Friday, 29 September 2006
"Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the 'virtues'. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are 'good', it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of 'prudence' about doing the things that they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only 'as harmless as doves', but also 'as wise as serpents'. He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head." Mere Christianity
The worst kind of foolishness is when one acts as a fool, with reckless abandon, toward a self-centered end. Christ wants us to act as fools for him (1 Corinthians 4:10), with reckless abandon toward a godly end, giving him our all when it seems crazy in the world's eyes to do so. No doubt, being a fool for Christ requires much prudence, much planning in the sense that the book of Proverbs talks about; "a prudent man gives thought to his steps" (Proverbs 14:15). The Apostle Paul, who recommended being a fool for Christ, carefully planned out his missionary activities. But Christ wants us to be uncalculating, childlike, spontaneously overflowing in our love toward God. Christ wants us to love God with all our mind as well as all our heart. And only the Holy Spirit can give us the proper balance between a child's heart and a grown-up's head.
If we are going to love God totally with heart, mind, soul and strength, then we have to be willing to be seen as fools in the world's eyes--because right at the center of our faith is something which the world thinks very foolish indeed: Christ crucified.
"Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).
Thursday, 28 September 2006
"Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play." Mere Christianity
Lewis tells us there are these three purposes of the moral law: (1) outward harmony between human beings, (2) inner harmony within each human being and (3) playing the tune the conductor wants us to play. That tune is really a love song; it is all about a love relationship with God and with others. The first four of the Ten Commandments have to do with our relationship with God. The latter six have to do with our relationship with each other as human beings. Jesus summed up the law when he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength" and "love your neighbor as yourself".
The 16th century Reformers, like Lewis, talked about three "uses" of the law, but they looked at the matter from a slightly different angle. They said that one use of the law is to restrain corruption in society. If God never told us how to act we would be "all over the map". If there were no civil laws in society people would probably hurt each other even more than they do already.
A second and most important use of the law is to show us our need of a savior and point us to Jesus as that savior. As Lewis notes, there are two remarkable things about the moral law: (1) we all have similar ideas about right human conduct, yet (2) none of us live up to our own standards. The law of human nature reveals that we fall short of God's perfect plan for us and we need someone to make up for our shortcomings.
A third use of the law is to provide a guide to us in how to live as Christians. However, I'm not sure that the Reformers really saw this third aspect in its fullness. There tends to be a sort of flatness, a Protestant moralism, stemming from some of the views expressed at the time of the Reformation. Certainly the law is a guide, a map if you will, showing us how to conduct our lives in order to get to God's desired destination for us. However, we have something better than this map now than what the Lord's people had in Old Testament times. We actually have the map-maker with us to guide us. The map-maker became a human being in Jesus Christ and showed us how to follow the map. When you are trying to get from point A to point B by car it is always helpful to have a map. But what is even more helpful is to have someone lead you in their car while you follow along behind. (That is part of what Jesus did for us 2,000 years ago.) And what is even better is to have someone with you in your car who knows the way. That is just what we have in the Christian life; we have the Holy Spirit riding in the car with us, our spiritual Global Positioning System! In fact, the Holy Spirit will do the driving for us, if we let him take the driver's seat. That is what it means to be filled with the Spirit; it means to come under his full influence and control. And not only will he do the driving for us, he will also provide the fuel to get us where we need to be. If we leave the driving to the Holy Spirit he will enable us to follow God's map and get to our final destination on time.
Wednesday, 27 September 2006
"When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else--something it never entered your head to conceive--comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it." Mere Christianity
The Apostle Paul tells us:
It hasn't happened yet, but one day everyone will recognize Jesus for who he really is--the Lord of the universe.
Why doesn't God make it obvious to everyone now? Why doesn't he write a message in the sky saying: "Jesus is my Son; worship him!"?
Lewis says the reason is that God "wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely." If the choice was forced then it really wouldn't be a choice. And without that free choice there is no love--only roboticism--artificial intelligence.
Lewis reminds us that one day God will make it obvious to all who Jesus is. One day God will invade this universe, making his presence known, not only in the sky, but everywhere.
Why is he waiting to invade? 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
God is giving us time right now to choose to follow Christ. And if people choose not to listen to the God-man, Jesus Christ, what makes anyone think people would pay attention to a message written in the sky?
No, the message has already come in human flesh. We must respond to that message and carry that message to others with whatever time God gives us.
