The Problem of Pain

by C. S. Lewis

Paperback, 2015



Call number



HarperOne (2015), Edition: Revised ed., 176 pages


In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis, one of the most renowned Christian authors and thinkers, examines a universally applicable question within the human condition: "If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?" With his signature wealth of compassion and insight, C.S. Lewis offers answers to these crucial questions and shares his hope and wisdom to help heal a world hungering for a true understanding of human nature.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain is a layman’s look at how Christians reconcile the existence of pain with the belief in God’s goodness. How can a good God allow His creatures to suffer?

I have several issues with Lewis’ theology and presuppositions. I’m going to outline these before
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discussing the parts of the book that I thought were excellent. One of the big things wrong with this book is Lewis’ too-ready acceptance of evolution and all the necessary adjustments it requires in the story of the Fall, etc. Lewis makes up his own projected creation/evolution myth, and traces the Fall from it instead of from the biblical account. Making up creation myths is fine, but not in a nonfiction book. His explanation of the Fall and the resulting sin and suffering is rather convoluted and complicated because it tries to reconcile everything, when really there is no need to reconcile incorrect views with correct ones.

The second problem I have with Lewis’ theology is his strongly Arminian position. I believe in sovereign grace, and our starting points are so different. Because of this, I find that I strongly disagree with several of Lewis’ logical conclusions, and I believe they proceed from faulty premises. One such passage is found in chapter three, where he writes:

The doctrine of Total Depravity — when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing — may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil worship.

If Lewis can be that harsh on an opposing belief, so can I. He oversimplifies Total Depravity and completely misses its point. It is not that human beings have no sense of right and wrong, but that every part of us is tainted to some extent by the Fall. There is no island of goodness and purity in me; sin has touched every part. That does not mean that I am as bad as I could be. It simply means that though I may have a faint inkling of what is right, my view is never fully clear until the Spirit opens my eyes.

Another reviewer has mentioned Lewis' annihilistic tendencies, and I agree they are problematic in light of Scripture. He doesn't commit himself completely to the notion that the damned will cease to be, but you can tell he wishes it were so, and would like to find a way to logically prove it.

Now for the good points. Lewis made a casual reference to “officious vicarious indignation” on the part of a friend that can hamper the development of patience and grace in a sufferer. I found that very convicting! I tend to be very protective of the people I love, and when a person I care about is wronged and suffers as a result, my righteous indignation is certainly expressed. How new a thought to me that my indignation could actually be impairing what God is working in that life.

I was also very impressed by his reasoning on the need for the self to be conscious of the other in order to have any kind of awareness of self. Lewis writes that this might at first seem to present a problem to theists; how could God know He had a Self if there was nothing and no one else, no other? But the fact of the Trinity explains how God could be self-aware before He created the universe.

I appreciate his explanation of the logical impossibility of doing two opposite things at the same time. God cannot give us freedom without giving us freedom to experience the consequences of our choices. This is not something that limits God or encroaches on His omnipotence.

I thought the chapter on animal pain was also very good — although I’m sure many animal-rights activists would not agree. I think Lewis is right that we project human-like qualities on to animals that they simply don’t have. Can an animal be aware of (and possess) a selfhood? Lewis argues it cannot, and his arguments are convincing. And how can something that is not aware of itself as a self suffer pain? Pain can take place in that body, certainly, but can it be processed and understood as pain by the animal’s mind? Lewis does take into account the higher animals, like dogs and others, that seem to possess human-like qualities, and even talks about his belief that the animals that are part of our lives here on earth will also, in some sense, be present in heaven.

Another thing that struck me as particularly was Lewis’ discussion of heaven. In Revelation it talks about Christ giving each saint a stone with his own name on it, that no one else knows except himself. Lewis speculates on why such a statement would be made, concluding that we will retain our unique identities in heaven, even though we are perfected and united with Christ in blessedness. And each of us can praise a certain aspect of God better than anyone else; we need that individuality to glorify Him. If we didn’t have it, Lewis argues, the church would be like an orchestra in which every instrument played the same note.

