We have been looking at the writings of C.S. Lewis and how he communicated, through a variety of different mediums, on the subject of pain. Lewis understood that the problem of pain was one of the biggest challenges for people to overcome. He wrote and spoke about pain in a variety of settings, but he always made basically the same point.
This week, we will look at Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, which was originally a series of radio addresses. These addresses were published in 1942, 1943, and 1944, and complied in 1952 into the book we know as Mere Christianity. These broadcasts talks are less about pain and more about the reality of morality, and how humans ignore it. Lewis’s goal was to awaken people to the morality that was in them. Even as an atheist, Lewis would complain about how unjust the world was, yet he did not know from where he got his idea of “unjust” (p.38). Lewis said that Christianity has nothing to say to those who think they have done nothing wrong (p.31). Lewis knew that most people his day had no sense of guilt, and one of the goals of the radio broadcasts was to show, gently and persuasively, that there was a morality that most people appealed to – and were violating.
While the book is mainly about morality and Christian behavior, Lewis’s message about God using redemptive pain to call humans back is repeated in this book. Lewis repeats his statement from The Problem of Pain: we are rebels who need to lay down our arms (p.56). He says that humanity is on the wrong road and we need to turn back (p.29). God gave humans free will so that love, goodness, and joy may happen (p.48). But evil is a perversion of the good, not having a source of existence on its own (p.45). In order to get back to the good, evil cannot just be “changed”, it has to be undone. For humans, this means repentance.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote a lot about repentance, and it is on this topic that his points about pain are most restated. Repentance is a kind of good death, says Lewis. This death is not a condition of being accepted by God but describes what it is like to come back to God (p.57). In describing repentance as death, Lewis is alluding to the teaching of Christ who called people to take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), and to Paul who called people to put to death what belongs to the flesh (Colossians 3:5). We can only go through this death if God helps us, but God became a human so that He could suffer and die and surrender His will – so that He could help us (p.58). God is love, and true love is not affection, it is wanting the good of the other person. Christ wants the best for us. He wants all of who we are – not to torment the self but to kill it. He wants to give us a new self – we get Christ’s self (p.178). People go to Him to be cured of one little sin – and He cures them – but He does not stop there because He is after complete transformation (p.202). God’s love means He will continue to work to kill our prideful selves and give us our true selves.
Lewis is restating his main points on pain, God, and the human condition: God is a good and loving Father who allows us to go through a needed death so that we can become who we truly are. These are points we need to take into account as we wrestle with the problem of pain, as we talk with others who have questions, and as we understand what God is doing in through the struggle.