C.S. Lewis on Self-Insight

34502Though I’ve taken some flack recently over using Lewis’ ideas to illustrate truths, I must continue to do so despite the acknowledged errors in his theology. Following our Lord Christ’s narrow Way does not demand that we follow Him with narrow minds. I’ve discovered errors in my own understanding of theology, and I expect to do so again, and the only way to continue with that program of self-correction is to keep my mind open to God’s Truth. I will always stand squarely on God’s Word as my exclusive source of eternal Truth, but that does not preclude others’ words opening my eyes to Biblical Truth that I have not yet discovered, or better understanding Truth-related concepts. With that disclaimer, here’s Uncle Jack.

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

Uncle Jack, in his inimitable style, expressed a concept that I call, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When you’re in sin, you can’t see it for what it is, rather like magnifying a photograph to the pixel or grain-level, where the colored dots mean nothing to you. If you’re a serious Christ-follower, a similar phenomenon effects your appreciation of your spiritual life; though you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you can often forget how far behind you’ve left your former life of sin.

That’s why you need faithful brethren close by to encourage you in those bummer times of forgetfulness, to remind you of who you are now, in Christ Jesus. In case that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s called the Church. Remember the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24-25  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Everyone will live to see, “The Day,” whether it comes for you alone, or for God’s entire church. So, be ready!

Penal substitutionary atonement – Theopedia, an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity

 Penal substitutionary atonement – Theopedia, an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity

While I cannot say that much of this article will stick in my feeble memory, I learned a lot in principle. Though it only dealt with the teaching of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, it included criticisms from quite a few theologians, both those who agree with the teaching, and those who disagree. Those brief statements taught me that many schools of thought exist regarding the minute details of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and without studying them in great detail, I suspect that they all contribute a grain of truth to the subject.

My issue lies with the theologians who paint with broad strokes in strictly human colors. The gospel of Christ is both far more simple, and infinitely more complex than anyone can grasp. All we can and should do is believe what the Bible says, and not a word more, but even that takes great discernment; while every word is true, they are just words that can be defined variously, depending on what the reader needs or wants to see. That’s why we require God’s Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word to our understanding, an understanding that is as personal as each one who reads and studies it. But even that is an inadequate statement of principle, as whatever understanding we take from God’s Word must conform to His Word as a whole.

As the guy said, “It’s … complicated.” But there is as much danger in oversimplifying God’s message as in overcomplicating it. If conceptualizing God’s Word seems complicated, it is we who cause the confusion.

Personally? I subscribe to Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Caution! Read the Label

Warning! May be addictive.

Yesterday I bought a jar of sunflower kernels (that’s the seeds without armor). As I hadn’t enjoyed such a treat in a very long time, and I went to the store hungry, I naturally bought the beckoning jar of golden pleasure. After enjoying a modest snack—I kid you not—I stopped today and read the label:

INGREDIENTS: SUNFLOWER KERNELS, SEA SALT, SUGAR, CORN STARCH, CONTAINS 1% OR LESS OF THE FOLLOWING: MONOSODIUM  GLUTAMATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SMOKED TORULA YEAST, DRIED CORN SYRUP, SPICE, GARLIC POWDER, ONION POWDER. (Emphasis mine)

I was aghast! Why would I want to take all that junk into my body? I thought I had read the label; it said, “Dry Roasted Sunflower Kernels (with sea salt),” but I hadn’t read the entire label.

So, I relearned a valuable life-lesson: Always read everything on the label.

You were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14), and your Maker even provided a detailed label so you could know exactly what’s inside; it’s contained within our User’s Manuel. Of course, the Bible doesn’t tell us all the minute, physiological details of our composition, but it does reveal the really important stuff; you have a body, a soul, and a spirit, and each of those require certain things to prosper, or even to survive. For example, your body needs nutrition (preferably without all the garbage in those sunflower kernels), shelter, and hygiene. Your soul—including your mind, personality, temperament, and emotions—need to take on strong, positive character. Your human spirit is like bleached, white flower; it “tastes” great, but lacks anything to sustain life. God designed the human spirit to work in concert with his Holy Spirit, but that all ended when Man chose to disobey God’s clear command—his only command, by the way—and believe the serpent’s lie.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you already know all that, but did you know that your behavior and attitudes can shackle the Holy Spirit’s work in your life? If we subscribe to the “Stinkin’ Thinkin'” mentality, or refuse to cultivate spiritual fruit, we grieve God’s Spirit and open ourselves up to the unpleasant, even catastrophic, consequences.

Acts 17 tells the story of Thessalonian Jews dragging Jason and other believers into court with accusations of “turning the world upside down.” Are we still that church? Are we still making more than a subtle difference in our world? When did we, God’s church, loose that power? What compromise do we make that grieves God’s Spirit in our lives and churches?

The answer is easy: We have once again sold our souls to the enemy, trading the Way of Christ for playing church. We allow the world’s values and perversions into our homes by calling it, “entertainment.” We compromise our holiness to seem relevant, even cool, in our world. While all of these shortfalls are also true of me personally, this last one is true of me especially: We over-think our faith, trying to make it humanly reasonable, unable to believe what doesn’t make sense, living by sight, and not by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

If that indictment seems like no big thang, I even have to wonder if we are in Christ at all. If we’re okay with an impotent church, is it truly God’s church?

Caution! We need to carefully and completely read the Label God placed on us, then follow its instructions, not to the letter, as that is legalism, but by his Spirit. Only then will we complete Jesus’ Great Commission.

