This weekend I released Of Lampposts and Lions—my 20 track, 80 minute concept album based on C.S. Lewis’ books, The Chronicles of Narnia. If you’re familiar with all 7 books, I think you’ll enjoy the story being told. If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the music anyways as it’s quite a blend of genres. You can download it for donation or for free on NoiseTrade.
The understanding of how reason should be used in the church is much more debatable than some would think. On one side of the spectrum, you have evidentialists who would never expect anyone to believe in Christianity if it could not be explained reasonably. And then, on the other end you have fideists who see no use of reason in the study or understanding of God.
Theologian Karl Barth was one of these fideists, as author Kelly James Clark points out in his book Return to Reason. He states that Barth, “sees philosophy and logic as proper in their own right, but as irrelevant to theology. Reason, he believes, is fallen and is incapable of eliciting belief in God” (154). This statement has a certain draw to it. Logically, and even biblically, it seems to make sense. We are fallen people and faith is really a matter of faith, right? So then how does logic and reason play a role in it all?
Well oddly enough, there is a similar draw one can have to the statements of a rational person. After all, people like C.S. Lewis fall on this side of the spectrum and his works have been held incredibly high by most Christians. And if it were not for someone as rational as Lewis, we would not have such profound insight on topics such as pain.
This topic was especially important during the Age of Reason and still today, the question being, “If God does exist and is good, then why did He allow pain in the world?” Some people would say for this reason that God does not exist. But C.S. Lewis, in all his rationality, wrote an amazing defense of God in relation to pain in his book, The Problem of Pain. Using his reason, he engages this problem, stating that, “In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (I) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for his redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute” (111).
The topic of pain is hardly an easy topic for anyone to address, reasonable or not, but the fact is that this former atheist was able to tackle it through reason, giving us a look at its obvious usage within the church. Other reasonable and well-known Christians such as G.K. Chesterton wrestled with this problem of pain as well. Phillip Yancey mentions how Chesterton reasonably found God through pain’s antonym: pleasure.
In addition to the problem of pain, G.K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated by its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation. Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for all the rest of us?
It was through asking reasonable questions such as these that Chesterton was able to find God. So then how do we understand the draw that we may feel towards both people like Barth and Lewis? Is it possible to mesh their opposite views together, or do we have to choose one or the other?
I honestly believe, despite the obvious contradiction, that these ideas can be meshed together to a certain extent. There are times in Christianity where we must simply live out of the faith of the fideist and other times where we must live out the reason of the evidentialist. On top of that, I would go even further and say that on a daily basis we must live out of the harmony of the two combined. The mind (reason) and the heart (faith) are both essential to have in the Christian life. There will be times when things just do not make sense, and it is in those times that we must rely on faith. That is not to say that we cannot search to find reason for our present difficulty, but rather that at any given time we may have to rely more heavily on one aspect of Christianity than the other.
In reexamining Barth’s quote above, I cannot agree that reason is irrelevant to theology. I actually think reason is incredibly important—especially to theology. However, I think it is important to hunger for God in the same way that a fideist would. That is to say that we as Christians are willing to set our reason aside and follow God’s calling by faith alone if need be. I believe that every Christian will have to do this—even if just for a moment in time.
That is not to say, however, that we blindly accept whatever we are taught, for reason is not only good at bringing proof to difficult debates, but it is also an excellent tool for pointing out errors in our current beliefs. If we simply live by faith alone all the time, we are most likely going to find ourselves under some kind of false or incomplete doctrine due to unbridled trust. We need to use reason to question what we are taught so that we can come to a better understanding as to who God is. In the same way, we also must use the faith and revelation of a fideist.
Our life experience will alter this balance between faith and reason. An atheist who has become a Christian may continue to rely heavily on reason for the rest of their life as reason may have been the avenue that brought them to faith. Others, however, who may have had a charismatic experience with the Spirit of God may find themselves in a situation in which they cannot fully explain. And while that does not mean that they will live unreasonably in their Christian walk or that they will not try to understand what happened, it does mean that they may have a firm assurance to hang their life upon without the need for reason to be there when difficulty comes their way. Other’s experiences will give them a different balance, but the fact is that both faith and reason must become a part of one’s life in some way.
Take John Wesley for example. His balance was completely unique to most of the world. He was a man of reason and intellect who reasonably accepted the gifts of the Spirit and saw them everywhere he went. Paul Wesley Chilcote explains him this way:
He was, in fact, one of the most able Christian apologists… in the so-called Age of Reason, when dynamic, living faith often fell prey to either arid rationalism or unbridled emotionalism. Refusing to separate the head from heart, his life was characterized by a winsome synthesis of knowledge and piety, intellectual rigor and disciplined zeal. He was, as biographer Henry Rack has described him, a “reasonable enthusiast” (76).
