C.S. Lewis on Immortality

Once again, Uncle Jack gave me pause to think. And what I think will follow what He thought.

I think that Resurrection (what ever it exactly means) is so much profounder an idea than mere immortality. I am sure we don’t just “go on.” We really die and are really built up again.

He was right about our really dying and being really built up again, but what kind of death do we face? Obviously, we all die physically, suffering the corruption that our Savior was spared. That is the death of the flesh. But there is another death that must precede physical death, in order that we might gain the resurrection to which Lewis referred. That is the death to the flesh, referred to in the Bible as death to sin (Romans 6).

Honestly, I struggled with the whole “dead to sin” thing for years after I came to Christ, not because I didn’t want to die to sin, but because my actions told me that I had not yet achieved it. Every time I opened the New Testament I stumbled into it; if I was saved I was dead to sin, but I wasn’t, or at least I didn’t seem to be. But, praise God, I also stumbled upon Romans 8:1-2, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

Of course, that begged the question of how I knew I was in Christ Jesus. My first answer to that troubling question was, before my rebirth I sought every opportunity to sate my carnal impulses, but was never satisfied. After my rebirth I wanted to be in Christ, and my sins grieved me terribly.

My second answer was what the Bible calls, “the witness of the Spirit,” (Romans 6:16-17) in which we suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him. Suffering with Him includes the grief over sin that I mentioned above. When Jesus fell on His face praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Was He grieved because of the physical suffering ahead of Him? While that would worry me terribly, I think His grief lay in the fact that He, the perfectly righteous, eternal Son of God, would shortly bear upon His body God’s righteous judgment for all the world’s sin. And that judgment would separate the man Jesus from His Father God, resulting in Jesus’ anguished cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

And my third answer (Do you remember the question?) is my absolute certainty about my eternal fellowship with my Savior. That certainty grew from the most fragile of faith-seeds to a confidence that surmounts even my, at times, shaky faith due to my tendency to rely on the seen, rather than the unseen (Romans 8:24-25). I can’t praise my Savior enough for that assurance, and I can’t wait to do it in person, for eternity.

Uncle Jack on the Death of His Wife Joy

Obstacles to healing

With the death of a loved one, all reason, all preconceptions, all pat answers fly out the window. So it was when C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife Joy after such a short time with her. Here is a brief excerpt from A Grief Observed, where he reexamined all he had come to believe about God. It’s not pretty, but it’s honest.

How often are you and I totally honest with God? Do you ever feel the urge to castigate God with every unkind adjective at your command? Do you ever find yourself doubting all the neat, Sunday school answers you called out while waving your hand in class? If not, you are living a synthetic life with your eyes tightly closed against all the temporal cruelty and pain this life deals us.

Lewis longed for assurance that Joy no longer suffered as she had in her life on Earth. And at the same time he needed to know that she missed him as much as he missed her. If you’ve ever lost someone you cherished, you’ve asked the same questions.

My council to anyone going through loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one, or the death of a relationship resulting in divorce, is not to just shut up and trust God. That’s the surest way of cutting off all communication with someone in that circumstance. I compare loosing a loved one with having a limb amputated; you never knew how much you valued that member until you lost it. Initially, you feel phantom pain and itching that you can’t scratch. You feel like it’s still there, but your heart sinks whenever you see that it’s gone. Leaning on its memory only keeps you immobile, but you don’t want to adapt to life without it.

Such grief is entirely natural, but that doesn’t make it any easier, and you want to slug anyone who tells you that you’ll get over it. You will never get that leg, arm, hand, finger, or loved one back, and you will never completely get used to their being gone. In time, though, God will broaden your perspective to include His view of your grief. You will realize how much He hates to see any of His loved ones lost to perdition because of our insistence on living our own way. You will come to appreciate His pain when He gave His only begotten Son over to sinful men to be ridiculed, tortured, and murdered to save you, because He loved you all that much.

Uncle Jack grew from his profound grief to become an even greater giant of the faith that gave him peace in his loss. If you haven’t experienced such loss, brace yourself; it’s coming. But also, prepare yourself for the unspeakable blessing to follow.

Ouch!

In the following excerpt from The Problem of Pain, Uncle Jack (C.S. Lewis, for the uninitiated) plows a bit too close to my own fence, and I hope, yours as well:

Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. For about a hundred years we have so concentrated on one of the virtues—“kindness” or mercy—that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good or anything but cruelty to be really bad. Such lopsided ethical developments are not uncommon, and other ages too have had their pet virtues and curious insensibilities. And if one virtue must be cultivated at the expense of all the rest, none has a higher claim than mercy. . . . The real trouble is that “kindness” is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbour’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease.

Folks think I’m a nice guy, an impression I don’t try hard enough to discourage. Instead, I’m a counterfeit, a fake.

“What’s wrong with being thought of as nice?” you may well ask.

