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!

UNASHAMED BECAUSE OF MERCY

Big Daddy Weave produced a song called Overwhelmed that included the lyrics, “And God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy …” I am eternally thankful for that saving mercy, but I can’t honestly say I’m unashamed; forgiven, but not unashamed. That begs the question of why I am ashamed, and for what.

Answering the “for what” part of that question would involve a lifetime of soul-searching and confession, but telling you why is relatively easy. I am ashamed because I’m not convinced that my life faithfully represents my Savior’s love and holiness.

Oh yes, by the world’s standard I’m suitably religious and moral. Most, in fact, consider me a nice guy, but in my quest to be Christ to my world I am an utter failure.

Does God judge me for my humanness? He already did, and that judgment fell on His Son, my Messiah Jesus Christ. (Romans 8)

AM I A GRASSHOPPER?

I am a prince, a son of the King! I have the Spirit of the eternal God living in me! His Word tells me that I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!

Why, then, do I quake with fear in the face of bitter (even not so bitter) opposition? My fear tells me that I might get it wrong, that my mind will go blank, that they might not like me, that I am not able to go up against them for they are too strong for me, that they are all giants, that they are the Nephilim, and I become like a grasshopper in my own sight, and also in theirs.

Surely those are good reasons for avoiding confrontation with those of the world—or at least good excuses.

If we go to God’s Word, to Numbers 13:25-14:35, we see God’s answer to such excuses. Only after Moses’ entreaty did God grant life to His people Israel, along with forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

If you feel like you’re wandering in the spiritual wilderness, maybe you see yourself  as a grasshopper, compared to those of the world system. Pray that God will transform you into a Caleb, who sees only the prize and the promise. Then repent of your fearfulness. God will bless your desire to please Him.

Another “One Another”

My pastor of a few years ago—don’t remind me how many—preached a series of “One Another” sermons. I searched, “one another,” in Bible Gateway and hit on  instances where the phrase is used for exhortation in the New Testament, but Jesus Himself expressed the heart of all those exhortations with His command, “Love one another.” To cop a popular Christian cliche, “it wasn’t a suggestion.”

I am a nine-finger-typist, so trying to type with three fingers pointed back at myself presents serious issues. Although I said that in jest, I must confess that I am a major offender of Jesus’ Great Commandment.

So, here’s a partial list of the epistle-writers’ applications of Jesus’ command to love one another:

  • Romans 12:9-12 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (10) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
  • Romans 13:8-9 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  • Romans 15:5-7 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (6) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
  • Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (2) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. (32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:18-21 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “TODAY,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (25) 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.

Aw, come on now. That’s not a lot of Scripture. These are only twelve Bible passages that you should already know, if not have memorized, and they are only a small part of the epistles’ instructions for godly conduct within God’s church. Of course, these don’t apply to you directly, as you no doubt already have them mastered (yeah, right). But with three fingers pointed back at yourself, and in a spirit of Christ’s love, exhort those brethren who fall short. Come to think of it, you might want to visit your ophthalmologist first.

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.

Like Waking From a Dream

Last night—or this morning, depending on your perspective—I dreamt of an old ladies’ beauty parlor where I was expected to know one of their past customers. One of the ladies said her name began with Bu-something. I suggested my late wife’s name and sure enough that was it. Seems my dream-Nancy had a makeover before we moved to Montana, and it all made perfect sense to me; even the dream-memory of a glamorous, dark-haired Nancy accompanying me to Montana seemed real, even vivid.

While the name was correct, everything else about that dream was pure fiction, but I didn’t realize it until I awoke. That non-critical phenomenon is both the beautiful and the scary thing about dreaming. Regardless how fantastic the dream scenario, we typically buy into it without question until we wake up.

Sometimes, however, my dreams are so vivid that their thoughts and emotions persist awhile, even into my waking mind. A common comedic situation has a woman clobbering and interrogating her husband because he had behaved badly in her dream. Believe me, it’s nowhere near as funny in reality as it’s sitcom depiction.