Wesley (while probably more reasonable than myself), is a great example of the kind of balance I am talking about. Most people who are as reasonable as him would reject every little bit of enthusiasm in the Christian faith and yet, he did not do so (granted, he did reject the claims that he was an enthusiast since he was not one in the way that the people of his time defined it).
The character of the Apostle Paul seemed to have a similar attitude to that of Wesley’s. He had faith and saw that it was necessary for Christians to live by it. In fact, it was he who wrote the ever-so-popular Bible verse “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). On top of that, not only did Paul do many miracles in the name of Jesus but he also wrote numerous books of the Bible, including one of the most complex biblical books: Romans. This book has such profound and deep insight, that there is no way that we can deny the great amount of reason it would have taken to write it. Plus, with Paul being both a convert and an apostle, one should expect that he would need some kind of emphasis on reason in his life.
Or we could of course, take a look at Jesus, the prime example of Christianity. He constantly did miracles that defy reason. He spoke mysteries that could only be interpreted by the Holy Spirit. He was mystical in many ways, and yet everything He did and said was for a reason. We read His words in hopes to gain the faith He possessed and to understand the reasoning behind the things He said. And on top of that, He calls us to live like Him (which could maybe be defined as reasonably unreasonable).
Outside of all of this, I think reason is very important in our dialogue with the unsaved, especially in today’s world. With the rise of science, we have atheism and on top of that, there are many who just do not really care to think one way or the other. If we view their salvation as important and hope for them to receive it out of love, we must use the tools at our disposal. And after having been through the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, we should realize that our society has decided that reason is important. Therefore, if we do not look to use our minds, we may not always do that good of a job at “going out into all the world.”
But despite this emphasis on the importance of reason, I must say that I agree with Clark when he says that belief in God “does not require arguments or evidence in order to be rationally accepted or maintained—the theist has a perfect right to believe without the evidentialist support of an argument. In fact the demand for evidence is perverse, obdurate, or improper” (122). I find this true in my own life. I am not concerned with science or arguments against God because I have the assurance of His Holy Spirit. Whether it sounds irrational or not, I have had an experience with God. I have seen His signs and wonders. If others do not consider this reason enough to believe, then I suppose that these experiences supersede my need for reason. But for the sake of others, I will do my best to reasonably explain my faith and experiences to them.
I realize this that mixture of evidentialism and fideism can create quite a bit of confusion and I’m sure that the biggest question one might ask is “how do I balance blind faith with reason?” My answer (though it may not be a great one) is with discernment and by the leading of the Spirit. If you are a very reasonable person, you will need blind faith to fall back on at some point and you should expect to do so. If you are an unreasonable person, then you need to learn to use reason in your life—if not for yourself, then for others so that they can understand you better.
However you look at it, the truth is that reason is important and necessary. The degree may vary from person to person, but the important thing is that it is there and balanced in some aspect. God has given this to us as a gift, and while we may have violated it in times past, we have an opportunity to offer reason redemption.
Chilcote, Paul Wesley. Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision: an Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print.
Clark, Kelly James. Return to Reason: a Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism, and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
Yancey, Philip. Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.
The ideas I have written of here are some of the most profound theological ideas of all time put together by CS Lewis. This is actually my essay for a class from his book “The Problem of Pain, but I feel it is essential that you hear what he has to say about pain. It may very well answer one of the biggest questions the world has ever known: “If God loves us then why is there pain?“
Throughout history the world has questioned over and over again about the idea of pain. “If there is a God who truly is love, then why did he create pain?” In C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Problem of Pain,” some of the deepest ideas and theories as to why pain would exist are assessed. When the attribute of pain is stripped down to its core, the truth is found in the exact question that is being asked. Pain exists because it is a characteristic of the true love that God is. This whole concept doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but with a deeper look this answer is inevitable.
If there is one ideal in Christianity that the faith can ground itself in, it is that God is “divine goodness.” Everything He asks humanity to do is that of which the world categorizes as moral. He does not ask us to indulge in sin or even to take part in it in the slightest bit. That would be against His nature and what He wishes His people to live like.
So in correspondence to this quality of God’s, there needs to be a realization that anything outside of His goodness, morality, and love, has the possibility of bringing additional hurt to one’s life that is not necessarily the essence of His plan. As Lewis points out, “When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.” A lot of times human nature is to take this extra pain that it has caused itself and turn it on God. However, this kind of pain exists as a vehicle to take us towards God, not away from Him. It is a reminder to humanity that if they want to follow their own path they will get stung. However, humanity tends to grow immunity to the sting because it is a small price to pay for the pleasure and temporary happiness that sin has created in the long run.
