What do I think is the best solution to the problem of evil? As it happens, I’ve just finished directing an honors seminar on that very topic, with readings drawn from Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra.
Each of these authors (even Hume) provides an important component to what I believe to be “best”. But perhaps the best of the best can be found in the book by Lewis, the second volume of his Space Trilogy. Obviously I can’t tell the whole story here. Allow me instead to refer you to the end of the novel, particularly Lewis’s vision of what he calls the Great Dance. To give you just a taste of what this involves, here’s the question (with prologue) that I posed to my class the last day we discussed Perelandra:
Milton opens Paradise Lost with an invocation to the Holy Spirit: “What in me is dark Illumin,” he prays, “what is low raise and support; / That to the highth of this great Argument / I may assert Eternal Providence, / And justifie the wayes of God to men.”
As you know, solutions, or attempted solutions, to the problem of evil are called “theodicies” precisely because, like Milton’s poem, they seek to explain the justice of God (the dike of theos in the Greek). If God is truly all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful, how can He justly permit the existence of evil, sin, suffering, and death?
As you also know, Lewis devoted his most influential scholarly tome, A Preface to Paradise Lost, to this poem, and as a Christian theologian, he was of course well aware of the importance of defending God’s justice. But in the last chapter of Perelandra, he seems to suggest that “justice” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. What I’ve got in mind is a passage on p. 180, where the King is made to say to Ransom:
“I know now what they say in your world about justice. And perhaps they say well, for in that world things always fall below justice. But Maleldil [Lewis’s name for God] always goes above it. All is gift. I am Oyarsa [a vicegerent of God’s] not by His gift alone but by our foster mother’s, not by hers alone but by yours, not by yours alone but my wife’s—nay, in some sort, by gift of the very beasts and birds. Through many hands, enriched with many different kinds of love and labour, the gift comes to me. It is the Law. The best fruits are plucked for each by some hand that is not his own” (180).
And then, as if to illustrate and illumine this Law, Lewis begins to describe what he calls the “Great Game” or “Great Dance”. Here’s my question for today: Is this Law just? Is the Game fair? Or would one be right in thinking that it’s precisely because it’s not “just” and not “fair” that the Great Dance is a solution to the problem of evil?