My longest dream lasted the twenty-odd years from my birth until God opened my eyes to His truth. During that protracted period I believed without question, everything my mind, emotions and senses told me. Like my dream-memory of Nancy, I believed there was a God, and even His Son Jesus. I believed in the religion my Dad and the priests and nuns taught me. I believed that I was worthless because of my sinful mind and appetites. I believed that my self-serving treatment of people was okay because I was “nice” while doing it. I believed my lusting, thieving, lying and hating was alright because nobody really got hurt, and I could tell a priest about them and say my penance to gain absolution. I even believed in “science,” though it seemed to contradict my roughly Christian religious beliefs.

Yes, dreams can seem real and vivid, even blissful, but we must deal with waking life’s realities. Waking from sin’s seductive illusions requires the same sort of  dogged determination, but to all who accept God’s gift of salvation from sin, and eternal life in Christ Jesus, He gives us a leg up in the form of His Holy Spirit. Apostle Peter, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, wrote:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Like that stereotypical scenario about the woman clobbering her husband after her dream, fully awakening from my sin-fueled fantasy life, even after God revealed His truth to me, took time. In fact, forty-odd years later, I’m still unlearning the lies I believed before I was reborn. If you’ve been saved my our glorious Lord Jesus you have already begun awakening from your natural life’s illusions, but it is only a beginning. As Apostle Peter said, by Christ’s great and precious promises, which you must know in order to apprehend them,  you will partake of His divine nature and escape this world’s lustful corruption.

Awake, O dreamer, to God’s beautiful reality through our loving Savior and His eternal Word.

C.S. Lewis on Prudence

Please take time to read this important excerpt from Mere Christianity.

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim. The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. The fact that what you are thinking about is God Himself (for example, when you are praying) does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have.

Lewis said, “Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence.” Point well taken, but I know children whose intelligence exceeds that of most adults. Their inquiring minds and sense of wonder are beautiful to behold.

Why do we grownups expect our kids to perform perfectly? Why do we punish them when they make “imprudent” mistakes? I believe our adult, vain pride is so invested in their performance that we refuse them the grace that our Father shows us. So what if they make mistakes; at least they are trying. Punish them when they fail, and be assured they will quit trying.

Happenstance?

What follows is part of Uncle Jack’s response to a young woman who discovered she was pregnant; the surprise wasn’t altogether welcome. In the midst of her turmoil she discovered that her Bible had opened to Isaiah 66, and she interpreted the phenomenon as a miracle. So, here is Lewis’ reply.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Bible was open at that page thru’ a miracle or through some (unobserved) natural cause. We think it matters because we tend to call the second alternative, ‘chance.’ But when you come to think of it, there can be no such thing as chance from God’s point of view. Since He is omniscient His acts have no consequences which He has not foreseen and taken into account and intended. Suppose it was the draught from the window that blew your Bible open at Isaiah 66. Well, that current of air was linked up with the whole history of weather from the beginning of the world and you may be quite sure that the result it had for you at that moment (like all its other results) was intended and allowed for in the act of creation. ‘Not one sparrow,’ you know the rest [Matthew 10:29]. So of course the message was addressed to you. To suggest that your eye fell on it without this intention, is to suggest that you could take Him by surprise. Fiddle-de-dee! This is not Predestination: your will is perfectly free: but all physical events are adapted to fit in as God sees best with the free actions He knows we are going to do. There’s something about this in Screwtape.

Whether or not you agree with Lewis’ mild dismissal of the miraculous cause, this excerpt’s significance lies in his introduction of a third alternative that is neither miraculous nor naturalistic; God knew the puff of wind would happen along, and that it would flip several pages to reveal Isaiah 66, and since the woman needed exactly that Bible passage’s encouragement, He allowed it to happen. Or perhaps God caused the chain of events that revealed the passage she needed to read. There are nearly infinite possibilities that could explain that Bible passage showing up when it did, but none of them include chance.

Chance, luck, and coincidence are among terms non-believers use to explain the unexplainable. But simply because we are unable to see or understand God’s hand maneuvering circumstances doesn’t mean He isn’t doing it. Our self-existent, eternally living God is the Lord of happenstance.