Thursday, January 29, 2009

In which the mask comes off

In case anyone's wondering where I've been - I've been very discouraged and emotionally drained lately. The last few months have been difficult. I've been working hard. I've been reading and trying to understand C.S. Lewis - his simple faith and his incredible joy (and the inexplicable extremes of love & hate he seems to provoke in folks). I've been troubled by the state of our nation, on many levels. Many positive things are happening (which, as a Republican and a Christian I'm not supposed to acknowledge). And some pretty terrible things are happening (which, if I'm to look like a good Christian, I'm supposed to get indignantly outraged about.) I've been troubled by the way the Church by and large is addressing the great moral issues of our time - as if She herself was not made up of sinners struggling with their own moral issues. Troubled by how we look, to me and the onlooking world, like a bunch of miserable, judgemental, bickering, isolationists who would rather stand back and judge them than befriend them, offering to them the most joyous news imaginable. It's okay that Jesus was labeled a friend of sinners, but apparently I'm not supposed to be, even though I'm a sinner myself. I've been troubled by the lack of joy, in myself and in the church. If the gospel is really good news, why aren't we celebrating, laughing, talking non-stop about the amazing things God has done? Why am I not? Why am I not dying to tell whoever will listen about God's kindness and unthinkable love? Indeed, why am I not dancing in the aisles?

So, today I was busy at work - a house that should take 3 hours to clean that was such a mess it took 6. I listened to a series of teachings on grace. Six long hard hours learning about grace. Half-way through found myself crying and praying that what I was hearing was really true. I think I knew it once, in the beginning of my Christian life - but - where had it gone? When had I dried up and started hoping in my ability to please Him, trusting in my pathetic obedience and doctrinal precision? Having begun with the Spirit, am I now ending with the flesh? Did I experience so many things in vain? Does He who supplies the Spirit to me and works miracles in my life do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Perhaps I'll have a thing or two more to say about all this later - or - hopefully, I'll be talking about it for the rest of my life. First I have to make certain it's not too good to be true!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time to meet a Scottish Puritan

I'll try to cook up something of my own soon; but for now I'll dish up something freshly prepared by my dear husband, a new Puritan Cameo. This time it's Scottish Puritan, James Durham. Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lewis on the Trinity - First Steps, Part 2

This is the latest installment of our Reading of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity over at http://www.challies.com/. I posted Part 1 of this section yesterday. Today I will cover the rest, Sections 3-6.

3. Time and Beyond Time

Lewis begins this chapter by admitting that it may not be helpful to some, and encouraging them to skip it, though how they would know whether to skip it or not without first reading it I don’t know – perhaps if you just read the first three paragraphs. That is what I did and, of course, it only served to pique my curiosity so I read on. Apparently many others have as well, because here I found what has seems, at least in my experience, to be the prevailing notion, in Christian circles, of how God in his eternity intersects and relates with man in time.
He first addresses the idea many have that God cannot possibly listen to all the millions of prayers that must be offered to him at any given moment. Lewis responds that the problem lies in our concept of time and that - in so many words -God is not constrained to a time sequence as we are, and has all eternity to mull over each individual prayer at his leisure.

"Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this
universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world."

"If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn…God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all."
I have no real problem with any of that, as he doesn’t claim to have it all figured out, and qualifying it as he does with the statement that God "contains the whole line." It seems to be an adequate way of attempting to grasp the nearly incomprehensible, as long as one remembers that it’s simply that, a weak attempt. And it is should be adequate to put an end to the cavils of some who actually think God doesn't have time to be bothered with them.

From here Lewis wades into murkier waters:


"God has no history. He is too completely and utterly real to have one. For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it had
already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it
is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it, God forbid we should think God was like that."

These are purely philosophical constructs that may or may not be the case. We have no way of understanding how God perceives Himself in general, and how He "experiences" time in particular, outside of what He tells us, which isn’t much. We do know from Scripture that for Him, "a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day." I hardly think that is meant to be used as a literal conversion table (ie. making the six creation days six thousand years in human years). Rather, we are to understand that time means something very different to us than to Him. Anything beyond that is speculation. Lewis seems, at least to some extent, to understand that. Unfortunately, for many folks who hold Lewis’ views it’s dogma.

As he moves on from here, he bumps right up against the barrier of free-will. Some folks will never think this through at all, but many others, as soon as they hear that God knows their decisions before they make them will ask – "How then can our decisions be free? Surely, if God knows what will happen, then it is set in stone and I have no choice." Here I find Lewis’ explanation unhelpful, as it positions God as a mere observer, who knows what will happen simply because He’s there in the future already watching it – "He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him." I find the notion that God knows history like someone who’s already seen the movie to be an entirely insufficient way to think of the One who writes, directs, and acts in it - so to speak.

So, I object to part, but not all, of Lewis’ understanding of God’s relation to time, and do find it in some ways helpful; at the very least in helping to create a new thought category for folks who may really think of God as a person constrained by the limits of time (and space, which is another aspect of eternity – that Lewis only faintly hints at). There is a potentially serious problem with his view in that the suggestion that all of God’s "history" exists for all eternity implies that there is a sense in which Creation is also, in a manner of speaking, eternal – and so are we. I’ve heard Christians tell their children who ask, "Where was I before I was born?" answer, "In the mind of God." I don’t dicker, because I know what they mean, sort of. It's a rather sweet and charming response. But that statement has the same problem. It implies our own eternal existence – as though we, like Christ, have co-existence with God from all eternity. It’s as though we’ve always existed, in seminal form at least, in the mind of God; or worse, it could imply that each present moment exists eternally for God, which actually would make us eternal. I would not go so far, and I’m going to hope and assume Lewis would not either.

