C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams “Solve” the Problem of Evil

th On Sunday, at a mini-gathering of Mythmooters, I’ll be sharing a very brief (5-15 minute) talk as a discussion-starter. Here are some of my notes. I’m leaving out most of the substance of my points, so that there will still be something to talk about (!), but post this here to get your own ideas going. Especially if you will be one of the lucky attendees at the “MidMoot 2014 Seminar with Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor” — this is for you. Do some reading and thinking and come prepared to share an idea or ask a question!

problem-of-evil

C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams “Solve” the Problem of Evil

What is the Problem of Evil, or the Problem of Pain? C. S. Lewis wrote: “If God were good, He would wish make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both” (The Problem of Pain 26). We may break this down into three logical propositions, thus:

1. GOD IS ALL GOOD
2. GOD IS ALL POWERFUL
3. EVIL EXISTS

There are a variety of ways of expressing this dilemma, but this is a simple one. It lines up three “facts”—propositions, observations, or claims—and shows that they contradict one another. This is a logical and experiential problem.

Theologians, philosophers, and ordinary people have tried to “solve” this problem in many ways; most of their attempted solutions have explained away one of the three premises, usually by redefining it, so that no logical problem exists. Depending on time, I may give some ridiculously brief examples; I merely list the thinkers here:

  • Augustineproblem-of-pain
  • Boethius
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Dante
  • Milton
  • Descartes

Now, what about The Inklings? C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams were devout Christian writers who were deeply well read in these classics works and others, intimately acquainted with the problem and its “solutions” throughout history. How did they “solve” this problem?

In all of those ways. In the main body of my little talk, I will give six quick examples, one from Lewis and one from Williams under each of the three propositions, and then perhaps Corey can give us a bit about how Tolkien responded (I suggest that Tolkien was a good Augustinian who mostly messed with #3).

  1. GOD IS ALL GOOD
    How Lewis and Williams redefined this proposition.
  2. GOD IS ALL POWERFUL
    Lewis and Williams on God’s voluntary limiting of His omnipotence.
  3. EVIL EXISTS
    Lewis on the parasitical nature of evil; Williams dancing close to heretical monism.

 

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."
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3 Responses to C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams “Solve” the Problem of Evil

  1. Beautiful. A lot to do in 15 minutes–or an hour.
    The only thing I add to this discussion–my Prezis are below–is Lewis’ idea of The Problem of Good (my words, not his). He suggests that turning the problem upside down is key. Without evil, there are key problems:
    1. We have no way to rise to good without resistance.
    2. We have no understanding of what good is without its parasite.
    And, a connected point, what is our basis for good without an objective Other (God). There are answers to this; whether one finds them satisfactory is different.
    I took these ideas and studied the Problem of Good with students, looking at the movie “The Invention of Lying,” and the book “The Giver” to show why resistance is evil.
    Problem of Evil Prezi: prezi.com/5b9upclbw4ea/the-problem-of-evil/
    Problem of Good Prezi: prezi.com/lwukojwec7s_/the-problem-of-good/

    Like

  2. Phil Goetz says:

    Talking about this in 5-15 minutes will be quite a challenge. See you tomorrow!

    Like

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