C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Evil

Lucifer, the proud archangel.

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s 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. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.

God simply cannot satisfy the people he made after his own image. Along with giving us his greatest creative gift of free will, he gives us his wisdom, first in his law, and now in his Son. Still, we complain about his judgment when we choose to go against his infinite wisdom.

That’s the way it isn’t, …

Nuff said!

… or at least it doesn’t seem that way. I don’t hear the really juicy stuff, if there is any, where I fellowship. Of course, as a relatively new member of the Cornerstone body of believers, I’m not privy the controversies that usually plague congregations. Yes, very occasionally—rarely, in fact—I may hear an almost-under the breath comment about someone, but I try to keep my senses and not agree or join in the negativism. Apostle Peter wrote a mouthful about that:

1 Peter 3:8-11 (ESV) Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Now, that’s what church-life should look like.

“Our Lord,” Versus, “My Lord”

An example of God’s unfathomable creation, this tangle of brain cells can produce genius.

A devotional I read this morning referred to, “Our Lord,” and oddly enough, that familiar turn of phrase seemed terribly impersonal. But when I substituted, “My Lord,” the whole statement seemed more intimate. That distinction may simply be due to the odd wiring inside my noggin, but it seemed significant enough to mention. I wonder if anyone else can see the difference.

Then there’s Isaiah 43:25, which follows a section where the eternal, self-existent One reminds his people about their lax devotion to him.

I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. (Isaiah 43:25 KJV)

How can the I AM blot out his people’s sins for his own sake? Seems like he does that gracious work for our sake.

While that is true, I can see the benefit to him; because he is love (1 John 4:16), he doesn’t want any of his precious ones to perish, but for all of us to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). How does that benefit God? Think of how you feel when your children declare their love for you. Though you sacrifice your convenience for their sake, when they honor you, it feels like all you’ve done is completely worth the trouble. Simply put, you rejoice in their love. The same goes for your heavenly Father, who spells love, o-b-e-d-i-e-n-c-e. So we obey God for his sake.

Who’s Packin’ Whom?

John Bunyan’s Christian

Where I live, some of the natives speak a bit differently, compared to us short timers; my late father-in-law Charlie spent his younger years working cattle in Montana’s “over east,” which is similar to Australia’s outback. If you’re a ranch hand, you don’t “carry” your tools and supplies, you “pack” them. That’s the way Charlie put it.

Folks who live on the prairie, whether Montanan or Australian, soon learn what survival requires of them: physical strength, tenacity, resourcefulness, family coherency, loyalty, humility, boldness, and it doesn’t hurt to pack a good carbine and side arm.

Back in Prophet Isaiah’s time, folks packed their gods whenever they moved their camp, and it never hurt to have a good fetish along for the journey. But Isaiah tried to enlighten them with God’s words:

Isaiah 46:1-4 ESV Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. (2) They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. (3) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; (4) even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isaiah spoke of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, who burdened themselves by carrying idols around with them. They were nothing more than dead weight; man-made of wood, stone, precious metals and gems, they couldn’t ease the people’s burdens … they were the people’s burdens. They were impotent and mute, so why would anyone think them worthy of worship?

God’s message to his people? “Stop carrying your own burdens. Stop weighing yourselves down with material possessions that are supposed to make you secure. I Am the One who will bear you up! I am the One who will carry your burdens! I will carry and save you!”

Church, we are God’s chosen people, faith-children of Abraham, priests of God’s new covenant of grace, under his High Priest, Christ Jesus. We must not pack around our impotent security-gods, but call upon the living, self-existent God, who created us to rest in him, to be born, and not to bear. If you have any confusion about who’s packin’ whom in your life, ask the Master Packer to open your eyes, then repent of your sin of self-sufficiency.

Father, reveal to me the inner motives that move me. Show me, Lord, my true purpose for living. Examine me, Lord, for any impurity that inhibits my growth to Christ-likeness. And thank you, Father, for the privilege of praying in Jesus’ name and authority. So be it.