Lewis is careful here to remind us "it is not in the Bible or any of the creeds. You can be a perfectly good Christian without accepting it, or indeed without thinking of the matter at all." Ah…well, some of us are doomed to think – it must be so - and boy can that line of thinking get us into trouble if we’re not very careful, if we’re not very faithful to the limits Scripture places on our speculations!

4. Good Infection

This section is simply beautiful, a real Lewis gem. Here as he stretched to explain the co-eternal nature of the Godhead, in particular the Father’s eternal begetting of the Son, my heart was lifted up to worship:


"We say that the First begets or produces the second; we call it begetting, not making, because what He produces is of the same kind as Himself. In that way the word Father is the only word to use. But unfortunately it suggests that He is there first – just as a human father exists before his son. But that is not so.
There is no before and after about it…The Son exists because the Father exists;
but there never was a time before the Father produced the Son….we must think of
the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like… thoughts
from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father – what the Father has to
say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it….Much the most important thing to know is that it is a relation of love. The Father delights in His Son; the Son looks up to His Father."

And what follows about love is lovely:
"…the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite
different: they really mean ‘Love is God.’ They really mean that our feelings of
love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to
be treated with great respect."


Before my husband and I were married, we were, for two years, merely friendly acquaintances. We genuinely liked each other, but for numerous reasons never considered each other as potential mates; that is, until circumstances threw us together in close proximity for a period of several days. Over the course of those days our enjoyment in each other’s company grew and began to surprise us. Soon it began to feel like there was another entity, almost palpable, in the room with us whenever we were together. Neither of us spoke of it, certain it was in our imaginations. Like an elephant in the room, however, we weren’t able to ignore it forever, and finally both acknowledged it was there. That thing was love. And that experience makes me able to embrace the truth and beauty of how Lewis describes the eternal nature and God-hood of the third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit:
"…God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when people get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the ‘spirit’ of that family, or club, or trade union…It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person; it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God…This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ‘spirit’ of God."

"In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him: He is always
acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there,’ in
front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to
pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third
Person as something inside you, or behind you….this spirit of love is, from all
eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son….Once a man is united
to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what
can he do but wither and die."


(And that is what mankind has been doing ever since Adam separated us from God – withering and dying.)

Dwell now on the implications of having been given the Holy Spirit - of what it means to be indwelled by Him. When we are given new life in Christ, we are being drawn in by the very Spirit that is the eternal love which the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father. Like parents whose love for each other leads them to reach out and adopt children to encompass in that love, God’s Holy Spirit reaches out, draws us in, indwells us, and binds us together with Him (and each other) in love as His children. Is it not much clearer now why He is called the Spirit of adoption?

Ponder now what it means that we "were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory." And think of this: the Spirit who indwells Christians is eternal. He is God drawing us into the life of God. Think what depth of assurance this gives us in God’s promise to us that "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ." We believers have been drawn into the eternal life and love of God, with the Spirit as our guarantee, and nothing can separate us – what hope! As Lewis says: "Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?" And isn’t it good to know that "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ"?

5. Obstinate Toy Soldiers

"The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." Beautiful words to begin with. Lewis really does paint a rather whimsical picture in this section.
"And the present state of things [after the fall of man] is this. The two kinds of life [Zoe & Bios] are now not only different but actually opposed. The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that want to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of a bath. And in a sense it is quite right. It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centeredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that."

He likens us to toy soldiers not wanting to be made real and fighting it tooth and nail – a memorable image – and then goes on to tell us how God deals with us in our similar condition:

"The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a Woman’s body….The result of this was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the createdlife,derived from his Mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into the begotten life. The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son."


This God-man lived a life of "killing …his human desires at every turn". And died an excruciating death. And then, "the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier – real tin, just like the rest – had come fully and splendidly alive."

That is all very lovely and, I think, helpful. But from there Lewis strays into some rather strange and murky territory, some speculation I hardly know what to do with.

"If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, [again, where are we told that God sees things this way?] it would not look like one single growing thing – rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would
appear connected with every other. And not only that, Individuals are not really
separate from God any more than from one another…because God, so to speak, is
‘keeping him going’."

"Consequently, when Christ becomes a man…It is as if something which is always affecting the whole human race begins, at one point, to affect that whole human mass in a new way. From that point the effect spreads through all mankind. It makes a difference to people who lived before Christ as well as people who lived after him. It makes a difference to people who have never heard of him. It is like dropping into a glass of water one drop of something which gives a new taste or a new color to the whole lot. But, of course, none of these illustrations really works perfectly. In the long run God is no one but Himself and what He does is like nothing else."


So, depending upon your imagination, this illustration could mean any number of things, some helpful, some not. If I think of the death and resurrection of Christ as the pivotal event in creation, which, no doubt it is; then I could then apply Lewis’ perspective to common grace, seeing it as something that issues out from that historical point, throughout all time, granting God’s beneficence to His enemies throughout the history of the world. I wish that was Lewis’ mind. Unfortunately he applies this concept in a way I, from my Reformed perspective, never would, positing an hypothetical atonement. And here, Lewis’ synergistic beliefs are finally stated unambiguously:

"Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work – the bit we could not have done for ourselves – has been done for us….If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real
man. He will do it in us and for us."


