Monday, 12 August 2013

There's no substitute for experience.

Just enjoyed reading Alistair McGrath's new biography of C.S. Lewis. Lots of helpful detail, with particular insights on Lewis's various publications throughout his carer. McGrath provides helpful context as well as notable features. I was particularly struck by the contrast between The Problem of Pain, written by Lewis in 1940, and A Grief Observed written in 1961. The contrast is a classic observation about the difference that personal experience brings to our understanding and appreciation of the affairs of life.

The Problem of Pain was Lewis' first Christian apologetic book. It contains the famous quote,
'God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.'
However as McGrath points out,
'The Problem of Pain tends to treat pain as something that can be approached objectively and dispassionately. The essence of pain is presented as an intellectual puzzle which Christian theology is able to frame satisfactorily, if not entirely resolve.'

Some 20 years later and within a year of the death of his wife, Joy Davidman, Lewis entered what McGrath calls an 'emotional firestorm'. Out of that experience Lewis wrote A Grief Observed.
'While Lewis undoubtedly recovered his faith after his wife's death, A Grief Observed suggests that his faith was some distance removed from the cool, logical approach to faith that he once set out in The Problem of Pain.'
Later in Grief Oberved Lewis expresses the longing that many a parent or spouse will felt deeply-the desire to bear the suffering of the other.
'Lewis's line of thought is that this is the mark of the true lover-a willingness to take on pain and suffering, in order that the beloved might be spared its worst'
Lewis realises that this is generally not humanly possible, but his thoughts irresistably pass to the crucified Christ,
'It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that he has done vicariously whatever can be done.' 
Twenty years had moved Lewis from a primarily academic and theoretical knowledge of the theology of pain, to an awareness of the magnitude and vast effects of both human suffering and the cross of Jesus Christ.

Christian books are churned out in their hundreds (? thousands). Many written by fairly young writers. I guess they will say some useful things, but more often than I suspect they realise, it would be better to write from a more 'lived' position.
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