“Nothing,” I may well answer, if I weren’t a Christ-follower. You see, anyone can be nice with the proper motivation; maybe she’s singularly gorgeous, he holds your promotion in his clammy hands, they’re well-connected, or you just want to be liked. Under such circumstances your niceness is for your own sake.

Uncle Jack pointed out a painful truth, “… though in fact he has (or I have) never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.” Here’s a personal example: I know a sister in the Lord who possesses both inner and outer beauty. I used to help her with the yard work on her large, corner lot. My motivation was both selfless and selfish, er, mostly selfish, as I wanted to be close to her and make brownie-points. Was I kind? Or was I simply cunning?

Apostle John, in his first letter to his children in the faith, said a lot about godly love.
1Jn 2:15-16 NASB
(15) Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
(16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

While that is all truth, allow me to focus on, “the boastful pride of life.” When I actively seek to be liked, I indulge in that sort of pride; I think I’m a nice guy and want others to think of me in the same way. That has nothing to do with love of my Father God or any of His children, and is instead, worldly. For a Christ-follower, that is a solid no-no.

Some may feel that I am overthinking this issue, but if my concern brings me closer to embracing godly attitudes I’ll overthink everything I read in the Scriptures.

C.S. Lewis on Free Will

Here’s the best, and shortest, analysis of personal volition, or free will, that I’ve ever seen. Go, Uncle Jack:

The sin, both of men and of angels, was rendered possible by the fact that God gave them free will: this surrendering a portion of His omnipotence (it is again a deathlike or descending movement) because He saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out (and this is the re-ascent) a deeper happiness and a fuller splendour than any world of automata would admit.

From Miracles

Truth be told, and to the irritation of both sides of the divine sovereignty issue, the Bible clearly spells out both God’s absolute sovereignty, and man’s personal volition. “How can that be?” you ask. It’s easy if you’re God. Just don’t limit God to your ability to understand His Truth. Ever!

Uncle Jack on Life’s Troubles

Uncle Jack’s brother was worse than an alcoholic; he was an incorrigible, disorderly drunk. On the occasion of his commitment to a nursing home for detox, he proved so difficult that the nuns insisted that he be transferred to a “hospital,” but really it was an asylum, and the matter weighed heavily on him.

In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, dated July 2, 1949, Lewis wrote about vicarious suffering:

Don’t imagine I doubt for a moment that what God sends us must be sent in love and will all be for the best if we have grace to use it so. My mind doesn’t waver on this point; my feelings sometimes do. That’s why it does me good to hear what I believe repeated in your voice—it being the rule of the universe that others can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and one can paddle every canoe except one’s own. That is why Christ’s suffering for us is not a mere theological dodge but the supreme case of the law that governs the whole world; and when they mocked him by saying, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save,’ [Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:31]] they were really uttering, little as they knew it, the ultimate law of the spiritual world.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

In Lewis’ typical, economical style, he captured the foundational truth of God’s good news to humanity. His loving nature caused Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: take our death penalty for sin upon Himself, in the person of His only Son after His own kind, our Lord Jesus Christ. All who accept that substitutionary death for themselves will feel eternally grateful—literally.

If you claim Christianity as your religion, yet your life fails to reflect that all-consuming gratitude, you need to carefully examine your profession of faith. Apostle James wrote:

Jas 2:14-26
(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
(15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
(16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
(17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(19) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
(20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
(22) You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
(23) and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
(24) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
(25) And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
(26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Just as with ingratitude, gratitude will be known.

Uncle Jack! Really?

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.

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 and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. 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.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Here is one area where I depart from Lewis’ beliefs; religious practice is an outgrowth of walking in Christ’s way, not the means. In Lewis’ day, the two may have seemed one and the same, but they are not. The only thing that truly spreads Christ’s life to us is faith, producing in our lives the fruit of His Spirit. To pursue the religious practices he listed as a primary goal is simply to hang religious window dressing on a carnal life. Really, Uncle Jack. I thought you knew better.

Our Daily Bread, on Human Chess

Doesn’t the angry-looking little man above just rankle you? Even just a bit? Chances are, you see him as a bill-collector and nothing more. But maybe he’s just a kindly old grand dad who hates his job, from which he’s planning to retire next week, if people like you don’t give him a heart attack before then.

Bill Crowder, in today’s ODB, made a strong statement against Christ-followers using people. Even those of us who try to emulate our Savior sometimes fall into the trap of marginalizing those with whom we routinely do business, especially undesirable kinds of business.

I’m sure none who read this have to deal with tax auditors, bill collectors, or even difficult service people, but if you ever do, how would you relate to them? Would you deal with them in a friendly manner? Or would you treat them as functionaries, looking through them to the purpose you wish to accomplish.