So in order to avoid this unholy pain, one would need to ground his or herself not only in God, but in living a life of goodness and correction. Granted there will be failures, but this is the first step towards perfection. Lewis gives us a brilliant comparison of our goodness to God’s when we are ready to play according to His rules: “The divine goodness differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning.”
This whole idea of sin in general brings about another theme we know as divine omnipotence. If God is able to do anything and everything, then the fact that he thought pain was necessary for humanity to endure must have been of great importance. We also need to come to terms with the fact that this omnipotence held the idea of free will above that of an instinct of worship. Out of His love He wanted us to choose to love Him, not to be forced into it. But because He “is” love it would be foolish not to return such a feeling; especially because His love is an escape from the outside pain caused by Satan as stated above.
God didn’t want to create a bunch of robots that naturally lived lives of holiness for His sake; He wanted to receive our genuine love, which can only be expressed through this crazed idea of free will. When using the word crazed, the reference is made in correspondence to God’s character. If God really is the true definition of love, then the fact that He desires free will in our lives- an idea that created eternal damnation and separation from Him in the first place- must be one of the most difficult acts of true love the Creator ever had to carry out. It must pain Him more than anything to loose one of His very own simply because His own allowed its free will to become corrupt in itself.
And it is with this idea that we are brought to the concept that pride is a cause of pain as it is filled with human wickedness. This characteristic is the “chief sin” and creates a state of mind that is totally against God. This is because pride creates a god out of the man or woman who struggles with it. It numbs a person to the concept that there is something out there much greater and wiser than them, therefore leading them to lead their own life, bringing with it all the pain that one can expect in a life outside of True Love. While this person will achieve love, it will be all for themselves. A steadfast eye should be kept on a brother or sister’s sense of pride, as well as one’s own.
This pride creates a lead wall between a person and God. After all, when a person is his or her own god there’s hardly any reason to consider letting someone else take that place. A life associated with great pride is really a life of “I, me, myself, me, and I.” You’ll find that everything a prideful person does is in effort to pleasure one’s self; not one’s neighbor. But if all this is true, then is it possible to heal a patient who has a pride-problem? The answer is yes. It has been found that pain has the ability to cure a person of such a disease. When a person who is full of dignity experiences pain, they are put in a position where being their own god won’t get them anywhere. It is rather difficult to rely on oneself to save oneself. This puts a person at the mercy of God to restore their life. Again, we see that pain gives us a reason to turn to God and that without it, we never would. Lewis says it best when he writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Seeing as how we are called to live a life like that of Christ’s it is interesting to realize that we don’t expect pain and suffering to be a part of it. Did Christ not suffer the most famous and gruesome death story in history? If we are called to live like Him, then we need to expect that on some level, we will experience the same. As George MacDonald said, “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” Is it not obvious how much Christ cared for us? He demoted Himself to take on the form of His own sinful creatures to show man what a human should really look like when it falls under direct obedience to God. And the pain that Jesus endured, of all things, was definitely not a minimal problem in His life.
C.S. Lewis really portrayed this notion in a way that it may have never been portrayed before: “Christianity, true, as always, to the complexity of the real, presents us with something knottier and more ambiguous-a God so full of mercy that He becomes man and dies by torture to avert that final ruin from His creatures, and who yet, where that heroic remedy fails, seems unwilling, or even unable, to arrest the ruin by an act of mere power.”
This death and resurrection of Christ brings us to the realization of the existence of Hell. How could this ultimate pain really be included in God’s love? The idea of Hell might be better shown through an analogy of a father and his son much like Lewis speaks of in His book. A father knows what’s best for his son and what will make him a better man. He hopes so desperately that his son will follow the right path, but in order to help him achieve that way of life, discipline is in order. So the father disciplines his son when he screws up to further him down the road of righteousness, but the son continues to follow his own road. The son has been warned many times of where his life will end up if he continues down his own path of destruction, but the son seems not to care. Can a person who lives their own sinful way and in their own worldly happiness really acquire the kingdom of Heaven? Turning life on earth into a big joke to everyone who tried so dearly to follow God’s plan? It is not that God wants his people to live in eternal damnation; it is the mere fact that what we do here on earth requires justice and discipline.
In the end, it is safe to say that pain really isn’t a problem; it’s a spiritual vessel. True, God did create pain, but did He not do so to turn us from our human wickedness? And if so, did he not want us to turn from wickedness so that we would run to Him where he could surround us with true love? And if that is also true, then wouldn’t He want to surround us with this true love so that we could live with Him eternally instead of apart from Him in Hell? When you view pain in that sense, it really doesn’t seem like it was created to hurt humanity at all. Perhaps pain is the entire reason we are able to have faith in God in the first place. After all, a life without suffering is in fact not a life at all.
Things are starting to free up a bit here with school and whatnot so I should be back to work on my Bible analyses soon.