C.S. Lewis on the Attractiveness of True Holiness

Here’s an excerpt from a letter that Uncle Jack wrote in 1953:

I am so glad you gave me an account of the lovely priest. How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once), it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end? (from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. III)

How right he is. I’ve walked the path toward holiness—note, I didn’t say I’ve achieved it—for much of my adult life, and I’m seldom bored. Apostle Paul told us that we are dead to sin. Why, then, is living without sinning impossible for me? And I think it’s not just my own personal problem; Apostle John told us that … well, I’ll let him speak for God directly:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV)

Anyone who says John wrote that to non-believers hasn’t read its context. While we are dead to sin, temptations and their resulting sins still plague us. So, if we are dead to sin, which God says we are through Jesus’ redemptive act, why do we still sin? Looking back to Romans 6:2, the apostle says, “How shall we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

Please know that this isn’t a cop out, but there’s a huge difference between living in sin and occasionally sinning. I make sense of it by comparing my attitude toward sin before I was saved, to that of after I was saved: From shortly after my birth to when I confessed my sinfulness and asked God to have His way with me, I sought out opportunities to sin. It was my way of life, and I didn’t want it any different. While my horrendous sins were relatively minor compared to some, I came to realize that God doesn’t grade on a curve. A deliberate lie is just as damning as adultery or murder, and I was a liar from early childhood.

Thing is, we’re habitual critters, and the life we live before we come to understand and accept the gospel leaves us with certain … ah … regrettable behavioral patterns. But God understands that and grants us grace as long as we refuse to take it for granted, striving to grow ever closer to God and live in a way that glorifies Him. And believe me, that is anything but boring.

C.S. Lewis, on Forgiveness of Sins

Topsy Turvy Church

This passage is from The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. Though some may take exception to the idea that Christians aren’t automatically forgiven for all sins, he makes a very good Biblical point.

We say a great many things in church (and out of church too) without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. “If one is a Christian,” I thought, “of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying.” But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not nearly so easy as I thought. Real belief in it is the sort of thing that very easily slips away if we don’t keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer; was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No part of His teaching is clearer, and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own.

The Scripture passage to which he referred is from Matthew 6:11-15. One could try to dispute Lewis’ conclusion, but the Lord was pretty clear about it. Maybe you will tell me that He was speaking at that moment from the Law Dispensation, since He hadn’t as yet performed His Redemptive Act.

I’m afraid that goose won’t fly, friend. As with the balance of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke from the only perspective he had, that of grace. Why would He speak from the Law’s perspective when He would, in a short time, fulfill the Law?

If you insist on the Law idea, what about First Corinthians’ love chapter? Remember all the awful things St. Paul did before he met Jesus? Loving forgiveness did not come naturally to that Pharisee. He had hated Christians and Gentiles, but he taught unconditional love to the Corinthian church.

Nope, if you harbor a grudge, refusing to love and forgive anyone, you can’t expect Jesus’ blood to cover your unconfessed sin. Otherwise, you’d be no better off than members of the Islamic State or the KKK. Is your grudge worth that?

Read, Carefully!

Of course, you must start with God’s Word. But beyond that, godly men and women author godly works that don’t add to, but simply clarify God’s Word, relating it to new audiences.

Then, there are the Christian authors of generations past, whose works the Holy Spirit has used powerfully for revival in those times. Click here for a great—and short—article about Chesterton, Muggeridge, Boreham, Sayers, and MacDonald (C.S. Lewis’ mentor). Click here for a glimpse at Christian authors from even further back, such as Augustine, Calvin, Clarke, and so on down the alphabet. Though many of them had great things to say, they are, of course, no substitute for God’s Word.

Now I must reveal my motivation for this post; my e-mail in box offered me a brief excerpt from Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. Upon a careful reading of said excerpt (thus, the title for this piece), I decided to share it with my vast audience. In it, Lewis explains why we must prostrate ourselves before our great, Creator God, and His seemingly unfair demands upon us. This is a profound read, so I dare ya to dive in—carefully.

