Adjectives on the Typewriter

she moves her words like a prizefighter

16 March 2007

Commenting on Lewis

The truth of the matter is that I don't read nearly as often or as much as I would like; this, regrettably, has caused a chronic stagnation of the intellect. Writing for class can hardly be considered rigorous, but it at least maintains some level of thought in a mind-turned-vegetative. Here is a rather forced commentary on Lewis' brilliance in A Grief Observed:

It cannot be denied that suffering exists in the world. Some would even go so far as to say it pervades the human experience, tainting each joy, marring each beauty, infecting each seeming perfection. And, independent from our own experiences, we constantly witness the injustice done to others. In the presence of such tragedy, it is easy to doubt the existence of a loving God, one who governs the course of creation and yet allows evil to pollute it. Our reason cries out against faith, "If God truly loved His creation, and if He is truly all-powerful, He would intervene to prevent suffering and injustice." But contrary to this argument, the fact that we as humans experience suffering does not contradict the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving God; rather, it emphasizes His great wisdom in creating a being who can freely choose to reciprocate His love.

In order to address the "problem of evil" in creation, it is critical to define this evil, particularly in relation to God, whose nature is good. According to Aquinas, evil cannot exist on its own—it is not a self-sustaining entity, but rather the privation of some good. Just as "darkness is known through light," so is evil known through distinction from that which is good (Summa Theologica). Good and evil are not two active, opposing forces in the universe; rather, evil exists only in the perversion of goodness. Similarly, because it is not a being, evil has no power to create suffering. Put succinctly, "Badness is only spoiled goodness" (Mere Christianity). Thus, the injustice seen in creation cannot exist apart from the goodness of creation itself. Evil exists as a potentiality within the actuality of creation, functioning as the privation of an intended good.

From this definition of evil, it seems to follow that evil, and its byproduct, suffering, coexist with goodness, corrupting what they may within creation. Thus, claims David Hume, is the "problem of evil": the fact that an all-powerful God does not prevent suffering and an all-loving God tolerates the existence of injustice seems contradictory. For, if God were truly good, he would not desire His creation to suffer evil. And if He were truly omnipotent, He would have the power to prevent this evil. C.S. Lewis, in a book written after the tragic death of his wife, also wrestles with this issue, questioning the goodness of God in conjunction with his own suffering. "Reality," he says, "is unbearable. And how or why did such a reality blossom (or fester) here and there into the terrible phenomenon called consciousness? Why did it produce things like us who can see it and, seeing it, recoil in loathing?" (A Grief Observed). Addressing the apparent contradiction between divine love and the human suffering, Lewis speculates that perhaps God is really a Cosmic Sadist, watching the torment of His creatures and refusing to intervene. Like Hume, Lewis begins to doubt the goodness of a God who, regardless of his power, allows the existence of evil. For, rationally, it seems impossible to have faith in a perfectly loving God who despite His power, does not prevent the injustice or suffering.

But Lewis’ musings do not end here, in a presumed conflict of faith and reason. Rather, he continues to ponder the existence of evil, reasoning that it is perhaps a paradoxical necessity for the existence of love on the part of human beings. Beginning with the premise that God has created us in order to love, Lewis states that "Bereavement is a universal and integral part or our experience of love […] It is not the truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure" (A Grief Observed). Logically, too, this idea is sound. For, God has created us with free will, the capacity to choose good or evil. In creating this potentiality for evil, He gave humanity a genuine capacity to love—for had He simply created good without the possibility of evil, we would have no ability to truly love. Thus the potentiality of evil is introduced to creation, not to merely perpetrate suffering and injustice, but rather to grant the actuality of love within it. Lewis notes this is another work, The Problem of Pain: "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself." Here faith and reason are in perfect accord—we believe in a loving God, one who had created us also to love. And in order to do so, it was necessary for Him to create the possibility of un-love (that is, evil and its proximate result, suffering). Without the ability to choose against good, we would never truly be able to choose good itself, for there would be no choice. Thus, though we witness a great deal of tragedy and suffering in the world, it is illogical to conclude that this suffering contradicts the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God. Rather, reason supports faith in a God who, in His perfect love, created a world with creatures who might reflect that same love.

Thus, even in his profound grief, Lewis notes that the existence of suffering is not only allowable by a loving God, but also necessary for the existence of free will and human love. Evil does not demonstrate a conflict between faith and reason—its very presence validates the human capacity for love and compassion, a choice for good rather than evil. For Lewis, suffering even serves as a reinforcement of his faith, which had been as a "house of cards" before the death of his wife (A Grief Observed). But in the presence of death and profound tragedy, Lewis notes the strengthening of his faith, his all-the-more genuine choice to trust God despite suffering. Thus, the existence of evil does not contradict the existence of a supremely good and powerful God; rather, it allows us as humans to reflect His divine love in an act of genuine faith.

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