Tuesday, 26 September 2006
"Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else. In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam--he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts." Mere Christianity
Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8). No one can snatch us out of Jesus' hand (John 17). He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1). All of these statements are absolutely true, but these statements do not mean that we can just sit back and do nothing in the Christian life. As Lewis says, if we do not nourish the Christ-life we have been given we may lose it. No external force or person or event can separate us from Christ and his love, or prevent us from becoming the complete, whole, happy creatures God wants us to be. But we can separate ourselves from Christ if we choose to do so. And we often do, whenever we choose self over God.
So how do we nourish the Christ-life in us? We do it in all those seemingly ordinary ways which Christian teachers have explained to us throughout the last two thousand years. We need to read, study, memorize, meditate and feed upon God's Word in the Bible. This is how we hear what God has to say to us. And we must also speak to God in prayer. Like our human relationships, a relationship with God is sustained by regular, honest, meaningful communication.
We also need to feed on Christ through regular and prayerful participation in the Lord's Supper. We need to worship our Triune God faithfully in the context of the Body of Christ, the Church. We need the fellowship of other Christians who can nourish us with encouragement, love and acceptance in Christ's name.
God has given us multiple lifelines to nourish the Christ-life placed in us by the Holy Spirit. But often we fail to use these lifelines because, in the middle of our weary race we wonder whether we are really making any progress at all. Is all the effort really worth it? We begin to identify with the person who questioned whether sermons were really valuable because he couldn't remember the outline of a single one he had heard in his whole life. But then someone else reminded him that he couldn't remember the menu of a single meal his wife had prepared for him in their thirty-six years of marriage; yet he had the distinct impression that without those thousands of meals he would have starved long ago.
Each individual meal in the Christian life may not seem like much--each time we feed on the Bible or the Lord's Supper, each time we are nourished through prayer, fellowship or worship. Each individual act can seem so insignificant. Skip one and what happens? Not much. But skip enough spiritual meals in a row and we will indeed starve to death. Why do that when Christ offers a banquet for us to feast upon?
Monday, 25 September 2006
"In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us." Mere Christianity
Lewis asks how this new kind of life is to be put into us. He answers: "There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names--Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper."
It is interesting that Lewis begins this list of things, which spread the Christ-life to us, with baptism. Lewis was baptized as an infant. So was I. So have most of the 2 billion Christians in the world been baptized as infants. So if Lewis is right--the Christ-life is spread to many of us not by our own choice. Infant baptism displays the fact that the initiative in our salvation begins with God. We are filled with the Christ-life not, initially, because of our own work, but because of God's grace.
This is not to say that we are to remain passive in the whole affair. As Lewis points out, the Christ-life is also spread to us by faith and by participation in Holy Communion. We must choose to believe in Christ for ourselves. It is not enough that we were born into a Christian family or that our parents had us baptized. That is not enough to keep the Christ-life going in us. We must continue to receive that life by faith.
And here we come up against another fascinating point: the Christ-life is spread to us not just by spiritual actions like faith, but by physical actions like washing, eating and drinking, by physical elements like water, bread and wine. Why is this? Lewis says it is because Christianity is not merely about "the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution--a biological or super-biological fact." God does not merely communicate the Christ-life to our spirits, but to our bodies as well. We must be washed with Christ, feed on Christ, drink in Christ . . . or else go dirty, hungry and thirsty for eternity.
"I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." John 6:53
"Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." John 13:8
Sunday, 24 September 2006
"When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it. Now if we had not fallen, that would be all plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God's help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all--to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God's nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God's leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.
"But supposing God became a man--suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God's nature in one person--then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God." Mere Christianity
The theory of the atonement which Lewis presents as the one which has been most helpful to him is that of Irenaeus and is often called the physical theory of the atonement. Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor sometime between 130 and 140 AD. As a young man he listened to the teaching of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who had in turn sat under the teaching of the Apostle John. Irenaeus went to Gaul, modern day France, where he eventually became the Bishop of the Church at Lyons.
Irenaeus' belief about the work of Christ may be summed up in one sentence: "Because of His measureless love, He became what we are in order to enable us to become what He is." What we lost in Adam is recovered in Christ. Human beings have fallen from God's perfect plan through solidarity with the first human, but we can be restored through solidarity with Christ.
Irenaeus' "recapitulation" theory was based on Paul's teaching which summed up the divine purpose as being "to sum up all things in Christ". Irenaeus believed that Christ comprised the whole of reality in himself, humanity included. Christ recapitulated in himself the long history of humankind, but with this great difference: he was obedient at all points to his heavenly Father. Irenaeus' physical theory of the atonement emphasizes Christ's obedient life but also comprises Christ's death:
Irenaeus and Lewis rightly emphasized Jesus Christ as the only perfect penitent person. As we identify ourselves with Christ through faith and participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, our sins are applied to Christ's spiritual bank account and paid for on the cross. At the same time, Christ's obedience is applied to our spiritual bank account and worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit.
