C.S. Lewis famously wrote of ‘The Problem of Pain’, and Christian apologists generally regard the reality of suffering as one of the most serious objections to the existence of a good God.
However, it is not difficult to see that at least some types of pain are absolutely necessary for our well-being.
Nick Lane’s recent book Life Ascending (Profile Books, 2009) is subtitled ‘The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution’. Writing as a biochemist, sets out his ‘top ten’ as follows:-
- The origin of life
- The complex cell
- Hot blood
Although adopting a strictly naturalistic stance, Lane’s discussion of pain is of relevance to theodicy (i.e. the account we give of God’s goodness and justice in the face of evil and suffering):-
Pain hurts for a reason. A few unfortunate people are born with a congenital insensitivity to pain. They suffer from terrible, often anticipated afflictions. One four-year-old girl, Gabby Gingras, was the subject of a documentary film directed by Melody Gilbert in 2005. Without pain, each development milestone became an ordeal. When her milk-teeth first cut through, Gabby chewed her own fingers to the bone, mutilating them so badly her parents were forced to have her teeth removed. On learning to walk, Gabby injured herself time and again, on one occasion breaking her jaw without knowing it, until an infection caused a fever. Worse, she would poke herself in the eye, causing damage that required stitches, which she soon tore out. Her parents tried restraints, then goggles, to no avail. At the age of four she had to have her left eye removed; and her right eye too is seriously damaged, leaving her legally blind (20./200 eyesight)…Others like her have died in childhood; a few survive to be adults, but often have to contend with serious injuries. (p250)
And pain is not alone. Emotions such as hunger, thirst, and fear may be unpleasant, but they drive us towards live-saving and life-sustaining actions.
In this life, at least, it seems we should accept at least some types and degrees of pain as God-given necessities. This by no means solves all the problems, but it does get us somewhere.