The implication here is that God does 99% of the work of salvation, we do the last 1% to complete it. Now, I’d say most Christians are okay with that formula. They must feel they’ve got the necessary 1% (their "free" will" perhaps?). I don’t. I know me, and I know what Scripture says about me – that in me dwells no good thing. I know I wouldn’t have handed over my 1% willingly. I know my salvation is all from Him – 100%.
6. Two Notes
I’ll not spend much time here. Lewis wants to address a couple of "clarifying" points to avoid misunderstandings that may arise from the previous section. He first attempts to explain why God didn’t just "beget" many sons at the outset, why he made "toy soldiers" instead. He offers two reasons, the first dealing with the "toy soldier" aspect of the question. This explanation involves the existence of "free will" in man (that it is necessary to the capacity for love and happiness is an assertion I’ve disagreed with in previous discussions), which led man to turn from God. He asserts that the whole process of becoming sons of God would have been easy and painless if it were not for man’s fall. I strongly object to any implication that God ever had a Plan B. When God created this world, Christ was slain from the foundation of it. It was always meant to be that God would save a people, a Bride for His Son, through the process of suffering. We are living out Plan A.

The second part of this question addresses why there is only one begotten Son. Here Lewis begins with a healthy dose of the fear of God: "If we insist on asking ‘But there could have been many?’ we find ourselves in very deep water. Have the words ‘Could have been’ any sense at all when applied to God?…when you are talking about God – i.e. about the rock bottom, irreducible Fact on which all other facts depend – it is nonsensical to ask if It could have been otherwise. It is what It is, and there is an end of the matter." That statement suffices for me. He offers illustrations which some may find helpful. I’ll not go into those here.

His second clarifying point is probably necessary, given the odd nature of his description of the human race as "in a sense, one thing – one huge organism, like a tree". He wants to make it clear that he’s not saying that "individual differences do not matter or that real people…are somehow less important than collective things like classes, races, and so forth." His explanation is Scriptural (insofar as it applies to the Church) and helpful, so I’ll quote at length:

"Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body – different from one another and each contributing what no other could. When you find yourself wanting to turn your
children, or pupils, or even your neighbors, into people exactly like yourself,
remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours,’ remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you. If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become and Individualist. If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian. But a Christian must not be either…"


Good words, and we’ll conclude with even better ones:

"I feel a strong desire to tell you – and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me – which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you
gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep
our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors."



Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lewis on the Trinity - First Steps

This is the latest installment of our Reading of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity over at www.challies.com. Our reading for this week was Sections 1-6 in Book 4: Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity. My intention was to look at all 6 sections in one post, but as I re-read the material it became clear to my detail-oriented (hope that doesn't translate 'nit-picky') self that there’s way too much I’d like to discuss for that. So, like last week I’ll be breaking it up into two or three parts.

In this section, Lewis openly delves into theology. I say “openly” because here he clearly states that is what he’s doing, though I would argue that he’s been doing it all along without realizing it. I will agree that he’s now getting into what is “formally” known as theology. This is an area in which he admits to being without expertise, and for that I will give him much credit – and leeway. I’ve found in this section some of my favorite, and least favorite expressions of Lewis. Here he is at his strongest and weakest.


1. Making and Begetting

He begins by defending his decision to discuss these matters rather than sticking to “plain practical religion”. He describes a man who is content to have “felt” God one lonely night in the desert, and explains why that man’s experience is inadequate:


Doctrines are not God; they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God –
experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are
likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused.”

“…if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what
happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly
exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere”.

I like his response, but were it up to me – as a married person, I would add to it: To know God, one must listen to what He has to say. A wife who really loves her husband would never be satisfied to spend one night with him, “experiencing” him speechlessly only to say, well, that was lovely, now go on and be quiet unless I feel like having that experience again. No, if she truly loves him, she will be eager to know what he thinks, what he likes, what he wants. If she has no interest, it’s not likely her husband would believe that she cares for him at all.

He then goes on to explain how Theology is more practical than we think:

“Theology is practical: especially now…Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones – bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which
are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians
tried centuries ago and rejected.”

He then describes the popular religion of his day, which is which is gaining momentum in our day: “…that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and that if only we took his advice we might be able to establish a better social order…”

To which Lewis responds well:

“If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years….But as soon as you look at any real Christian writings, you find that they are talking about something quite different from this popular religion.”

And, says Lewis, real Christianity is very different, and at points difficult and shocking. For example he offers the begotten-ness of the Son of God:


"One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God ‘begotten, not created’; and it adds ‘begotten by his Father before all the worlds.’ Will you please get it quite clear that …We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth. We are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began…. What God begets is God;just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the same sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God….But what man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life – the higher and different sort of life that exists in God….The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe, is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe; but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.”


I’ll conclude this section with Lewis’ own last words, not so much for their
content as for their panache:


“And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”


2) The Three-Personal God

Having illustrated in the previous section that God, the Father, begot the Son, “something of the same kind as Himself” something “like a human father begetting a human son. But not quite like it,” he feels some more explanation is in order.

Here is where I found myself in washing, so to speak, with murky water, sloshing around, rubbing here and there, but finishing up dissatisfied with the result. To be fair, it is the Trinity Lewis is taking on here – an amorphous Subject if there ever was one. I’ll try to remember to keep that in mind as we proceed.

He begins by disagreeing with the notion that many folks have of God as an impersonal being:


“…the Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality could be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something impersonal; that is, as something less than personal…that after this life…human souls will be ‘absorbed’ into God…like a drop of water slipping into the sea. But of course that is the end of the drop. If that is what happens to us, then being absorbed is the same as ceasing to exist. It is only the Christians who have any idea of how human souls can be taken into the life of God and yet remain themselves – in fact, be very much more themselves than they were before.”


He goes on to arrange metaphors which attempt to illustrate how it could be that when “taken into the life of God” man could become more than before, rather than ceasing to exist. He uses the illustration of dimensions, ie.: 1,2, and 3 dimensional figures.