We can give up trusting in the efficacy of our own repentance to save us and trust in the efficacy of Christ's penitence alone. Rather than trying to form the letters which spell s-a-l-v-a-t-i-o-n ourselves, we need to relax, let go, and let Christ form those letters in us by his Spirit. If we let Christ do his work in and through us then, as Irenaeus says, the glory of God will be humanity fully alive!
Friday, 22 September 2006
"The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter." Mere Christianity
Three main theories have been put forward over the last two thousand years as to how Christ's death puts us right with God and gives us a fresh start in life.
However, as Lewis points out, accepting any one or all of these theories of the atonement is not essential to being a Christian. "A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it."
"We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself."
"God, Sovereign Lord of all, you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to suffer, die and rise again, so that everyone who has faith in him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit may advance in wisdom and your favor possessing eternal life. This is my faith. Help me where faith falls short." Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)
Wednesday, 20 September 2006
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." Mere Christianity
The first time I read this paragraph from Mere Christianity I was in a postage-stamp size room in a B&B in Donegal, Ireland. It was raining cats and dogs outside my window and I was buried under the bed-covers with a head cold. I was 19 years old and in the midst of a solo pilgrimage to the British Isles. I had brought along with me paperback copies of all the Lewis books I had not read to date. I was diligently visiting the many places where Lewis lived, worked, worshiped and vacationed. More importantly, I was searching for a personal faith that was intellectually credible. When I came to the end of Lewis's chapter on The Shocking Alternative I came to the conclusion that Christianity did indeed make sense.
Since that time I have heard a number of people question the solidity of Lewis's argument. Poached egg, Devil or Son of God, are these the only options? Or as Josh McDowell later re-phrased Lewis's argument--Liar, Lunatic or Lord--are these the only sensible ways of viewing Jesus? What about legend--could it not be that Jesus' supposed claims to divinity were legendary? Lewis, as astute literary critic, rejected the Gospels as legend--they were written too close to the historical event of Jesus' life. There wasn't sufficient time between event and Gospel for legend to develop.
But did Jesus really think of himself as divine? That is the sticking point for many scholars. Personally my mind resonates with what N. T. Wright, one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world today, has written on this question.
Poached egg, Devil or Son of God? Liar, lunatic, legend or Lord? Each one of us must answer these questions for ourselves. Jesus himself asks us for our response: "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:15) Personally, I gave my answer twenty-four years ago in a little room on the west coast of Ireland . . . and I haven't changed my mind since. I still pray to Jesus every day, just as Christians have done for centuries. . . .
"I pray you, noble Jesu, that as you have graciously granted me joyfully to imbibe the words of Your knowledge, so You will also of Your bounty grant me to come at length to Yourself, the Fount of all wisdom, and to dwell in your presence forever." The Venerable Bede 673-735
Sunday, 17 September 2006
"Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." Mere Christianity
When Lewis asserts that God is the fuel for our souls he is basically saying that human beings were created to be in relationship with God. After all, even God is in relationship within God's self--Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus Augustine liked to refer to the three members of the Trinity as the Lover, the Beloved and the Love Between Them. That love relationship is fundamental to God's own being. So it should come as no surprise that human beings, created in God's image, are designed to live in a love relationship with God and with one another.
Lewis's own favorite analogy for the Trinity is that of a dance. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are like the partners in a dance, and our Triune God invites us to enter into that Great Dance. Until we join in that celestial movement we do not even know what we were really created for. If we never enter into the dance we will have failed to discover the greatest joy of life itself. But when we do enter the dance we find love, joy, peace and true happiness.
How do we do that? How do we join in the Great Dance? How do we take in the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, the food we were designed to feed on? Whatever analogy one uses, the answer is the same. We must hear God's invitation to the dance in Scripture. We respond to the invitation through prayer. We join in the dance through sacrament and worship. We discover the fellowship of brothers and sisters of the dance as we do. And we invite others to join in the dance through outreach. Word and sacrament, prayer and fellowship are all ways that we feed on God, take on board the divine fuel for living. These are all essential elements to "abiding in Christ". And Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." (John 15:9)
"God, of thy goodness, give me thyself; for thou art enough for me, and I may ask nothing that is less than may be full worship to thee; and if I ask anything that is less, I am ever in want: but only in thee I have all." Lady Julian of Norwich 1342-1416
Friday, 15 September 2006
"God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong: I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." Mere Christianity
When I am asked my view of free will I often remark: "I want Will to be as free as he possibly can be!"