There are some wonderful quotes in this book. I’ll give a few:

A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness' on the walls of his cell.

When I think of pain—of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that already seem intolerable and then are suddenly increased, of infuriating scorpion-stinging pains that startle into maniacal movement a man who seemed half dead with his previous tortures—it ‘quite o’ercrows my spirit.’ If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you my feelings? You know them already; they are the same as yours.

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering if we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should like that… We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and inappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

Though I don't agree with several of Lewis’ conclusions because of our different theological presuppositions, on the whole I found this book to be very insightful. I know I will remember many of the points he made, and of course his writing style is superb. The subjects he raises will make you think long after the last page is turned, for pain is universal. This is an excellent read.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
The problem of pain is C.S. Lewis first book about Christianity. Many readers are disappointed that the book is not about "pain," as they might be looking for solace. In C.S. Lewis' book pain is a problem, because it seemingly denies the existence of God.

In The problem of pain Lewis is still a
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hesitant apologist. His main thesis is born out of a negation. In the first chapter he refers to the time he was an atheist as "not many years ago" (which was in fact nearly a decade), posing that if anyone had asked him then why he were not a Christian, his answer would refer to the coldness and suffering in the world. Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see. (Lucretius in On the Nature of Things

C.S. Lewis had been an atheist since his early teenage years. The foundation for his atheism seems rather weak. After a Christian upbringing he "abandoned" the faith for Nordic mythology and the occult. It seems Lewis built a personal cult around his professed atheism, which was more like a cloak, a screen behind which he made up his mind about the existence of God.

Although Lewis remained an atheist until at least 1929, when he embraced theism, before his Christian conversion in 1931. The problem of pain seems born out of his youthful "{anger} with God for not existing" and the horrors Lewis had witnessed during the trench war of the Great War in France. His poetry of that period Spirits in bondage. A cycle of lyrics seems to carry the seeds of a return to Christianity, with its focus on evil, pain and suffering.

A peculiar aspect of the publication history is that Lewis originally hoped to publish The problem of pain as shame and inexperience (as a layman) made him want to hide in anonymity. It hints at a certain uncertainty and discomfort at making bold statements, which he however not shuns, and which make this and later books so unpalatable to readers. Unlike many of his later works, which are outspoken apologetic, The problem of pain is written as a theodicy, an attempt at reconciliation.

Superficially, The problem of pain seems a very readable book. At a glance, many sentences are captivating and invite to further reading. However, as in other, later works, Lewis has a very dogmatic style, which leaves the reader no space to make up their own mind. There is no residual trace of doubt in Lewis' mind, but denying readers to retrace their own steps, makes his books unreadable, to all those readers who are less convinced.

Lewis' Christian works are likely enjoyable to Christian readers. But what is the point of writing apologetic works for your own congregation?
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LibraryThing member scottcholstad
CS Lewis, a man I grew up being taught to virtually worship as THE Intellectual of the evangelical movement, has always struck me as an oddity. Obviously, he was intelligent to some degree, and creative at that. I've enjoyed several of his works, but all too often I've read and reread certain of
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his "classics," typically referred to and called upon by certain Christians when addressing others and wanting to throw some "intellectual" weight from the master behind their assertions, statements, judgments and what not. The problem is, I'm not the only one who has concluded that while Lewis did have some talent, intelligence, creativity going for him, his reputation as an Intellectual seems unwarranted, because quite often in some of his more "serious" works he resorts to using his brand of "logic" to persuade the poor simpletons who haven't seen the Light and come to the Lord like he did, but his logic is usually badly lacking, not remotely impressive, easily countered, overrated and in point of fact, if CS Lewis represents the best the evangelicals can produce in way of an "Intellectual" to do battle with the evil secularists -- and win -- they are in pretty bad shape because this boy was surpassed by tens of thousands of actual, true geniuses in all types of fields just during his own century alone and it would be embarrassing for him to go head to head against Russell, Sartre, Paine, Dawkins and thousands of others who could swat his sad arguments away while injecting true logic and reason with no effort whatsoever. I wish I had been alive during his career and could have had an opportunity to sit in on some of his lectures, possibly meet the man, and ideally engage in public debate because I think I would have found it enjoyable and probably a good bit easier to win than with some current evangelical "apologists," theologians and the like. His reputation is not merited and this book, as well as most of his "serious" works, is not recommended as it's largely a waste of time and largely worthless.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
In this book the Christian writer C. S. Lewis tries to answer the question: "If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?". Lewis is not trying to give advice on how to overcome pain and adversary - this is more a philosophical and theological treatise - and he
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goes straight back addressing God's omnipotence and the concept of sin and evil.