“…as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.” This can be somewhat helpful in thinking of man – perhaps even glorified man, in the resurrection. But he’s, extending it to understanding the Godhead; and there it gets a bit more dicey. “In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that…but we can get a sort of a faint notion of it.”

Lewis is stretching us here, trying to open up for us new categories of thinking. I appreciate that. I also appreciate that he recognizes exactly where the metaphor falls short (that we are still not speaking of distinct persons, just different aspects of a single individual) and moves to improve upon it.


“On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimension in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it.”

Now, remembering that his goal at the moment is merely to help folk who hold to a notion of an impersonal god to think outside of that box, I think this is as good a metaphor as any – so long as you don’t go building a whole theology on it – which does not seem to be Lewis’ aim here. Now, knowing that even this illustration is going to leave some dry and wondering what the point is in talking about a Being too difficult to comprehend – he takes a strange tack. He tells them not to bother talking about Him then, but to be drawn into “that three-personal life…any time – tonight, if you like.” And what does he mean? Prayer. He describes an ordinary Christian man at prayer; and it is an immensely profound (strangely placed and surprisingly Calvinistic) description of the work of the Trinity in prayer:


“…if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kind of life – what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.”


So, in one masterful maneuver he’s not only described the personal actions of the Trinity in the life of a man, but invited - nearly dared - his listeners to pray to this God.

He moves on to comment on the nature of the “science” of Theology in general – how it is like other sciences in some ways and in other ways not at all. To study rocks, you go to the rocks. It’s entirely one-sided. To study animals is much the same, but if you’re careful, they may come to you. To study humans requires a bit more initiative on the part of the subject. They may refuse you entirely. It is a two-way street. But to study God is a different story. And here we come to some very ambiguous passages, with almost every line open to multiple interpretations ranging from beautiful to helpful to just plain wrong. (This, by the way, is what I mean when I describe Lewis’ theology as muddled at times. I detest ambiguity in doctrinal matters because of misunderstandings that inevitably result.)


“When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others – not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as a clean one...the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred – like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.”
“You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred – like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.

“God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another.”

I’m certain, first off, that Lewis knew exactly what he meant when he uttered these words. He was not trying to be unclear or ambiguous. It also seems fairly clear that didn’t have much interaction with folks of the Reformed persuasion who might ask him to clarify his positions. That said, I’ll put my own questions and objections to his statements. The first statement is excellent! I couldn’t agree more. The initiative is all of God! It is also true that as Creator, it is entirely His prerogative to reveal Himself if and how He chooses. But in saying, “nothing you can do will enable you to find Him” he implies that man really wants to find this God, which Scripture flatly denies stating contrarily that man already knows this God and suppresses that knowledge (Rom.1). When he says, “it is impossible for Him” I bristle. Nothing is impossible for God but to sin. God can and will show himself to such people, dreadfully, on Judgement Day. But perhaps Lewis means something else. When he says that God shows Himself more to some than to others I disagree, in the sense that all humans do receive the basic Romans 1 type knowledge which all suppress; but I would agree in the sense of the Parable of the Talents (with the buried talent representing the suppressed Romans 1 knowledge of God). The problem is, it's not clear in which manner he is speaking. His explanation of some men being “clean and bright” and some dusty, begs the question of how one gets to be clean and bright, and who’s initiative it takes to do the cleaning and shining – and how one gets to be a “real man”. One could come away from this bit thinking that one can clean one’s own self up so that God can reveal Himself. If, however, he is speaking purely of the process of sanctification, which I can’t tell, then it’s a lovely illustration of how increasing sanctification and leads to increasing light from God – right through to our ultimate glorification. In the last bit, he brings the corporate body of Christ into play in a lovely way, with which I agree wholeheartedly. Oh, and there’s one statement I would like to rearrange entirely. I would say that “horrible nations have horrible religions because they have not been looking to God at all, but have exchange Him for idols.” (Again, Romans 1)

I'll leave off there, in hopes of posting the rest tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Now I feel better.

I always feel like I need to apologize for not being good at multi-tasking - but not anymore! Here's why.

It really is better to to one thing well, than several poorly. It is also quicker and more accurate to do each task with full attention than several while distracted.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Let Abraham Lincoln address abortion, if you will

Lincoln’s Logic on Slavery Applied to Abortion
January 22, 2009 | By: John Piper

On January 12, 2009 Samantha Heiges, age 23, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for drowning her newborn in Burnsville, Minnesota. If she had arranged for a doctor to kill the child a few weeks earlier she would be a free woman.

What are the differences between this child before and after birth that would justify it’s protection just after birth but not just before? There are none. This is why Abraham Lincoln’s reasoning about slavery is relevant in ways he could not foresee. He wrote:

You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest; you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you. (“Fragments: On Slavery")
There are no morally relevant differences between white and black or between child-in-the-womb and child-outside-the-womb that would give a right to either to enslave or kill the other.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One more for the sanctity of life

Here's a great John Piper sermon, dating back to the beginning of the Clinton presidency. Amazingly little has changed in the situation between then and now. You'll see what I mean. The message is on How to Be Pro-Life Christians Under a Pro-Choice President. I generally love Piper's political perspectives, because of his great respect for the God-given role of government, and the human beings God raises up to fill those roles. This message is no exception.

Three down, one to go

Thanks to my friend Barry for the link to this wonderful short film. May you be blessed, and emboldened to continue to stand up for the rights of the helpless among us.