But seriously speaking, why does C. S. Lewis assert so vigorously that God gave full freedom of choice to human beings? Is this conclusion based upon natural observation? Certainly one glance at everyday life would suggest that human beings have free will. After all, don't we make hundreds if not thousands of choices, large and small, each day?
However, when one examines the human condition more closely one sees individual choice hemmed in and around by so many forces: genetics, upbringing, larger societal and cultural influences, our natural surroundings, health, and the list goes on. All of these realities impinging on human choice force us to ask: do we really have complete freedom of choice all of the time?
If one cannot confidently conclude, based upon some sort of natural theology or observation, that human beings have complete freedom of the will, is this doctrine then a matter of supernatural revelation? Once again, we get a mixed review when it comes to examining the Scriptures on this subject. Certainly the first humans were given free choice, either to obey God or to disobey. (See Genesis 2-3.) And this is the freedom of choice to which Lewis refers in the quote above. However, ever since the Fall the choices of human beings in regard to a relationship with God have been radically affected by sin. The Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament when he writes in Romans 3:10-11
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.
How then are fallen, sinful human beings to get right with God? God must make the first move. And that is exactly what Scripture tells us God has done in Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 1:20,
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ.
And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.
The most important decision ever made in the history of humanity was God's decision to say "yes" to us in Jesus Christ, in spite of our sin.
In the last months of his life, C. S. Lewis was asked by Sherwood Wirt, then editor of Decision magazine, if he felt he had made a decision at the time of his conversion. Lewis responded this way:
That is the most important thing--that we have been decided upon in Jesus Christ. It is only when we hear this "yes" in Jesus Christ that we are called and empowered to make the most important decision of our lives, in response to God's decision.
What is your response to the "yes" of Christ?
The following prayer has brought encouragement to many as they have prayed it in response to the "yes" of Christ:
If you have just prayed that prayer for the first time, I would love to encourage you by sending you some helpful literature. E-mail me today, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, 13 September 2006
"Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going." Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis saw life in epic proportions. Perhaps that is what has drawn millions of people, including me, to read his books. Seeing our lives as part of a cosmic battle, and important to winning the war, gives us significance. And the hunger for significance is one of the greatest needs of the human soul.
The war we are involved in has to do with a clash of kingdoms. Which kingdom we choose to belong to, which king to whom we swear allegiance, makes all the difference. Will we devote ourselves to the rightful king, or to a usurper? Will we give ourselves to the sovereign who laid down his life as a servant, or to the satan who seeks to suck our lives into slavery?
World War II formed the backdrop to everything Lewis had to say about living in enemy-occupied territory. In the back of Lewis's mind was the situation in France--where French citizens could choose either to align themselves with the Vichy government, the compromisers, or they could choose to become part of the underground resistance against Hitler.
Taking this background and applying it by analogy to the spiritual life, Lewis makes exciting what often seems mundane to us. For to be part of the underground resistance in a spiritual sense involves just such seemingly ordinary activities as going to church, reading the Bible and praying. Yet each of these activities really does have cosmic significance. For by praying, Bible reading and engagement in the corporate worship of the church we are entering into communication, not simply with other underground resistors in the cosmic battle against the enemy, but with the rightful king himself--the king of the universe. And what could be more significant than that?
I for one want to be part of that underground resistance movement Lewis wrote about. I want to align myself with other resistors against the great satan, not only in my own time and locale, but across all time and space--the communion of saints. I want to devote myself to the service of the rightful king, just as the early church did, through the daily, dogged engagement in the sometimes seemingly mundane exercise of the means of grace. For as we read in Acts 2:42, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." The reason I want to live such a life of devotion is because it really is the only life of significance.
How about you? Will you devote yourself to the rightful king through prayer, study, worship and service? If so, perhaps you might make this your prayer for today--
"O Father, light up the small duties of this day's life. May they shine with the beauty of Thy countenance. May we believe that glory may dwell in the commonest task of every day. Amen." St. Augustine 354-430
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
"You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong--only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness." Mere Christianity
Lewis's point is that there are not two equal and opposite powers in the universe: good and evil. If there were, then why do we call one good and the other evil? Is it not evident that we are judging the two by some higher standard? And that higher standard is God?
So then, good is original; evil is only a false copy of the good. Evil feeds off of goodness; it takes goodness and twists it into an unnatural shape.
Take the goodness of human sexual pleasure as an example. Evil takes that pleasure and perverts it--uses it--at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong person, from the wrong motive. In fact, the pleasure still left in the sexual act, when so perverted by evil, is the only good thing about it, because pleasure itself is a good.