I enjoy Lewis' writings - he's so original and have funny and surprising ways of explaining difficult theological issues (although at times difficult to follow) - and you always walk away with new thoughts and ideas. Also there's an interesting chapter on Animal pain (Lewis was very fond of animals). The book ends with a chapter on Heaven as the ultimate source of hope and relief from the suffering on earth.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
I was disappointed with "The Problem of Pain". I went into the book hoping for an exploration into the eternal question: Why do bad things happen to good people? or Where was God when....? Lewis' book posits the divinity of Jesus, the redemption of sins through Jesus' death on the cross, and the
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existence of hell. As a reader looking at the book from a Jewish perspective, every argument he makes falls flat. This is a book very specifically for Christians (and if you are a Christian, you will certainly find the book more worthwhile than I did.) It becomes hard to concentrate on a book when one is at odds with assumed premises, and the fact that it is written in a rather academic style made it even more tedious reading.
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LibraryThing member jhw
Points of interest:
Quotes Pensées as pointing out that no canonical writer has ever used Nature to prove God. (But quotation does not show that Pascal thought such proof impossible.)
Christ regarded the vices of the feckless and the dissipated more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly
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Dealing with the objection that God's trial of Abraham was needlessly cruel: "To say that God 'need not have tried the experiment' is the say that because God knows, the thing known by God need not exist."
One argument for reincarnation is that everyone should be given a second chance. But [Lewis does not put this explicitly] everyone gets millions of second chances in this life.
Christ on one occasion attributed disease not to God or to nature but to Satan.
If we consider retribution wrong we make all punishment immoral.
"Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, wants to enjoy its object."
Extremely well-written. Full of passages like the above which are almost worth learning by heart because the put the point so well.
He writes on the assumption that Christianity is true. His books would not therefore convert a non-Christian, but it ought to show him that the problem of pain is no objection against Christianity. His main argument is cogent and convincing: he puts particularly well the point that if there is to be free will there is bound to be the chance of evil.
The argument is weakest on a) the fall of man, where he doesn't explain how or why original sin has been transmitted. He makes no use of the Catholic distinction between Natural and Supernatural life. b) animal pain, where his views are pure speculation, and don't really solve the problem even if true, Neither of these, however, affect his main line of argument.
He sometimes states things that Catholics would not accept - e.g. a) his countenance of the Kenotic theory. b) his apparent denial of the cosmological argument: "At all times, then, an inference from the course of events in this world to the goodness and wisdom of the Creator would have been equally preposterous, and it was never made." Both of these instances occur in asides to his main argument, but they do show that he is not 100% reliable theologically.
He is probably at his best, not in his straight theology, but in the Screwtape Letters and his Novels. Here his occasional doctrinal lapses matter less, his great literary gifts have full scope, and he does have extraordinary success in making the reader see this world through the eyes of the next.
(notes written 1952 or 1953)
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LibraryThing member allenkeith
Excellent book to understand life and pain. Peter Kreeft, Boston College Professor, says this is the best book on the topic. He, I am sure is nore knowledgeable than I. My impression is that one has to read and re-read to get it - what Lewis is saying. He is orthodox in his Chritian view; so,
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obviously this is his perspecive. Since this is mine also, I found the book fasinating. CSL is not offering a perspective but what he views a TRUTH. I love the book and read it three times and will likely read it again.
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LibraryThing member jimroberts
I bought and read Lewis's The Problem of Pain in my teens. It was one of the influences which turned me away from Christianity, so I suppose this is a recommendation to anybody to read this or a more recent treatment of the same subject. It illustrates how cluttering up your universe with gods is
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pure loss: you gain no explanatory power but you incur the costs of additional complexity and more problems.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
While this slim book deals effectively with how pain fits into the larger picture of a world created by God, it is even more effective in explaining the role of agency in that world. I especially enjoyed Mr. Lewis' chapters on "Human Pain" and "Hell" and "Heaven". If one is looking for something
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beyond a simplistic picture of Christianity, Mr. Lewis is a fine choice for readability and for thoughtfulness.
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LibraryThing member mdkalbach
The best explaination I have yet read for "why bad things happen to good people".
LibraryThing member Ameliaiif
CS Lewis class!Not as good or as understandable as MERE CHRISTIANITY, but still a great read :)
LibraryThing member temsmail
Lewis' "Pain" and "Grief" should be read together. Pain is Lewis' intellectual approach to the idea of evil in the world, experienced as pain; "Grief" was his personal experience of it.
LibraryThing member nesum
I don't think I've read quite as convincing of an argument for the importance and necessity for pain in our lives than this from C. S. Lewis. He takes on this very delicate subject (which we most often, unfortunately, wrestle with in the very moments that we shouldn't be debating heavy theological
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questions in our hearts) with logic and faith.