This isn’t simply a theoretical principle for me, as I am in the midst of negotiations with my landlord regarding some issues of my own doing. I feel like avoiding confrontation, ignoring her as is my passive-aggressive tendency. But if I am to obey my Savior’s mandate to love my enemy—even though she isn’t my enemy—I must treat her with careful consideration. Honestly, this is hard for me, even though I like to project the image of a, “nice guy.”

We must remember that a person with duties and feelings resides behind every job-doer; whether he or she has to issue a traffic citation, a summons, or an eviction notice, that is a soul that needs to know Jesus’ love, and you or I may be the only Jesus they have ever met.

1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

Does that describe you and me? Or are we just playing games with the people for whom Jesus died?

Screwtape on Using Religion As a Christian’s Stumbling Block

Screwtape (C.S. Lewis’ demonic character) shows real ingenuity in his approach to tripping up Christians.

Success here depends on confusing him. If you try to make him explicitly and professedly proud of being a Christian, you will probably fail; the Enemy’s warnings are too well known. If, on the other hand, you let the idea of ‘we Christians’ drop out altogether and merely make him complacent about ‘his set’, you will produce not true spiritual pride but mere social vanity which, by comparison, is a trumpery, puny little sin. What you want is to keep a sly self-congratulation mixing with all his thoughts and never allow him to raise the question ‘What, precisely, am I congratulating myself about?’ The idea of belonging to an inner ring, of being in a secret, is very sweet to him. Play on that nerve. Teach him, using the influence of this girl when she is silliest, to adopt an air of amusement at the things the unbelievers say. Some theories which he may meet in modern Christian circles may here prove helpful; theories, I mean, that place the hope of society in some inner ring of ‘clerks’, some trained minority of theocrats. It is no affair of yours whether those theories are true or false; the great thing is to make Christianity a mystery religion in which he feels himself one of the initiates.

Of course, the “him” to which Screwtape refers is Wormwood’s personal project, an unsuspecting Christian. Lewis appears to grant him greater discernment than is typically true; I’ve known many “Christians” who displayed pride in their religious affiliation because they either don’t know, or care about, the Bible’s warnings about vain pride.

“Spiritual pride” is an oxymoron. Whenever a Christian takes a, “big I, little you,” perspective based on his position in Christ, chances are he’s not “in Christ” at all. That includes making snarky, patronizing comments to or about atheists or homosexuals, regardless how snarky or patronizing they are.

How easily we forget that the only damnable sin is that of rejecting Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with the Father. Think of such rejection as a refusal to pray as King David did in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” What is “the way everlasting?” Well, its map is God’s complete Word, and it’s called, “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Unlike GPS, or Screwtape, it won’t mislead you.

C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation

 

Da Vinci’s Annunciation

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. 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 foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

From Mere Christianity

Before God fathered Jesus, His only begotten Son, our Savior existed as God’s creative Word. I think Lewis understated his metaphor, though; the picture of a human lowering himself to become a slug is simply not low enough. My mind pictures a human being becoming a bacterium for the sole purpose of eradicating the fatal, Beelzo transgvirus-1, also known as the sin virus.

Lots of folks have trouble with the Biblical statement that Jesus was the only begotten of God, due to their misunderstanding of Trinitarian doctrine. The alleged paradox lies in the idea that Jesus, God’s divine Son, had a beginning, and as God is eternal, that couldn’t be true. As a clever workaround, wordsmiths came up with the phrase, “begotten, not made,” in the Nicene Creed, but they needn’t have gone to all that trouble. The truth is far simpler; Jesus of Nazareth, though He was indeed born in the flesh, was not born of the flesh, because His Father is God Himself. As such, Jesus is the perfect man, the second Adam, who unlike the first Adam, never rebelled against His Father.

In other words, God the eternal Word became a mortal man at Jesus’ conception, enabling Him to be at once, immortal and mortal.

I hope that clears up the “only begotten” aspect of Jesus’ incarnation, so you’ll know the simple answer next time someone asks you the hard question.

C.S. Lewis on Deliberate Compromise

For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.” He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only in so far as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls.
From The Weight of Glory

Again, how can I improve on Uncle Jack’s simple-yet-powerful statement? A Christian’s deliberate compromise is nothing less than presumption on Jesus’ blood. Does His redeeming blood even cover that? Such is the stuff of controversy over the centuries, with no agreement in sight. Lewis apparently believed that Jesus’ blood cannot cover such presumption, but he was a layman, while John Calvin, a theologian, disagreed.

In my mind (for what that’s worth), the distinction is moot; belief that Christ’s redemptive work applies to me personally, and accepting it by faith, precludes any such deliberate compromise. Apostle James said it best:

James 2:14-26 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (18) But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (19) You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (20) But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? (22) You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. (24) You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (25) In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (26) For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Some would love to see that passage torn out of the Bible. They want to do their own thing, relying on their supposed eternal security for “fire insurance.” But, just as cheap insurance is worth what it costs, so is cheap grace. In fact, cheap grace is no grace at all, as our redemption cost Jesus everything.