So what will happen when evil can no longer feed off the good? What will happen when good and evil are completely separated? Evil will starve. Having no life-blood on which to survive, evil itself will die.
This separation the Bible calls the final judgement, and the place where evil dies--hell. Heaven will be the place where evil can no longer corrupt the good.
"And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur . . . Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. . . . Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . ." Revelation 20:10-21:1
"May He support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy, may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last." John Henry Newman 1801-1890
Monday, 11 September 2006
"Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have." Mere Christianity
Christianity has a number of doctrines which are suprising and not completely comprehensible. For example, Christianity teaches that God is three-in-one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God. How can God be three persons, yet one being?
Here's another queer teaching: God became human in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is fully God and fully human. He contains two natures in one person without confusion, change, division or separation. I get confused just thinking about it sometimes!
Furthermore, Christianity teaches that God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:11), yet human beings have free will. Some of the greatest minds down through history have tried to puzzle out that one without a fully successful resolution.
The fact that Christianity teaches such puzzles which are beyond human comprehension certainly does suggest that her doctrines are not made up. But in the mean time, what do we do with them? What do we do with the seeming antinomies of three persons in one God, two natures in one person, sovereignty of God and human free will?
Regarding the handling of the last antinomy Lewis had some good advice in a letter to a correspondent written on 3 August 1953:
The history of Christianity is littered with heresies which ignored one side of the evidence. Some people ignored God's oneness in favor of God's threeness, and vice versa. Others emphasized Jesus' divinity over his humanity, while others did just the opposite. Still others emphasized God's sovereignty while ignoring human freedom and others touted freedom while forgetting God's omnipotence.
I'm with Lewis, until I stand before God and God explains it all--if he ever does--I am going to hold two inconsistent views rather than ignore one side of the evidence. It is sort of like what a bell-ringer must do. The bell-ringer in a church can't see where the two ropes join to the bell in the tower, but when he or she pulls on both ropes, first one and then the other, people can hear the bell ring. I am going to hold on to both bell ropes (three and one, human and divine, God's sovereignty and human freedom), even though I can't see where the two ropes join with the bell in the tower. Until I get up into the "tower" one day, I'm just going to keep ringing that bell: "I believe in one God, the Father almighty . . ." and I'm going to keep praying, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
Sunday, 10 September 2006
"Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God. The Christian idea is quite different. They think God invented and made the universe--like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed. You may say, 'He's put a lot of himself into it,' but you only mean that all its beauty and interest has come out of his head. His skill is not the picture in the same way that it is in his head, or even in his hands." Mere Christianity
Lewis points out one of the problems with pantheism. It has to do with the claim that everything is God, or a part of God. If this is so then cancer, slums, hunger, and all the pain in the world are parts of God. Such an idea is certainly not appealing to the human mind. And why is it that humans can imagine a better world than what is? Does it not make more sense to say that what is wrong with the world is due, not to God, but to the creation itself "going astray"? At least that is the theistic solution to the problem of evil. According to theists evil is the result of something good God gave to part of his creation--namely--free will.
But there is a third way of viewing the relationship between God and creation which Lewis does not mention in Mere Christianity. That is panentheism. This is the view that all of creation exists in God. Panentheism tries to avoid a potential problem in theism, namely the tendency to distance God from creation. (Actually theists solve this problem by pointing out, in contrast to deists, that God is providentially involved at all times and in all places, in the ongoing governance and sustenance of his creation.) Panentheism also tries to avoid the problem inherent in pantheism, of identifying God too much with creation. Jurgen Moltmann suggests that the best analogy for this view of the relation between God and creation is not that of a father who engenders and rules over life outside himself, but that of a mother who makes room for and nourishes life within her own body.
But then one wants to ask the panentheist: Will the child in God's womb ever be brought to birth? Will the child ever have its own existence distinct from the mother? Will the child ever have the possibility of choosing his or her own direction in life?
Personally I find myself in greater harmony with the theistic view of creation expressed by Diogenes Allen in his book Finding Our Father. Allen writes:
As Allen points out, this creation and recognition of independent, particular realities is essential to love. If there are no particular realities distinct from God, how can God love those particulars as distinct from himself? And how can it be said that we love him? If we are not distinct from God, how can our love of God involve a choice?
Clearly God has created us as distinct, particular realities who have the awesome power of choice. God summarizes that choice in this way:
". . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life . . ." Deuteronomy 30:19
O God, thank you for creating the universe, and me as part of the universe, distinct from yourself. Thank you for giving me the awesome gift of free will. Help me, by the power of your Holy Spirit this day, to choose life and blessing rather than curse and death, for the sake of your Son Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.