(You'll have to cut and paste the address. I couldn't for the life of me get the hyperlink to work.)

http://www.thedoorpost.com/hope/Volition/

A chord struck from my own history...

on this historic day. That beautiful piece, an arrangement of "Simple Gifts" played by the quartet today brought me back to my childhood. I was raised in the Lutheran church and went to Lutheran schools most of my youth. At one of our camps (6th grade, I think) we learned a song, sung to the tune of "Simple Gifts". It made me weepy as a child, and still does today:

Lord of the Dance

words by Sydney Carter, music traditional

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(...lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced for the scribe & the pharisee
But they would not dance & they wouldn't follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on:

I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I'd gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!

They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that'll never, never die!
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!

A cause for rejoicing...

There is a great deal to celebrate this day, a great barrier has been surmounted. There are great struggles ahead, great wrongs still to be righted, and more human lives to protect from tragic injustices; but for now I will rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and hope with those who are hopeful - with African-American parents, children, and grandparents who may now, for the first time ever feel simply like Americans.

I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes


I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Meet another Puritan

Paul's completed another informative and entertaining Puritan bio. This time it's Thomas Cartwright. Don't know who he is? Neither did I, but here's your chance to find out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do the Next Thing - a testimonial

I know this poem has made the rounds, particularly in home-school circles, but it has an interesting place in my heart. Mainly because the title became a mantra of sorts for me long before I'd ever heard the poem.

To those who know me, this story is old news, you may skip ahead to the poem. For the rest, here's the story: I came to Christ in the weeks after my former husband left me for another man's wife. Knowing how God feels about divorce, I thought if I went back to "living like a Christian", He would certainly be on my side and help me get my husband back. I had turned to God after a life of rebellion, like I always did, for purely selfish reasons - to get out of a fix. This time, however, something different happened. I became so broken and so keenly aware of my sinfulness that, for the first time in my life, I realized I needed to be saved. I didn't just need a change of circumstances - a fresh start, I needed a new heart. For the first time I realized how kind and merciful God had been during my life of rebellion, and was thankful. I began to think that God may have had a purpose in this dreadful turn of events and began to take comfort and delight in the thought that He might even be glorified in my life somehow(not something I ever cared about before).

I had immediately, the same day I was abandonded, abandoned my alcohol abuse thinking it was the sole cause of all my problems; but soon began to examine my life carefully, particularly focusing on my bouts of rage and depression. I realized it was my sin that was the source of my depression and with much prayer decided to abandon my anti-depressants cold-turkey, knowing full well there would be horrible withdrawals. In my heart I knew I'd never have any certainty whether I was really trusting in God or in the drugs unless I stopped taking them. (This is the part where people usually wish I would stop talking. But please understand - I'm talking about myself. I'm not sitting in judgement over everyone who takes such medications. If you do, and this kind of talk bothers you, remember, you answer to God, not to me. My intention is not to condemn but to offer hope.) Three days later, as withdrawals were setting in I found myself trying to pray, desperately needing to pray, but there was a cigarette in my hand. I was a heavy smoker. I looked at that cigarette and thought, "I can't pray with you in my hand" so I quit. And there I found myself, at the age of 40: grief-stricken, unemployed (I didn't mention that before), horribly sick (the withdrawals, grief, and an abdominal infection had caused me to drop 30 lbs in a matter of weeks to 97 lbs.), suffering agonizing mental disfunction from the chemical shifts from giving up anti-depressants, and surprisingly, worst of all, desperately craving a cigarette. Yet alongside that grief and pain was hope and very real joy. That was the beginning of a period of two years of seeking the Lord, waiting, and praying. In those two years God changed me and my entire life. But how I got through it all was moment by moment prayer, Scripture reading, study, and these words: "Do the next thing". I don't know where, but I must have heard them somewhere; and they stuck. I learned that every simple task could be an act of worship. I learned to be thankful for every simple task because it was God who'd set it before me and given me the breath and strength to do it, because it was no longer meaningless or futile.

That was over 4 years ago. I've since married a dear Christian man and those two years prepared me to be a good wife to him, and to walk through today's difficulties with hope. And when things get overwhelming I can remember to just...


Do the Next Thing


From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven
Hath as it says to me, teaching from heaven
And all through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration
Do the next thing

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt hath its quieting here
Moment by moment, let down from heaven
Time, opportunity, guidance are given
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King
Trust them with Jesus
Do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer
Do it reliantly, casting all care
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command
Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing
Leave all resultings
Do the next thing

Looking to Jesus, ever serener
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm
The light of His countenance be thy psalm
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing
Then, as He beckons thee
Do the next thing

"And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart." Galatians 6:9

Thanks to my friend Elizabeth S. for providing me with the text of the poem, which she got from Elizabeth Elliot.

One part Hope, two parts Faith

Today I'll be addressing Sections 10-12 in Book 2 of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, as part of my ongoing participation in Reading the Classics Together at www.challies.com. Section 10 focuses on Hope and Sections 11 & 12 on Faith.

We now come to a brief discussion of the “Theological” virtue called Hope. First, it is not “a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is….It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” And here Lewis takes a turn I wouldn’t have expected or taken myself, but it makes sense from what I’m gathering is Lewis’ preferred method of reasoning with folks, beginning from what they know best – themselves. He reasons that everyone has a built-in, so to speak, hope for heaven. “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise….The wife may be a good wife, the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be very interesting job: but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.” The first wrong way he calls “The Fool’s Way”. This is to think the things themselves were to blame – the wife, the job…and to trade them in for something different. The second wrong is better, but still wrong. It is “The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’”. This way “settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used… ‘to cry for the moon.’” And finally there is the right way, “The Christian Way”, which says “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists….If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world….I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