C.S. Lewis on Turning the Other Cheek

We’ve all heard people propound on Matthew 5:38-40. Here, from his The Weight of Glory, we see Uncle Jack’s view of the matter:

There are three ways of taking the command to turn the other cheek. One is the Pacifist interpretation; it means what it says and imposes a duty of nonresistance on all men in all circumstances. Another is the minimising interpretation; it does not mean what it says but is merely an orientally hyperbolical way of saying that you should put up with a lot and be placable. Both you and I agree in rejecting this view. The conflict is therefore between the Pacifist interpretation and a third one which I am now going to propound. I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. . . . . That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. No quarter whatever is given to the voice within us which says, “He’s done it to me, so I’ll do the same to him.”

The lunatic-fringe will always be with us. Lewis mentioned two of their views, then he propounded (obviously, I kinda like that word) his own interpretation which you read, above. Today, though, Evangelical Christians often propound (tee hee hee) a third interpretation; turn the other cheek unless the assault threatens yourself, your family, or your property. In other words, “Shoot now, ask questions later.”

I guess I missed that particular Scripture passage. If anyone can tell me where it’s found in the Bible, please leave a comment.

Lewis’ moderate interpretation of withholding retaliation makes a lot of sense, even though that’s not what Jesus said. What he did say is, “Do not resist the evildoer, but to him who slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” I don’t see hyperbole here, but a statement consistent with Jesus’ previous beatitudes, and most specifically, vss. 10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And in verses 43-44 he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

That opens even a fourth interpretation; we are not to resist those who persecute us—by slapping or any other means—but to imitate Jesus, who submitted to the worst the Romans, and their Jewish lackeys, could do to him (1 Peter 2:23). “Evildoer” includes criminals of all stripes (pun intended) without regard to their reason for attacking you. Does that mean that you must let them have their way with you and your family? Worse things can happen, such as disobeying God’s clear commands. I think the essential idea here is that we must mind our motives; if we strike, or strike back, out of rancor, we sin. Yet, God’s grace is greater even than that. Don’t you think our best response to others’ violence is to return to them the grace with which God deals with us?

Bible Doctrine—What Really Matters?

Huh?

Today I happened upon two words that intrigued me: Supralapsarianism, and Infralapsarianism (just sound them out). Only a theologian could come up with stuff like that. So I Googled them and found they are two schools of thought about “ordering the soteriological elements of God’s eternal decree.” That enlightening information simply lit the mud-puddle more brightly. But wait! There are two more, for no extra charge: Amyraldism and Arminianism (don’t ask). Here’s a sample of what the first two describe, as far as the order of events in God’s Plan of Salvation (soteriology):

Supralapsarianism
1. Elect Some, Reject the Rest (before creation)
2. Create
3. Permit Fall
4. Provide Salvation for the Elect
5. Call Elect to Salvation

And just for comparison, here’s another:

Infralapsarianism
1. Create
2. Permit Fall
3. Elect Some, Pass Over the Rest (after creation)
4. Provide Salvation for the Elect
5. Call the Elect to Salvation

As you can see, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of difference between them, and Calvinistic theologians get into long, involved debates over which is God’s honest truth. Funny thing is, most of those fancy, theological words aren’t even in the Bible.

Actually, that’s not funny at all.

My question: Does splitting theological hairs really matter, except for proving oneself right and another wrong? Tell you what, that smacks pretty strongly of vain pride.

Apostle Paul stated this soteriological thing most simply:

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Sure, other Biblical teachings matter a lot, but once you are reborn by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s all a matter of growing toward spiritual maturity. Should you put yourself before the brethren? Of course not; God’s Word teaches us to love others, and put their welfare before your own. In fact, that’s pretty much the bottom line of spiritual maturity.

Trouble is, you and I have witnessed lots of church folks who don’t seem to have grasped love’s importance. Sure, they’re religious enough, but Apostle James had some choice things to say about that:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:26-27)

See that last part, about widows and orphans? That’s called putting others first. God’s requirements are all fulfilled in one word: LOVE. Apostle John put it best:

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:10,11)

And that’s what really matters.

C.S. Lewis on Suffering

Refiner’s Fire

My title for this post sounds like a total bummer, but Uncle Jack’s contribution is just the opposite.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered [freely]. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [obstruct] to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

I doubt there’s a better explanation for our suffering. Besides that, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater will be our joy when we meet our Savior face-to-face.