Saturday, 09 September 2006
"If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic--there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer to being right than others." Mere Christianity
The wonderful thing about being a "mere Christian" is that you can be open to truth wherever you find it. As Justin Martyr wrote hundreds of years ago, "All truth, wherever it is found, belongs to us as Christians." As a mere Christian you can give up the time-wasting botheration of bashing other religions all the time, and also the enervating attempts to prove your one little sect right, and all the others wrong. One can be open to truth in non-Christian religions, and in Christian denominations other than one's own.
The difference between being a mere Christian and being a universalist, or even a watered-down, nominal Christian is that:
The life of the mere Christian consists in a constant balancing act between truth and love. The pursuit of truth will continue to lead you "further up and further in" to the center of one Christian communion. But the pursuit of love will make you ever broader in your kindness and respect to Christians of all shapes and sizes. In fact, your love for people of all religions, and no religion, should be ever growing.
As the Apostle Paul once wrote, as we speak "the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).
"From the cowardice that dare not face new truth
From the laziness that is contented with half truth
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Good Lord, deliver me."
Prayer from Kenya
Friday, 08 September 2006
"Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through the dismay." Mere Christianity
I had an English professor during my first year in college who very snidely remarked one day in one of his lectures that "Christianity is a very comforting religion for those who are looking for that sort of thing." His point was that those who face the supposed "real facts of the universe", that we have come from nothing and are moving toward nothing, are much braver than those who do not face such "facts".
My professor got it wrong on at least three points. First of all, "facing the facts" has nothing to do with bravery. It is a matter, simply, of intellectual honesty, or the lack of it.
Secondly, it can hardly be stated as a "fact" that we are, as human beings and as a universe, moving from nothing to nothing. The study of what lies behind the beginning and possible end of the universe is not a matter for scientific investigation but rather for philosophical exploration. God cannot be proved or disproved.
Thirdly, as C. S. Lewis rightly points out, Christianity does not begin in comfort. It begins with the dismay of being told you have a fatal disease. Only when you accept the heavenly doctor's diagnosis can you move on to hear and understand the comfort Christianity has to offer.
Contrary to what my English professor thought, I believe that Christians are among the bravest people in the world. Christians are brave like the child who submits to the parent who must pull a nasty looking thorn out of the child's finger, even though it is going to hurt like anything. It is hard to hear that one has the poisonous thorn which the Bible calls "sin", and that the thorn is going to lead to death unless it is removed. One would rather ignore the thorn and try to work around it as best as possible because having the thorn removed is not comfortable at all. Christians are honest because they are willing to face the fact that they have a nasty thorn in their finger, and they are brave because they are willing to submit to the heavenly doctor, who is also our heavenly parent, to have the thorn removed.
The choice is not comfort or dismay. The only sensible choice is the one which Christians make: dismay which leads to comfort. The Apostle Paul faced the kind of dismay we are talking about, and thus went on to know the comfort which only Christ can offer. He summarized the experience of both in one sentence:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23
"Lord, do not give me over either to my human ignorance and weakness or to my own deserts, or to anything, other than your loving dealing with me. Do you yourself in kindness dispose of me, my thoughts and actions, according to your good pleasure, so that your will may always be done by me and in me and concerning me. Deliver me from all evil and lead me to eternal life through Jesus Christ." St. Anselm 1033-1109
Thursday, 07 September 2006
"You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built." Mere Christianity
If the only revelation of God which we had was the universe in general, what would we most naturally conclude about God?
Thankfully the Creator has not left us with the universe itself as our only clue to God's nature and purposes. And if, in addition to the universe, we only had the moral law to reveal God's desires, wouldn't that law leave us hopeless as well? For we don't keep the moral law, and the law itself only shows us that the Creator cares about right conduct. We would be left wondering whether God loves us. Does God, can God, forgive us when we stray so far from God's own original intentions for us? This is a question which, ultimately, only the revelation in Jesus Christ answers.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
"Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits which thou hast given to me,
For all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, father and brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly
And follow thee more nearly,
Day by day."
Richard of Chichester 1197-1253
Wednesday, 06 September 2006
"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man." Mere Christianity
Repentance, metanoia in the Greek, means a change of mind. In the New Testament repentance is always a change of mind which results in a change in direction. God calls us, through the moral law and his offer of grace in Christ, to change our minds about our self-centered ways of living, to stop going our own way and follow Christ instead. Repentance thus involves a 180 degree turn.