Lewis devotes the final two chapters in Book 2 to Faith. Let me first say, Lewis came at this subject in a way that left me with no idea where he was heading until I got to the second of the two chapters, the second time. Yes, I had to read it twice to begin to follow his direction at all. He took a meandering tack I would never have taken, and am not likely to take now that I have some understanding, mainly because it is so slow and round-about. But, having understood it, I can defend it to some extent in that it’s not nearly as indirect as the methods God Himself often uses to get His point across to His people. Let me explain. If I were God, (and we can all thank God right now that I’m not) things would likely happen very sparingly and in a very linear fashion. One thing would follow immediately upon another, the end results would happen with no intermediary save my command – like magic. I wouldn’t make clay and then dirty my hands making man out of the clay. I’d say, “let there be man” and there he’d be. I’d make the garden and not put a serpent in it, or a forbidden tree. The man would be the same man, a friend to know and relate with me, but without opportunity to desire to cheat on me. There would be nothing for me to forgive, because he would do no wrong. Do you see where I’m going? I’m certainly too selfish to create a being who would fall, so I could display my great love – supposing I had great love – by suffering and dying for him. And if I did, I wouldn’t design the very type of body I was going to inhabit complete with the very nerve endings that would feel the agonies of death. Okay, I may have gotten a bit carried away, but I hope you’ve got my point. God works in ways that may to us seem very indirect and, if we’re honest, even wasteful and unnecessary. God took Israel through a wildly amazing and agonizingly boring 40 year trek through the wilderness. He gave them a Law which reflected His perfectly holy character and gave them centuries to try to obey it, and to finally despair of ever obeying it. To make them feel their deep-seated sinfulness. To make them feel their need for a perfect Sacrifice, a perfect Priest, a perfect King. And that is what Lewis is doing in these two chapters. In the first section he lays down the demands of the moral law – in particular the Christian morality he’s been expounding in the previous sections - and challenges his hearers to try, really try, for months, to live in such a way. It seems that Lewis is playing the part of Evangelist in Pilgrim’s Progress and sending the pilgrim first to the mountain of the Law.

So, in the first section he addresses lower kind of “faith” - a version of faith that does not reach the level of “saving faith”. This “faith” is a mere mental assent to a set of facts, in this case the facts essential to Christianity. This sort of belief, he reasons, would perhaps be adequate were it true that man was actually ruled entirely by reason. But there always comes a point when a man’s desires pull him contrary to what this first kind of “faith” tells him is right. And then, “The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.” (Here I am strongly reminded of John Piper, whom I’ve heard say words to this effect: “Reason is the heart’s lackey. The heart manufactures a desire and the reason sets to work justifying it.”)

And so the second sort of “faith”, is “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view you reason takes.” I appreciate the difference in these kinds of “faith”, and agree that obedience to God and perseverance in that obedience is the hallmark of true faith. I’m not sure I care for referring to it as an art or as he also calls it, “the habit of faith”. Though certainly those who have received the gift of true saving faith will, by the grace of God, seek to nurture that gift – or using Lewis’ term, seek to perfect the “art”.

Lewis then gives advice as to how to “train the habit of faith”, because, “We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.” And we can certainly find Scripture to confirm the truth of this. For we all know that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) And so Lewis recommends “The first step is to recognize that fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers, religious reading and church-going” as “necessary parts of the Christian life.” And then he adds another step: “to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point on began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good…. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is….That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it; and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist…” We are to learn from all this effort that “there is no pass mark in this exam.”

And from this we are expected to discover that: “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving you limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already… It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present.” Wonderful observations! Being a woman, I’ve often thought of it as being like a child picking flowers from his mother’s garden and presenting them to her as a gift. I had a conversation once with a very kind fellow that my husband and I are acquainted with – an atheist. He was telling me that he didn’t really believe in God but thought religion is good for people and helpful. And I was struck with a thought that made me smile. He looked at me quizzically, so I told him how it made me think of how kind God is to give him life and happiness and the ability to speak those very words that deny His existence. And it’s true. We all depend upon God entirely. Even the atheist depends upon God for the breath to deny Him with.

Now Lewis ends the first section on Faith with a statement that I’d really like to turn around. He says, “When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.” What I wish it to say is that “when a man has made these two discoveries, God has been at work. It is after this that real life begins…” I guess that’s the difference in our “theological camps” showing, though I doubt Lewis thought of himself as being in a camp, and it’s not really worth dickering about here.

So, the man “discovers his bankruptcy” and is moved to the next section, on to the gospel of God and the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ and salvation by faith alone. Here Lewis says what I was hoping to hear, “it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this, I can’t.’… It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God….The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. In Christian language, He will share His ‘sonship’ with us, will make us like Himself, ‘Sons of God.’” The beautiful gospel of God – our only hope!

And lest we get the wrong idea – an antinomian notion – he prevents us. “…handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you….if what you call your “faith” in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all – not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.”

So he ends with a beautiful picture, that is classic Lewis, of the heavenly country all this temporary business of duties and rules and virtue points to: “One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every on there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. The are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to Meet another Puritan

Paul's posted another Puritan bio. Find it here: http://possumbane.livejournal.com/457029.html

Charity

This is another installment of our discussion of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis over at www.challies.com. I'm tackling a couple of these sections individually because they are so rich.

