I am in the process of writing a more detailed evaluation of C.S. Lewis’ theodicy in The Problem of Pain and will post it on the website as soon as it is available. But I wanted to share one brief criticism I have of Lewis (and anyone who knows me knows that I have been highly influenced by Lewis in my own apologetic methods, so please do not take any criticisms I launch his way lightly). Lewis brilliantly combines elements of free will, natural law and soul-making theodicies in his book. However, one argument he raises is that God allows some pain to enter into our lives as a teaching tool. Basically, Lewis’ premise is that true happiness lies only in a relationship with God. Imperfect humans insist upon looking for happiness in earthly things, but these inevitably disappoint. Before we will ever find true happiness, we must completely surrender our will to God and turn it over to Him. This, however, is far from an easy process. At one point Lewis even compares it to a form of death, and it naturally involves pain. Because we have free will, we must be free to refuse to surrender our will to God. In fact, because our will is fallen, we will refuse to surrender it without God’s help. So God allows some pain in our lives so we will learn not to depend upon earthly things but instead to rely upon Him. Our free will is what permits us to make this choice. One way of viewing Lewis’ argument may be that God allows those earthly things to disappoint us.
I do not necessarily have a problem with this argument per se. My criticism is that Lewis overlooks an enormous gap in his theodicy and has left himself open to a pretty strong objection. Why should God permit us to have free will in the first place? Granted, we can only decide to surrender our will to God if we have free will. But if we did not have free will, humanity never could have chosen to fall either. If none of us had free will, we could not refuse to subject our will to God. We would have no will to surrender. Freedom, then, is a means to an end. It is a necessary means in order to achieve the end of surrender. But if surrender is not necessary, why have freedom?
Take the example of Adam and Eve. Lewis says we cannot surrender our wills to God because they are fallen. But before Adam and Eve’s sin their wills were not fallen. Yet God also granted them freedom. Adam chose what to name the animals. They both freely chose to eat the forbidden fruit. If freedom opened the door to rebellion, and it was not necessary in order for Adam and Eve to choose surrender (because their wills were not yet fallen), why give them freedom in the first place?
My point is simple: a free will theodicy cannot place the value of freedom solely in being a means to an end. Freedom must have inherent value in itself, regardless of whether it in turn is a means to achieve some other desirable end. If freedom is inherently valuable, then some degree of pain will be permissible in order to preserve that value. Lewis fails to acknowledge the inherent value in freedom and in doing so leaves himself open to the question of why God should have granted us freedom in the first place.