The chapter on animal pain can almost be skipped, since it all rests on an assumption that evolution did indeed happen, while the theory has weakened quite a bit since 1940. I frankly find the older, God-based discussions of the topic more helpful. But that is one chapter, and the others, focused on what God wishes to do with us, are wonderfully helpful.

This is not the book to read when you are broken and needing encouragement. Lewis' A Grief Observed is better for that. But if you want a theological discussion of pain, this is a great one.
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LibraryThing member afderrick
I found the book a very difficult book to get into. The idea of the book was the problem of pain that we see in society. Why does pain exist in society and why is it such a problem for us? This is the problem that this book seeks to explain. A good book to read but it took me about the third
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chapter before I really started to understand and get into a groove of reading this book.
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LibraryThing member rdyornot
It says something that after so many years C. S. Lewis is still one of the foremost Christian apologists of our time. The Problem of Pain is a difficult question every religion has to deal with, and one which has been especially difficult for Christianity. Some religions have the luxury of
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explaining pain as something deserved - a result of bad behavior from a previous live, or perhaps pain and suffering are caused by a malevolent deity in opposition to a good and loving God. Christianity as no such option.

“If God we good, e would wish to 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.”

Lewis presents a very readable and widely accessible solution to this problem, covering the origins of human suffering, incurred in the fall, what divine omnipotence and goodness really mean, and why they allow for the existence of pain in creation, heaven and hell, and a topic not often treated but important - the existence of pain in animals who are in every sense innocent.

Particularly useful is Lewis' distinction between kindness and love. Lewis reminds us that real love, a love that looks out for the best interests of the beloved, sometimes requires the inflicting of painful experience. From the perspective of the one undergoing the experience, this may not seem like love, but any parent, teacher, or anyone tasked with the guidance of the young will understand that this sort of “tough love” is often necessary if one does not want a spoiled child to grow into a spoiled adult.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
I have read and loved C S Lewis in the past, but this was not quite what I was hoping for. He spend a lot of time focusing on one aspect of suffering, threw in a whole chapter about whether animals suffer and if so why, and then wrapped it up. A lot in here that I didn't agree with, and then some
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that didn't apply at all. Still worth reading, but I'm glad I didn't buy a paper copy to keep on my shelf as I don't think I will refer back to it very often.
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LibraryThing member Piperling
Not Lewis' best work. His remarks become more metaphysical as the book progresses as he dabbles in speculative theology. The chapter on animal suffering is irrelevant and much of his conclusions throughout are questionable because he begins with a premise of theistic evolution.
Unfortunately, he
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spends so much time in speculative goose-chases that he gives little attention to his real premise--that human suffering has a redemptive quality.

