C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” (Context)

What I will attempt to do here is offer in several posts a critical review of C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. This is a paper that I presented at MBTS using a rubric given by Dr. Jerry Johnson, dean of MBTS. So, the posts will follow the sections listed in the paper: context, content, positive evaluation, negative critique, overall reaction, and application. The first given here is Lewis’ context for writing The Problem of Pain.

The context of C.S. Lewis’ work The Problem of Pain is best understood by observing several factors. The first of these revolves around the time of the printing of Lewis’ book. The first printing of this work was released in 1940, which  falls on the heels of the great conflict of WWI and the rising tensions of WWII. What is, or should not be, lost on the reader is the provenance of the author. Lewis is writing from England, which is in the throes of great conflict and suffering. Interestingly enough, he writes his work after the horrific German bombing of London. 

A second factor of contextual importance is the mention of the English publisher Ashley Sampson (1900-1947). Sampson was the owner of Centenary Press and according to Lewis, it was Sampson who “suggested to me to write this book…” [1] During the same year that The Problem of Pain was published, Mr. Sampson also published a work titled The War and Christian Ethics. He was obviously a great admirer of Lewis as is revealed by his desire to have one of Lewis’ sermons, given at Oxford, to be published in a work titled, Famous English Sermons. [2]

A final contributing factor to Lewis’ context is his personal life experiences. He did not have what one would call a “joyous” childhood. His mother died when he was very young and in his own words from his autobiography Surprised by Joy he states the effect that this had upon him: “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.”[3] Lewis’ father never recovered from this tragic event, leading to a strained and difficult relationship between the two. Even in his early school years, C.S. Lewis met with great difficulty at the hands of a school master named Oldie, who displayed a parallel with his own father’s reaction to grief, “he reacted to bereavement by becoming more violent than before…”[4] Later, in the trenches of WWI, C.S. Lewis would be injured and for the rest of his life deal with the pain of a leg which never fully healed. Finally, Lewis experienced tragedy when his own wife was taken from him prematurely, leading him to write a second work after this one titled, A Grief Observed. 

In reference to the reasons given above, one can confidently say that C.S. Lewis was no stranger to pain and suffering. When these are taken together and summed up, what becomes clear is that Sampson’s choice of Lewis combined with the experiences and realities of suffering in his own life all become significant contributing factors to Lewis’ context and purpose for writing The Problem of Pain.

                [1] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. (Centenary Press: London, 1940), vii.

                [2] Bruce L. Edwards, An Examined Life: C.S. Lewis; Life, Works, and Legacy (Preager Publishers: Westport, CT, 2007), 174.

                [3] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis. (Grand Rapids: Family Christian Press, 1986), 13.

                [4] Lewis, 19.


1 comment so far

  1. pdawwg08 on

    I just finished reading The Problem of Pain and I wrote a review of it as well if you are interested! I loved it! http://fablefreak.wordpress.com/

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