Perhaps by now you’ve noticed my harping on reading carefully. Our media-saturated culture has desensitized us to the nuances of the written word. If it isn’t dramatized and animated, it isn’t worthy of our attention, and I’m one of the worst offenders of classical literature. With all of my entertainments, I haven’t the time for serious reading, though I prefer to rest heavily upon my dyslexia as my old, reliable excuse. Even now, at the close of this post, Netflix attempts to seduce my attention away from godly pursuits. Of course, all work and no play makes Jim … a liar.

BTW: During my pitiful attempt at researching for this post, I happened upon this compelling excerpt from WARRANTED CHRISTIAN BELIEF by Alvin Plantigna, and you don’t even need a doctorate in theology to understand it. You’re welcome.

C.S. Lewis on Agape Love

Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead out of compassionate love, the same love that drove Him to the cross to save you and me.

Once again, Uncle Jack’s refreshing and profound insight speaks volumes. In a letter to a Mrs. Johnson, he said:

Of course taking in the poor illegitimate child is ‘charity’. Charity means love. It is called Agape in the New Testament to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storgë (family affection) and Philia (friendship) [E.g., I John 4:9]. So there are 4 kinds of ‘love’, all good in their proper place, but Agape is the best because it is the kind God has for us and is good in all circumstances. (There are people I mustn’t feel Eros towards, and people I can’t feel Storge or Philia for; but I can practise Agape to God, Angels, Man and Beast, to the good and the bad, the old and the young, the far and the near.

Later on, he points his readers to St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, excerpted below, as God’s definition of His kind of love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (4) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

In another letter Lewis simplifies love to just two kinds:

There are two kinds of love: we love wise and kind and beautiful people because we need them, but we love (or try to love) stupid and disagreeable people because they need us. This second kind is the more divine because that is how God loves us: not because we are lovable but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but He delights to give.

If we have the mind of Christ, we won’t have to grit our teeth and screw up our mouths into a smile to show loving grace to the unlovable. We will love them most, because they need it most.

Please note that godly love isn’t necessarily showing affection for the one being loved. It’s sincerely and actively desiring God’s best for them, even if they don’t deserve it, because we don’t deserve it any more than they do.

As much as we talk about Agape love and hear it preached, we typically view it as the impossible dream, something that would be nice if only we could pull it off. Well, guess what. God commands us to love with the very same love that Jesus showed for us when he took our sins to the cross. His New Testament is full of examples of it and commands for it. St. John knew Jesus’ love better than the rest of His apostles, so read his letters to the church, with special emphasis on 1 John 4:7-21, to get the full effect. You will see that loving as God loves is not an option, if you hope to gain eternal life.

C.S. Lewis on Being Called

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaking me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

“Speak your thought, Human Child,” said the Lion.

“I was wondering—I mean—could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to—to Somebody—it was a name I wouldn’t know—and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

“Then you are Somebody, Sir?” said Jill.

“I am.”

From The Silver Chair

When I read this story to my daughters a long time ago I failed to explain its significance to them. Uncle Jack had a knack (rhyme not intended) for presenting complex theological ideas in charming and simple ways. Though I disagree with Lewis on many points of doctrine, where I find agreement, their profundity amazes me, and this passage presents the work of God’s Holy Spirit spot on. And I love the way Uncle Jack slipped God’s divine Name (I AM) into the dialogue so naturally.

We fail to appreciate God’s work in and around us because we don’t possess spiritual eyes; all we have is faith in what we can’t see, but is more real than what we see with our fleshly eyes. This mustard seed faith summons God’s power to move human hearts and minds from carnal-orientation to spirit-orientation, a move that, by comparison, makes tossing a mountain into the ocean seem like kicking a stone along a path.

Just know, dear friend, that God’s answers to prayer are more often spiritual than material in nature, and when the spiritual answer just doesn’t cut it, you are not of His mind.

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.