Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as the mere ‘opiate of the people’ have a contempt for the rich, that is, for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from 'liquidation,' and place in them the only hope of the human race. But this is not compatible with the belief that the effects of poverty on those who suffer it are wholly evil. It even implies that they are good. The Marxist thus finds himself in real agreement with the Christian in those two beliefs which Christianity paradoxically demands – that poverty is twice blessed yet ought to be removed. (Lewis)
Such is the contradiction that CS Lewis presents at the end of the chapter entitled “Human Pain” from The Problem of Pain. The physical and emotional suffering which invariably accompany poverty are indeed most commonly perceived as a form of great evil in the world, afflicting the innocent and obliterating the meek. However, as this “pain” often can dig up the longing for God we so often bury beneath our earthly longings, it can be seen as a positive spiritual tool.
The initial problem I had with this chapter, however, was not directly related to this paradox. My problem had to do with the idea behind the creation of pain itself, and the way Lewis believes that God uses it in Christianity. He defines its purpose as this: “to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own.” It seemed to me that this kind of threat was ungodly and uncharacteristic of the God of the Bible, since He gave us free will and wants us to come to Him willingly; that He should use pain to draw us to Him and surrender our “will” to Him seemed out of line.
Furthermore, this also felt like a throwback to Lewis’ Weight of Glory, when he describes many of our desires as “mercenary” and misguided. In the same way, it would seem to me that obeying God and giving over our will to Him would be a form of mercenary comfort-seeking, since we would only want to do so in order to avoid suffering the pain that God would bring on us. How can we possibly expect to want to love such a Creator? It certainly wouldn’t produce such a desire in me. This confused me greatly, and Lewis words for once do not sit very well with me this time.