously the fault there is entirely mine, but I would definitely not recommend you try and read this book when you’re tired or just before bed when your mind has a tendency to drift.

I feel like this is the kind of book you can read again and again and get something new from it each time. I’d say that if you’re new to Christianity and you want the ‘problem of pain’ to be answered, there are probably books out there that are easier to read, but I doubt any of them are as coherently put together and in such detail as this.

As with all Lewis books, there are so many quotes that I could pick as my ‘favourites’, but I have managed to narrow it down to two which made me put the book down and think ‘wow’.

“The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader.”

“In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends (since both these disturb the reason) but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot, it is about you and me.”

I’ll definitely be coming back to this book again in the future, probably many many times.

C.S. Lewis – The Great Divorce

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I don’t think I’ll ever fail to be amazed by the imagination of C.S. Lewis. The ideas that he has and the way that he approaches them are simply genius.

I took this book with me on our recent Church Parish Weekend away at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick. I couldn’t think of a better place to read, sitting by the side of the lake and being surrounded by nature, it was perfect!

Reading CS Lewis - The Great Divorce

It’s quite a brief book at only 146 pages, taking us on a journey through heaven and hell and demonstrating our power to choose between our selfish selves, and salvation and eternal life. We, along with the narrator, overhear many conversations between those that live in heaven and those that have come up on a journey from hell to decide if they are to change enough to take their place there.

The conversation that resonated most with me was one where the ‘visitor’ realises that the heavenly person that had come to meet him was a murderer while he was living on earth. The visitor couldn’t believe that the murderer had made it to heaven, and he was unwilling to go to heaven if this man was there, as he didn’t believe that he belonged in the same place or that the ‘murderer’ should be forgiven. It’s really easy to judge people by their actions, but it’s also really easy to forget that you don’t know their heart or their circumstances. God doesn’t condemn us for bad decisions; as long as we truly repent, we can be forgiven. I think not judging people is much easier said than done, but this was a good reminder that God loves us all the same.

I had so many favourite quotes that I probably couldn’t write them all here for fear of publishing the whole book, but I’ve picked a couple that really stood out to me.

The first is when a ‘visitor’ to heaven can’t believe that people that were famous on earth are no longer distinguished in the same way in heaven. The reply he gets is as follows:

“But they aren’t distinguished – no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light’s the thing. They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognised by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgement.”

The second is when another visitor is trying to defend her feelings towards her son, with “What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature”. The response is this:

“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods”.

A stark reminder that we need to make sure that God is the centre of our lives and that we let him guide our actions and our feelings. If we let our feelings take the reins instead of God, things will go bad.

What I liked most about this book that it didn’t feel preachy or like it was pushing morals in your face. It was more gentle and subtle reminders of unhealthy behaviours that we need to keep in check. If you weren’t a Christian, you could probably enjoy this book as a fantasy about heaven and hell, but as a Christian, it set off sparks in my mind that have continued long after I finished reading.