As always, however, Lewis has something worthwhile to say. Best quote of the book:

'God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.' p. 91
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LibraryThing member tymfos
I decided to read this (it may be a re-read from many years ago) because a number of people in my life are dealing with issues of pain. Lewis deals with all manner of suffering -- physical, emotional, mental -- in this work.

I did not find this book terribly helpful. Perhaps it is simply that, as
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he stated in his preface, he was not claiming to say anything original except in the last two chapters, but simply to articulate traditional teachings of the faith, and I've read enough theology for his points to be familiar. Of those last two chapters, where he admittedly indulged in some speculation, the one on animal pain was not at all akin to my views -- I feel he does not fully appreciate the intelligence and nobility of some of God's created creatures. The one about heaven was interesting.
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LibraryThing member BenKline
I always enjoy reading CS Lewis, even if I'm not exactly the intended audience anymore. This is again, another good thesis/essay by Clive, but for some reason, this seems far more jargon-y and not really getting down to the "brass tax" of what its supposed to be about. Seems like he doesn't truly
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tackle and go on about the true "problem of pain" and its more or less a work-around to discuss what he wants to talk about with regards to Christianity and man's view and take on it.

The chapters are also broken down into weird ways and the long (3 page paragraphs!) paragraphs and writing style compared to some of his other essays makes this wordier and with much more filler than need be and previously done.

I have to say I wish there was a fair bit more 'meat' on it, and would also wish there was tackling of this from an atheistic perspective (obviously I know going in, I wouldn't be getting that perspective from Lewis).
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LibraryThing member MarieFriesen
The Problem of Pain answers the universal question, "Why would an all-loving, all-knowing God allow people to experience pain and suffering?" Master Christian apologist C.S. Lewis asserts that pain is a problem because our finite, human minds selfishly believe that pain-free lives would prove that
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God loves us. In truth, by asking for this, we want God to love us less, not more than he does. "Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect at the opposite pole from Love."
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LibraryThing member letseatgrandpa
This is definitely not a book for people currently going through pain. It is weighty and theological and not very compassionate. This is CS Lewis the theologian at his best, however, working through complex ideas with grace and deep thought and a keen eye toward heaven. Tough to follow, but worth
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it if you’re willing to give it a shot.
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LibraryThing member JenniferRobb
Reading C.S. Lewis makes me feel so unintelligent--with this book, I started out understanding his intent and arguments but about halfway through the book, I ended up feeling lost.
LibraryThing member snotbottom
Why does God allow pain and suffering? A question Lewis begrudgingly tackles in this book. A bit harder to follow along with than much of his other work. Best if you actually sit down a run through it, rather than casually read. The subject matter doesn't help with the readability, since there are
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arguments to every theory. However, Lewis does a fine job addressing as many of these as he can while holding God up as the ultimate provider of solutions. Did I come away understanding why pain exists in the world? No... nor does Lewis expect this, but rather it provides a bit of comfort knowing that there is a reason for it all, and it will all be worth it.
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LibraryThing member justagirlwithabook
This book is part of my C.S. Lewis collection. I went through a huge phase where I was just obsessed with anything and everything by him. While I don't agree with all of his theology, I do love his writing style and the things he has to say about faith. He was a good one.
LibraryThing member LeslieHurd
C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain was heavy going for me. I found I needed to read it in small portions and then ponder what he had to say. This work is intellectual and complex, but I was comforted that he could explain so fully at least one point that I had always dimly understood: when we are
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content in the lives we believe we have made for ourselves, we often feel we have no need of God. Only when we've lost much do we decide to rely on our creator. Of course the book has much more to say and he says it unapologetically and with great focus. Lewis' non-fiction calls for re-reading. I'm sure I'll refer to it as a reference in the future.
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