From Humility Lewis moves on to the first of the three “Theological” virtues: charity (faith and hope being the other two). As he says: “Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’. It certainly makes sense to have addressed humility first, having just learned that the prideful heart has no room in it for the love of others. So, by way of definition and explanation, Lewis has this to say about the Christian kind of love which “does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people…Christian love (or charity) for our neighbors is quite a different thing from liking or affection. We ‘like’ or are ‘fond of’ some people, and not of others….Natural liking or affection for people makes it easier to be ‘charitable’ towards them. It is, therefore, normally a duty to encourage our affections – to ‘like’ people as much as we can…not because this liking is itself the virtue of charity, but because it is a help to it. ”
And it gets even better: “…though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ you neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” This comes as very hopeful news to one like me, who was told once by a friend, very matter-of-factly and without cruel intent, “You’re not exactly the warmest person on the planet” – and that was after I was saved and had become a thousand times warmer than I once was! I must say I was initially a bit suspect of advice that sounds like what my husband refers to as the “fake it ‘til you feel it” philosophy. In the wrong hands it could lead to plain old hypocrisy (and I’ve been known to have the wrong hands!), but I think if it’s done with a prayerful heart of obedience to God’s word, then it is fine advice indeed. After all, what are the alternatives? Never talk to a person until you can generate warm feelings for them? Treat them as badly as you feel like it at the moment – for the sake of "honesty"? No, that would never do. So, in the end, I agree with Lewis: treat people the way you would want to be treated, with love and kindness – and pray that God will grace you with the warm-hearted affection you desire, along with the humility of heart to not keep thinking so highly of yourself that you still find yourself looking down upon others. Then one can hope for this splendid result: “The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.”

The Great Sin

This is the next installment of our Reading the Classics over at www.challies.com. Okay, last week I got ahead of myself. Back when we were reading Edwards there came a time, near the end, when Tim needed to take a week off while he went to some conference or another. When he came back I found myself mysteriously two weeks behind. I never did figure out how it happened, but I never got caught up again, and finished the race to the cheers of the clean-up crew. This time he took a break for the holidays and I ended up a section ahead. Again, I had no idea. Clearly I don’t pay careful enough attention to the instruction portion of his post. So, I commented on Section 7, Forgiveness, a week early. It was, in fact the predominant focus of that post. If you haven’t already read it, you can find it here: http://lauriemo.blogspot.com/2009/01/so-in-light-of-resolutions-ive-made.html . And with all that said, I’ll carry on today with the next section of our reading.

We begin with the Christian virtue of humility. In addressing that great virtue, humility, Lewis first describes “The Great Sin”, which is pride. It is interesting how things have changed in the generation since his writing. Personal pride, in this day and age, is now fostered in individuals to a degree that may be without historical precedent. We live in a world that glorifies the most entirely self-absorbed people imaginable. Though I could rattle off some names, I’d rather not deal with the troll responses. So just start your own list, you may perhaps begin with folks who are named after famous European locales.
Pride is considered by many, especially of the younger set (and Oprah fans of all ages), to be a virtue. In order to have this section make sense to the average, say, 25 year old, you may have to substitute the word “arrogance” for pride to get the intended meaning, because I’m not certain Lewis’ other term “self-conceit” is even all that frowned upon. But, with that in mind, what Lewis says is right on, “I have never heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

“The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.” This chapter was incredibly convicting and quite comparable to Edward’s treatment, in Religious Affections, of the same sin (though of necessity much briefer). Here Lewis unpacks pride in a way that must certainly expose everyone. His diagnostic tools are sharp and cut right to the heart. “…if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or patronise me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise….Pride is essentially competitive – it is competitive by its very nature – while other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something , only out of having more of it than the next man….If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud; the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” And boy can I testify to the truth of that. When I was a younger woman, before I was a believer, there were few things more miserable for me than to have to occupy the same room with women prettier or more successful than myself. Well, God, through his grace, and the natural aging process, has done quite a work in that area of my life!

Lewis goes on to say that “Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride…it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.... Pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”

And the most definitive statement of all: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

This, of course, leads to the subject of religious hypocrites who are full of pride and yet claim to know God. Lewis’ explanation of the phenomenon is simple and spot-on: “…they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people.” And he offers excellent help for self-examination: “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”
And finally, there’s this gem. We should all have it posted over our bathroom mirrors, or kitchen sinks, or wherever it will be seen many times a day: “…Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”.

And to this I add my shamefaced "Amen". No doubt it is my own pride which makes it so difficult to for me to love the ones in this world I find so difficult to love. (And here Lewis again speaks directly to my #2 New Year's resolution!) May God grant me ongoing grace to mortify this sin in my life.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Paul and the Puritans

No, not that Paul. My dear husband has started a series on his blog called "Meet the Puritans". Each week or so he'll be featuring a short, and (I think) rather entertaining biography of a Puritan. He began his series today with William Perkins. Hop on over and check it out.

Monday, January 5, 2009

An atheist witness to the power of God

I'd like to thank my on-line friend Barry for sharing this amazing story.

Some unexpected help with Resolution #2

So, in light of the resolutions I've made this New Year, and the time I'm going to need to invest in them, I decided yesterday to finish reading Lewis', Mere Christianity (since I'm nearly finished anyway), but to discontinue doing posts related specifically to the reading group that I've been participating in. As much as I love and admire Lewis, I've been underwhelmed with this particular work and really dislike playing the part of a critic, especially of a man of his caliber.

And with that in mind I headed off to bed with Mere Christianity in hand. There I hit upon a section so poignant, and so relevant to my #2 New Years Resolution, that I changed my mind and have decided to post about it. But rather than skipping right ahead I'll go ahead and sum up briefly what I've read between my last post and this. I've been in the section titled "Christian Behaviour". There have been quite a few gems in it, along with points I can't say I agree with at all. For instance, I love his treatment of the "Cardinal Virtues": prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. I also found the section on "Social Morality" - the role of Christians in society at large - insightful and worth reading. I found his foray into "Morality and Psychoanalysis" odd, overly man-centered, and rather speculative. Take this assumption as a brief example: "...since Christian morality claims to be a technique for putting the human machine right..." Well...I guess...kind of - I don't know if I can agree with that as a starting point or not. This is a section where I found the absence of a scriptural framework frustrating. His discussion of the effects of sin on the human is interesting, and true as far as it goes, though I'd prefer to see more emphasis placed upon sin's offensiveness to God. But even here there are a couple of gems: "When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less". I can certainly attest to the truth of that! And this one: "Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either."

