C.S. Lewis on Addiction To Experiences

Once again, Uncle Jack nailed it, and this time on a difficult topic:

TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.

12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain—enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

Yes, that is indeed the “programme.” One sort of stimulation he left out is fun. We have elevated, “having fun,” from an occasional treat, to a continual obsession. We pursue it at the expense of life’s reasonable responsibilities, and as Lewis said, “A stronger dose is needed each time, and soon no possible dose is effective.”

We wonder why our kids complain so often of boredom. Have we never thought it might be related to our compulsion with keeping them occupied in, “fun activities?” We recognize our babies’ need to avoid “over stimulation,” but when they get older we keep them stimulated at all cost. Lewis didn’t use the word, but that’s called “desensitization,” where they become accustomed to a certain stimulation level, so they need ever more to feel it at all. Hmm, sounds like addiction, doesn’t it?

So, what choices do we have to deal with the problem? The easiest in the short term would be to keep on keepin’ on, leaving our offspring to deal with the consequences. But is the loving thing to do?

Our second choice is the hard one to implement, but it actually deals with the problem: Take away their media gadgets until they learn to live without them, and until they begin showing some level of gratitude for life’s more subtle enjoyments. Then, gradually reintroduce them to the gadgets which, by then, will be completely obsolete.

Yes, you will have to endure a storm of opposition. And yes, you will have to demonstrate your own independence from the entertainment media. Your reward will be more quality time with them, and yourselves.

That’s hard medicine to swallow, but nothing else will free both them, and yourselves, from artificial stimulation. Bite the bullet! Kick the addiction! And yes, I need to do it as well (ouch!).

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.

C.S. Lewis on Why You Are You

The Brocken Spectre

Listen up, people! This one is important. I’m only posting this excerpt from Uncle Jack’s The Problem of Pain on the off-chance that even one person will read it, carefully. So, here goes:

[God's] signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

I’ve never seen this principle of individuality expressed so well: God is the Worker; heredity and environment are His tools. He loves our differences because He crafted them so carefully. “Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s.” You must not accept any other’s vision of your heavenly Father … Really! I never thought of that before. Didn’t He make our eyes, our perceptions, different? One of the Evangelical community’s great problems is we expect, even demand, that others see God as we do. Brethren! We are not clones! When God’s Spirit moves into your soul, He decides what about you He will change in the new creature that used to be you. You’ll still have the same name (and a New Name), face (but with His glory showing through), personality (unless you were a stinker), family (with the significant addition of your spiritual brethren), interests (unless they were ungodly), and job (unless calls you to another). You will, however, have an entirely new world view, resulting in an entirely new eternal destiny.

So, don’t worry about conforming to others’ expectations. Just be Christ to your world.

C.S. Lewis on Heaven

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2 NASB)

Uncle Jack had a typically unique and refreshing perspective on our Biblical world view, including heaven, hell, and our earthly ambitions.

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’. In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven everywhere. But we, at this end of the road, must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

From C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

I’ve long believed that Jesus will furnish the “dwelling places” he is building for those of us who abide in him to life’s earthly end, with the best and most delightful things that only the Creator of the universe could ever imagine. If old Bowser of your childhood will make you happier than anything else in the universe, you shall have him forever. If that Beemer sports car you’ve been drooling over is the best thing God can provide for you, then you shall have it, and never have to replace tires or add fuel. After all, golden streets are unlikely to wear your tires much anyway. Or, if standing in the eternal, self-existent One’s presence, hands lifted and crying out praises to the King of kings will make you happier than anything else he can imagine, you will be able to do it, without tiring, for as long as you like, even for eternity if you so desire.

Just think of enjoying perfect love, joy, and peace, without wondering when the other shoe will drop. That is what our loving Father has in store for those who follow his Christ faithfully.

I love Lewis’ last sentence in this excerpt: I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself. Well said, Uncle Jack.

C.S. Lewis on Bereavement

Joy and Jack

14 July 1960 in a letter to Peter Bide

Joy died at 10 o’clock last night in the [hospital]. I was alone with her at the moment, but she was not conscious. I had never seen the moment of natural death before. It was far less dreadful than I had expected—indeed there’s nothing to it. Pray for her soul. I have prayed twice daily of late for us four together—you and Margy and me and Joy. I shall continue for you two.

I can’t understand my loss yet and hardly (except for brief but terrible moments) feel more than a kind of bewilderment, almost a psychological paralysis. A bit like the first moments after being hit by a shell.

I’d like to meet. Perhaps I could come up to town some day when you are in town and take you to lunch at the Athenaeum. For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realise in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied. God bless all three of us.

That Uncle Jack felt much as I did two years and nine months ago at once surprises me, and doesn’t. I’m sure that Lewis would agree with me as to the ambiguous emotions that I yet experience when recalling Nancy’s death. As soon as I think I’m finally over the loss, something happens, like the above excerpt from Lewis’ correspondence, that trounces upon my still-sensitive wound. In fact, that is exactly what such loss is, as when a major organ is ripped from your body. It isn’t a surgically precise incision, either. Rather, it reminds me of one of the Indiana Jones flicks, where this evil, demonic priest reaches into the chest of his sacrificial victim, grabs the man’s still-beating heart, and slowly withdraws it. Only in my case, my heart wasn’t removed, but the intangible essence of the woman to whom I gave my heart.