Sin produces suffering, but not in a direct proportion. Sometimes the relatively innocent suffer greatly, while truly evil people seem to get off scot-free. Once again, that isn’t God’s fault, as due to God’s gift of free will, and the sin that flows from it, suffering is anything but proportionately distributed. Yes, to those who are not Christ-followers it seems terribly unfair, but justice and fairness are not related. Christ-followers take the fact that God is ultimately just by faith, even though we may not see the short-term justice of any particular situation.

How can we “blindly” place that kind of confidence in a Being that we can’t see? Because we can see what he has done in and for us, and we love him because he first loved us. Christ-followers are the most fortunate people on earth, since we perceive all beauty with gratitude, as a blessing from God, and if we have our heads on straight, we even perceive all suffering with gratitude, as a refiner’s fire allowed by God.

Admittedly, suffering isn’t fun, but thanks to God’s perfect wisdom, it will amplify our blessings in this world, and the next.

Psalm 13 — A Familiar Refrain

Like the sunrise,
Complaints follow a darkness,
But precede the day’s light.

Even though God referred to King David as, “A man after my own heart,” the good king didn’t always shine as an icon of virtue. Psalm 13 demonstrates his habit of complaining about his circumstances:

(1b) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
(2) How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Granted, he whined for good reason; first Saul, then Absalom unjustly pursued him with murder in their eyes. And the Philistines weren’t exactly his friends, either. The next two verses of Psalm 13 typify his initial response to those impending dangers:

(3) Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
(4) lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

At least he didn’t just blubber about his perils. King David understood that God wants to bear all our burdens, so he delivered them right into his Lord’s capable hands. Then, even in his most dejected moments, David demonstrated his attitude of trust, gratitude and praise to God:

(5) But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Those three elements provide a model for our desperate prayers. Go ahead and gripe all you want; God, in Christ Jesus, experienced every temptation that plagues us, so he understands our need to whine and gripe. But he also requires us to follow the rest of King David’s example, by stating our needs as we understand them, requesting that he, “light up my eyes,” with his divine wisdom, and then trust his steadfast love for his answer to our need.

Faith Thoughts

Sometimes my mind gets locked into word-association games. Driving home from work, I listened to a song about faith, and began thinking of words related to its concept. I came up with belief, trust and confidence, and tried to relate them to faith, to discern their differences in meaning. First, they all flow from faith. The dictionary tells us belief is an idea or concept held to be true. It can be based on evidence, or not. Trust and confidence are closely related as the belief that something won’t let us down. That’s why we assume a rope won’t break when we’re dangling by it a thousand feet above jagged rocks.

After checking any number of dictionaries, the Biblical definition of faith is—wonder of wonders—far and away the best. “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.” (Heb 11:1)

Faith is an abstract idea, rather like love. They both require actions to demonstrate their existence, and a source other than the person exercising them. Really, that’s not such a strange idea. Breathing uses muscles which require energy. That energy comes from the food we acquire, chew, swallow, digest and metabolize. And none of that will happen without the oxygen we breathe. It’s a “chicken or egg” conundrum, answerable only by attributing those actions to God’s special creation.

Jesus provided a prize example of faith’s purpose in Luke 17:5, when he and his students discussed forgiveness. They couldn’t see how it was possible to forgive someone 7 times a day, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They understood that Jesus was their source of faith, and they didn’t even have seminary diplomas.

But there’s another conundrum: To ask for faith, one must exercise faith. So where does one get that faith? The answer is in vs. 6: “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.”

Okay, where do we get that mustard seed of faith? It’s part of our God-given, human nature, like our capacity for love and our human spirit, that God meant to give us spiritual vision. But we perverted all that when we sinned. Since we have warped spiritual vision, we search for tangible things in which to invest our faith, and find plenty of perversions to fill the bill. Only when God’s Spirit takes the scales from our eyes can we see the only worthy Object for our faith. At that point we must choose, whether to continue our quest for perverted substitutes, or to gaze at His beauty in wonderment, and place that mustard seed of faith in Him.

There begins a lifetime of choices between growing that faith, or killing it. Thanks to His Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples know which way to go … we just have to do it!

Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.