His sections on Sexual Morality and Christian Marriage, though rather unremarkable, contained a few gems as well. For instance, I really liked his discussion of propriety: "...while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes....When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable; for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable." I also appreciated this bit about being "in love": "Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life." And this, "It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill...if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life." Well, I suppose wise old Solomon would have to utter an "amen" to that one. He closes the section with a discussion of why there should be headship at all in a marriage. I wish he'd just stuck with Scripture on that one rather than scraping together some possible pragmatic reasons God may have had in establishing it that way, but I'll leave it at that.

Now to the point I was getting at in the first place - what Lewis had to say to help me with my #2 Resolution: Mortify the sin of harboring dislike toward folks who don't like me (I could also call it learning to genuinely love my enemies and love my brothers and sisters in Christ from the heart). This probably would have been better placed at Number One, but it's too late for that now. Chapter 7 in the Christian Behavior section is titled "Forgiveness". Lewis says, "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive..." Well, that's about as true a statement as I've ever heard; and he goes on to explain how to "learn how to forgive". Part of learning how to forgive, he says it to learn "what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?" And here begins one of the most practical, and convicting, explanations I've ever read of what it means to "love thy neighbor". And from here I'll let Lewis talk: "Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently 'Love you neighbour' does not mean 'feel fond of him' or 'find him attractive.'...my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving their enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are....not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do....Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them....But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if in anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again."

Now here is an ever more biting paragraph: "The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred." Now higher theological details aside, this is deeply insightful into the nature and character of sinful man. This characterized exactly the person I was becoming before God intervened in my life and saved me. And these sinful tendencies still exist, embedded deeply in my 44 year old flesh. And to the new me who lives now, in this well-worn flesh, with its deeply ingrained sinful tendencies, (and think of it: indwelt by the holy Spirit of God!), the me who longs to mortify this sin in my life, Lewis has this to say: "...something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it anymore. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible.* Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world...be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not."
*Or, as John Owen would say, "always be killing sin or it will be killing you."

That section, in and of itself has made my continued reading worthwhile. Loving your neighbor as yourself is, after all, the second greatest commandment; and I'm grateful to Lewis for helping me toward obedience and the mortification of sin.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year, complete with resolutions

I've never been one to make resolutions, really at all, mainly because throughout most of my life I have had little confidence in my ability to see things through - particularly difficult things. I've a long history of being a quitter. That is a trait I've seen change markedly since becoming a Christian at the age of 40. I've seen how I really can "do all things in Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). I do not mean by this, nor does the context of that Scripture reference imply, that I can run a marathon, or compose a symphony; make a million dollars this year, get on MTV, or become a faith healer. What it does mean is that I can keep doing whatever it is God has given me to do even when it gets difficult and unpleasant. I've learned that it is God who is at work in me both to will and to work according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). I've learned that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it at the day of Jesus Christ. ( Phil. 1:6) In short, I've learned that if I've resolved to do something that accords with God's purpose in my life, God gives me grace to see it through. Sometimes it doesn't feel like I'll be able to pull it off, especially when it seems I've lost even the desire to pull it off. Sometimes I come very close to giving up, and when that happens there's this word from God to uphold me - and uphold me it has, over and over: "And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart".

And on a more basic,common-sense level, there's something else I've learned: without any goals I tend to squander my time, to move about aimlessly. It's tremendously easy as a Christian to spiritualize this stagnation as waiting for the final end goal - the ultimate consummation of my salvation - the return of the Savior. It is helpful to remember, however, that Christians for millenia have lived and died in that hope. I am called to occupy until He comes, to invest my talents, trim my lamp (Mt. 25), and be found caring for those of His household (Mt. 24:45-46) when He comes. I've also learned of that startling possiblity that a (so-called) Christian can deceive himself into inactivity, using the very sovereignty of God as an excuse for laziness - thinking that God's going to do what He's going to do regardless of his choices, so it's okay to do nothing. This is the person God refers to in the end as a "wicked and slothful servant," and "worthless". This one will in the end be shown to have been no true Christian at all as God commands this "worthless" one to be cast "into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Mt. 25:26,30)

So, I've learned it is better to make many goals and reach a few, than to make no goals and accomplish nothing. It should also be obvious that my goals should be to the glory of God, as best I can understand, and in line with my own "talents". It would make no sense for me to take on goals God has clearly not gifted me for. (ie. I will not purpose to become a pastor, since I'm a woman; or a mother of 5, since I'm nearly 45; to get a job on an off-shore oil rig, or teach a course in algebra or physics....)

So, in the spirit of what I've learned, I've decided to make some resolutions this New Year:

1. Teach the class on John Owen's, Mortification of Sin, which I've already committed to begin this spring (and nearly backed out of twice!)

2. Mortify the sin of harboring dislike toward folks who don't like me (I could also call it learning to genuinely love my enemies and love my brothers and sisters in Christ from the heart).

3. Memorize the book of Romans.

4. Read Milton's, Paradise Lost.

5. Read Dostoevsky's, The Brothers Karamazov.

6. Finish painting my kitchen, and finish the floors in the spare room.

7. Invest several more hours per week in building the book business, with the ultimate goal that it replace my housecleaning business someday.

8. Begin an on-line reading group with one of my blogger friends (N - that's you).

9. Paint my first canvas in acrylic (or call that, become an artist again).

10. and last, but least likely: to get half-way through my refresher course in New Testament Greek.