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?

The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the the Holy Spirit

Moses at the Burning Bush

If you look closely at Matthew 18:18-20, you will see it refers to one Name—singular—for each of the three Persons mentioned. That strikes me as referring to a family name, common to all three. And what is that name? Well, we address our prayers to our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, but the only actual given name is that of Jesus. So that set me to thinking—a dangerous activity for me.

The only Divine Name Scripture gives us is what God told Moses at the burning bush. And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) In Hebrew, that is pronounced (at least in Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary), haw-yaw’. Doesn’t sound much like the traditional name given to God by the English, Jehovah. Unfortunately, all the references we have to the I AM are at best, transliterations of the Hebrew or Aramaic, four-consonant word meaning, “I Exist Because I Exist,” or, “I am self-existent.”

My own practice is to not use the Divine Name, and according to the custom of not addressing ones father by either his given name or his family name, to simply address him as, “Father.” As Jesus told us to pray to the Father in his own name, that seems to be a no-brainer. And the Holy Spirit? I have found neither a command, nor an example in the Bible, of praying to God’s Holy Spirit. Do we slight the Holy Spirit by not praying to him? Not if we are obeying the Scriptures by not doing so. Think about it. Praying to God the Father, in Jesus’ name, through his Holy Spirit, involves all three in the process and it’s Scriptural.

So, what is the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

THE INVASION — A Review

I just watched THE INVASION, another BODY SNATCHERS-type movie.

Oliver Hirschbiegel and James McTeigue directed Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig et al. in a reasonably entertaining and gripping tale of alien spores attaching themselves to a space shuttle and causing it to crash to earth, spreading the spores half-way across the United States in a swath two hundred miles wide. As those hardy buggers weren’t in the least affected by either the cold of space or the heat of reentry into the atmosphere, they invaded human bodies and began changing them into dispassionate, purpose-driven beings who looked exactly like the people they infected. And their purpose? To turn Earth into a Utopian society with none of the social problems we’ve learned to live with.

That scenario affords a glimpse into the world’s perspective on being reborn in God’s Spirit; they see spiritual rebirth as an invasion of our personhood, changing us into something that we are not. In a way I can’t blame unbelievers for arriving at that conclusion, considering Bible passages and preaching that speaks of being filled with God’s Holy Spirit and death to self. But for one significant error in that reasoning, I could easily buy into it. That error is the assumption that we evolved into what we are through random mutations and natural selection (survival of the fittest), with no higher purpose for it all. Of course, the truth is God created us for a very specific purpose: to be the recipients of his love, and to voluntarily submit to his Lordship. Thing is, God will never override our free will, as he gave it to us in the first place. He doesn’t forcibly invade our bodies with some bland, unfeeling entity. In fact, just the opposite is true: He allows us to become the people he created us to be, and to enjoy the supernatural peace and joy that he affords.

In short, THE INVASION is good movie with a false moral. But what else can we expect from Hollywood.

How could God change His mind in Numbers 14? I mean, really!?

Everybody knows God knows everything. Past, present, and future, he has a lock on it. Yet, in Numbers 14 he seems to change his mind about striking the children of Israel with the pestilence and disinheriting them. Also, in Judges 2:181 Samuel 15:35, 2 Samuel 24:16, and 1 Chronicles 21:15, the observers got the same impression. For the past few years, this question hasn’t bothered me in the least. The only thing that has bugged me is how to explain it to non-believers. I have no problem with it because I know and love God, so I trust his Word not to contradict itself. In his book, Now, That’s a Good Question, R.C. Sproul gives an answer that seems credible to me.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language.

Strictly speaking, that’s not quite true; God’s Holy Spirit speaks to Christ-followers through his Word, allowing us to grasp by faith, spiritual truths that sail miles over the heads of non-believers. We may not be able to explain the concepts coherently, but if we listen to God with our faith-ears, we know that even apparently contradictory statements are true.

The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

I love Sproul’s use of the word, “befuddled,” but if the “we” he refers to are Christ-followers, it only applies when we try to explain it to outsiders. I can do it with my fingers, on this keyboard, but when put on the spot I get all … well … befuddled.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means.

The beauty of God’s sovereignty is, he doesn’t have to conform to our concept of cause-and-effect. Our issues with his actions have no effect on his purposes, and actually serve to bolster our faith in his loving wisdom.

God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there.

With God’s will, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s, and he never really changes his mind. It just seems that way to us. We must simply, “Trust and Obey.”

Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

Sanctified Bellyaching

Israel’s King David didn’t mince words about the trials he endured while hiding, first from King Saul, then from his own son Absalom. In some of his psalms he actually seemed to indulge in self-pity—hardly a kingly trait.

Rather than providing grounds for indictment, however, these psalms reveal King David’s honesty and the Scriptures’ credibility. If the Bible’s source-texts were, as cynics allege, nothing more than some religious guys’ imaginations run amuck, they wouldn’t include any stories involving their heroes’ dark-sides. Unlike King David, though, such critics are driven to find, or fabricate, any evidence that might besmirch the Bible’s reliability.

If you are inclined as I was to criticize David for his whining, think again. He balances all his complaining with the most heartfelt, beautiful praises to God. Psalm thirteen is a great example of his transparency:

Psalms 13:1-6 NKJV
(1) To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(2) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(3) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
(4) Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(5) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

King David, in all his psalms, exemplifies a right relationship with the Existing One(LORD), and how such a man after God’s own heart prays. We all would do well to engage in such bellyaching, including the praise that balances it.