The prodigal son in Luke 15 is often cited as an example of repentance. After he squandered his wealth in wild living the son "came to his senses", decided to go back to his father and offer his services as a hired man. The prodigal son had a long walk home, no doubt. Repentance often involves just such a decision, turning and long walk home.
But in reality the prodigal son is an example of our merely human attempts at repentance. We think of our relationship with God as a bargain. We try to earn our way back into the Father's household where we will pay for our mistakes.
The father in the story will have none of it. While the prodigal son is still a long way off the father runs to embrace him. The dad interrupts the son's repentance speech with plans for a party. He welcomes the young man back home as a son, not a hired servant. They begin to celebrate the son's homecoming together.
Real repentance, at the deepest level, is about accepting the Father's welcome. It is not about the hard work we do. It is not about tearfully enacted speeches. Repentance has nothing to do with earning anything. In fact, as C. S. Lewis points out later in Mere Christianity, Jesus is the only perfect penitent. And so real repentance for us means accepting what Jesus has done for us, through his perfect life, his death on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. Real repentance is about allowing Jesus to work true repentance, true change, in us. For in Christ, God the Father has run to embrace us. He wants to welcome us home and throw a party for us. He wants us to be his children, not his hired servants.
The only question is: will we accept God's offer?
"Almighty Father, in whose hands are our lives: we commend ourselves to the keeping of your love. In your will is our peace. In life or in death, in this world and the next, uphold us that we may put our trust in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord." William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1881-1944
Tuesday, 05 September 2006
"We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is." Mere Christianity
As a child I used to try to imagine "nothing". You know what? I couldn't do it.
When I would try to imagine nothing, there was always something. I would close my eyes and imagine total blackness. But then I realized that blackness is something.
So I would imagine complete whiteness instead. But then I recognized that whiteness is something.
This little exercise in imagination led me to my first philosophical insight. It made me realize that there has always been something. And that realization led to the question: Did the universe begin with some THING or with some ONE? In other words, was there a personal beginning to the universe, or an impersonal one?
It seemed obvious to me as a child, and it still seems obvious now, that humans are personal beings. Descartes said, "Cogito ergo sum." "I think therefore I am." All human beings are thinking, rational (some more than others), personal beings.
So how did the personal evolve from the impersonal? Such an evolution seemed to me as a child, and it still seems now, rather impossible, or at least improbable. Thus, there must be "behind" or "outside" of the universe itself a personal being, a mind at least, who created all that is, or at least got it all going.
By this chain of reasoning I too arrived at the same conclusion as C. S. Lewis in his chapter: What Lies Behind the Law. But of course the Psalmist put it all so much more simply, and beautifully, when he wrote:
"By the word of the Lord were the heavens made;
and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth."
Why not make the following your prayer to your Creator today?
O God in whom I live and have my being,
Be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my feeling;
God be at my end, and at my departing.
(Adapted from the Old Sarum Primer.)
Monday, 04 September 2006
"The Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, is not simply a fact about human behaviour in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is, or may be, simply a fact about how heavy objects behave. On the other hand, it is not a mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did." Mere Christianity
What Lewis is suggesting is that this sense of right and wrong, which all people in all times and all places have had, points to another reality beyond ourselves--a supernatural reality. We cannot reduce the moral law to simply being a fact of human behavior--because we don't behave according to it. Nor can we say that the moral law is merely a quirk of human imagination. If that was so then how could we say that there was anything wrong with Hitler gassing 6 million Jews? Nor can we say that our ideas about morality are constructed by society simply because we find these patterns of behavior convenient. Our sense of right and wrong isn't convenient sometimes--like when we want to make love to someone in a certain situation and the moral law tells us not to. Thus, the only alternative is to believe that the moral law is a reality outside of us--outside humanity altogether--but a reality which presses in on us, seeking to make us conform to a certain standard.
To some, this pointer to a supernatural reality comes as the fragrance of life. To others it is the smell of death. Some seek to argue it away. Others welcome it with open arms. But perhaps most of us live somewhere between these two extremes. Most of us want to argue for the moral law when it is convenient to our own ends. And we want to deny the reality of the moral law whenever we find its demands uncomfortable.