So, why do I want to repeat that process. Why do I pray for God to place another woman in my life, a kindred spirit with whom I can share all of my trivial, seamy, traumatic, joyful, and exciting thoughts, and the moments in time that stimulate them? As much as I dislike some aspects of my temperament and thought-life, I need to share them with one who is willing to love me as doggedly as does my Savior, to whom I can be accountable, and who will give me that loyal boot in the tush that I need so badly. Yet, through my failed attempts at meeting that need I’ve learned to allow God to search for such an exceptional person. What he wants for me is infinitely better than anything, or anyone, that I could flush out of life’s bramble bushes.

Father God, in the name of your only begotten Son Jesus, I ask you for whatever you deem best for me. Though I feel the need for a woman meet for me, and feel it badly, I yield to your infinite wisdom in that, and every other matter in my life. Your love for me is unfathomable, as you gave your Son over to the cross’s curse, just to wash away my sin and reconcile me to yourself, so I trust your every judgment in every area of my life. 

I thank you, Father, for hearing and answering my prayer in any way that you see fit. As your handmaiden responded to you, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.”

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?

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.

C.S. Lewis on Kindness

The Good Samaritan

Uncle Jack frequently took an “out of the box” position on issues of common consent within the Christian community. One such issue was kindness. He wrote in The Problem of Pain:

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.

Ouch. Lewis differentiates between active and passive kindness. Leaving others alone is not kindness, even though you do them no harm. Conversely, neither is inserting yourself in others’ business a kindness, even for the most benevolent purpose, unless, that is, you are invited. Jesus is the prime example of that sort of wisdom, illustrated in Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. That was the Lord’s offer to the Laodicean church, after he said they were lukewarm and about to be vomited out of his mouth.

To be redemptive people, we must follow Jesus’ example; he showed kindness to “sinners,” but was aggressive toward the self-righteous. He healed lepers, but told the lawyers they were like whitewashed tombs, full of corruption. And most of all, he showed kindness to us, carrying our sin-guilt to the cross so we could live eternally.

SHOUT From the Lord

Knock, knock. God calling.

My title for this post is not a typo, and C.S. Lewis will tell you why:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

This is just a reminder; if you know the Lord, you already know how remote he can seem at times. Of course the operative term is, “seem,” as his Holy Spirit indwells us, and if we can maintain a state of spiritual, mental, and emotional quietness, we can hear our Father speaking through him.

There are times, however, when such quietness is hard to come by and we truly need a reminder, like when we’re sick, dejected, or depressed, and allow our pain, and possibly even our deafening self-pity, to drown out God’s voice. And that truly is a pity, wasting those prime opportunities to listen and learn from the one who loves us even when we ignore him.

I wish I could say I am never that person, but I, even I, on rare occasions, find myself slightly off my peak, but only rarely. (Did you catch that roaring understatement?) In truth, I trust God and do my best to listen to him because I have to, as I’ve learned I can’t trust myself.

If you can’t relate to that because you do trust yourself to respond to life’s trials correctly, I have a Scripture passage custom made for you: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12) But who really possesses such self-confidence. I mean, really?

C.S. Lewis on The Worst Kind of Sin

Uncle Jack must have been a carpenter, as he continually “hits the nail squarely on the head.” From Mere Christianity:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

I’m afraid Uncle Jack was a smidge off hitting this particular nail squarely. The generalization with which he opened this excerpt is wrong; most Christians do regard unchastity as the supreme vice, completely missing the the attitudinal sins Lewis mentions later on. Even if you’re reborn into a new person by faith in Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, you still have to deal with the sin-habit you’ve developed over the years before you came to faith.

When we’re first saved we all marvel at the sensation that freedom from sin-guilt gives us. But just as all changes become mundane after a while, we begin taking the freedom that Jesus so dearly bought for granted. The sensation fades, as does our revulsion to sin, and   (name your poison)   doesn’t seem so bad after all.

I love Lewis’ categories of sin: Animal, and Diabolical. Or, maybe I should say I hate them, as I recognize their icky feelers trying to creep into my life. All that stands in the way of those embryonic buggers is God’s Holy Spirit working through his Word and prayer; no Word, no prayer, no protection.

Any sin, regardless how slight, if unconfessed, will open the door for those buggers. And diabolical sins of attitude are the worst because they’re almost invisible.

Do you think you’re free from attitudinal sin? That’s the primary symptom of having a bad case of them. Think of homeowners; termites are never a problem until the homeowners get their house inspected by the pros. Attitudinal sin is even more destructive than termites, and God’s Holy Spirit is the Pro you need to consult for finding those diabolical, soul-chewing sin-buggers.

If you’re not read-up and prayed-up, you’ll soon become fed-up with your lackluster Christian walk. You may hang onto “a form of godliness,” but your profession will be a lie.