However, as Lewis points out, this simply will not do. The moral law is there, outside of us, and it is what it is whether we like it or not. That being the case, does it not then make sense, for those of us who believe in Christ, to pray:
"O God, our Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name, bestow upon us, at the beginning of each day, that grace which shall keep us in the fellowship of the Christian way. Grant unto each one of us that heavenly guidance and control, in all our labors, pleasures, and trials, which will maintain our hearts in peace with one another and with you. Graciously help and prosper us in the doing of our various duties with a willing and cheerful mind; and defend us all, by your almighty power, both from inward evil and from outward harm, so that when the day is ended it may not leave us in sorrow, strife, or shame, but in true unity and thankful rest, through your merciful favor and your forgiving love. This we pray in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen." Adapted from the Book of Common Worship
Sunday, 03 September 2006
"Human beings, after all, have some sense; they see that you cannot have any real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently." Mere Christianity
It is easy to think when you are having trouble in relationships with other people: I am fine when I am left alone. But then when you are left alone are you truly fine? Don't you find rising within your heart certain desires which your conscience tells you are wrong? Don't you find certain thoughts crossing your mind which you know are uncharitable? And isn't the whole problem of being left alone, the problem of solitary monasticism, that you are in fact being selfish about wanting time and space all to yourself? Those of us who are not solitary monks perhaps secretly want even God to be excluded from our alone time, our alone space.
So when one is alone and facing all of these inner demons one is tempted to think: the solution is to spend more time with others--that will bring me out of myself--out of this melancholy. But then when one does spend more time with others relational problems erupt sooner or later.
Lewis is right when he says elsewhere that the moral law deals both with behavior between persons and cleanliness inside of persons. Lewis uses the analogy of navy ships traveling in convoy--they need to be kept ship-shape on the inside, but also need to be kept from colliding with each other. Both aspects are important. And the reality of this moral law must, as Lewis insists over and over again, simply be "seen". If one wants to see through basic principles then what one is really longing for is an invisible world.
However, seeing the reality of the moral law does not solve our inward or outward problems. The moral law solves neither the problem of the solitary monk nor the person who lives in community with others. In fact, there is only one person who can solve both of those problems--the one perfect human being--the one who was perfect when alone--and the one who was wholly righteous in community. That is the God-Man Jesus Christ.
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all human beings--the testimony given in its proper time." 1 Timothy 2:5-6
Lord Jesus, live in me both when I am alone and when I am with others. When I am alone may my focus not be myself but you. When I am with others may I recognize your image in them and serve them as I would you, for your honor and glory. Amen.
Saturday, 02 September 2006
"The laws of nature, as applied to stones or trees, may only mean 'what Nature, in fact, does'. But if you turn to the Law of Human Nature, the Law of Decent Behaviour, it is a different matter. That law certainly does not mean 'what human beings, in fact, do'; for as I said before, many of them do not obey this law at all, and none of them obey it completely. The law of gravity tells you what stones do if you drop them; but the Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not." Mere Christianity
Have you ever had the experience of looking at a tree, or a stone for that matter, and being impressed by its beauty and perfection? I have certainly felt that . . . and more. When looking at certain parts of God's creation I have felt that those parts are exactly what they should be . . . and by contrast I have realized that I am not. In fact, the only imperfection in creation, outside of humanity, seems to be that imperfection wrought by humanity. Thus, not only does creation tell forth the glory of God, it also reminds us of the fallen glory of humanity.
This explains the movement of the 19th Psalm from: "The heavens declare the glory of God" to "The law of the Lord is perfect" to "Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults."
Perhaps the next time you are out under the stars, or sitting beside a babbling brook, or listening to the whispering of the wind in a tree, the following prayer would not be inappropriate:
Almighty and most merciful Father, I have erred and strayed from your ways like a lost sheep. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart. I have offended against your holy laws. I have left undone those things which I ought to have done; and I have done those things which I ought not to have done; and there is no health in me. But you, O Lord, have mercy upon me, miserable offender that I am. Spare me, O God, as I confess my faults. Restore me, for I am penitent, according to your promises declared unto humanity in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for Jesus' sake, that I may hereafter live a life of beauty and perfection, more like this tree which obeys you without thinking, to the glory of your holy name. Amen. (Adapted from The Book of Common Worship)
Friday, 01 September 2006
"The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide." Mere Christianity
Making anything in myself ultimate--my instincts, my needs, my desires, my gifts, my reason--will inevitably lead to destruction. The only safe course is to put Christ first. I must obey the Law, the Word, which is outside of myself--God's Law, God's Word. And I can only do that by God's power.
"Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33
If I put God and his kingdom purposes first, the rest of life will take care of itself, all the puzzle pieces will fall into place. Christ in me is my only hope of glory.
"Grant, O our God, that we may know Thee, love Thee, and rejoice in Thee; and if in this life we cannot do these things fully, grant that we may at least progress in them from day to day, for Christ's sake. Amen." St. Anselm (1033-1109)