Laudable Linkage


Here are some of the noteworthy reads discovered recently.

What Changed After C. S. Lewis Came to Christ? We think mostly of Lewis’ intellect, but other areas of his life changed as well. “Lewis was always submitting his life to Christ to be changed. He was always renewing his mind. He understood the New Testament concept of the atonement as involving dying with Christ. He continually submitted habits and attitudes to be killed . . . “

Why I Stopped Calling Parts of the Bible Boring. The theologian she quotes is not my favorite, but otherwise I like this. “Scripture is history, drama, and art. And more importantly, it is the surprisingly simple story of God redeeming his creation. But if in our simplifying or systematizing we end up relegating entire portions of Scripture to boring irrelevancy, we have lost the plot of a God who chose to reveal himself to us in the form of a breathtaking story.”

Helping Our Kids Put On the Armor of God, HT to The Story Warren “Every parent yearns for their child to stand in the face of peer pressure, evil enticements, false claims, and even amidst their own disappointments and losses. Fitting them in these six pieces of spiritual armor will help equip and enable them to stand.”

Cinderella, Strong Women, and the Courage to Be Kind, HT to The Story Warren. “Most of us are strong in ways that go unlauded, and maybe we don’t see our daily routine as strength because of it, or we think we have to be fighting for something—whatever that might look like. But we are strong women when we practice virtues like kindness, when we are patient, when we show compassion and turn away wrath.”

Biblical Submission Does Not Justify Abuse (Or Even Permit It). “Her submission is not your responsibility. Loving her like Christ loved the Church is your responsibility, and abusing her in action or word is a gross violation of the direct command that God has given you. Demanding submission as a cover for acting abusively is a loathsome sin and God notices.”

Midlife, Christ Is. “In midlife, Christ is a consolation for all the things I wish I’d done differently. He doesn’t change my past, but he can redeem it. . . . In midlife, Christ is a companion through all the worries and stresses.”

God Loves Your Perimenopausal Body. “To tell you the truth, the shock as this reality began to dawn in my life left me feeling as though my body might have heard the gospel for the first time even though my heart, mind, and soul had been committed to Jesus since I was a teen. All that time, I’d gotten the message at church that my body was a problem, not a gift.”

Awesome June Activities for Kids, HT to The Story Warren. When school is out and boredom creeps in, here are lots of great things to do.

Just in time for Father’s Day, HT to The Story Warren: a “Try not to Laugh” challenge involving dad jokes:

Happy Saturday!

Preparing for Easter with C. S. Lewis

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Reading from C. S. Lewis. is a compilation of selections from his writings.

C. S Lewis is one of the most quotable Christians to have lived, maybe second to C. H. Spurgeon. In fact, I have a book titled The Quotable Lewis. So any book of quotes by him will have value.

By the title of this book, you’d expect an arc of quotations on the subject and application of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, leading up to Easter Day. If there was such an arc, I didn’t detect it. The book just seemed more like a random collection.

Of course, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ touch everything in the Christian life, so, in one sense, any subject within Christendom could be related. Yet many selections in this volume didn’t seem to fit the theme. For instance, one had to do with the value of myths. Did the compiler feel that any part of the true Easter story was a myth? Or was he applying this quote to the bunnies and eggs part of Easter? I don’t know.

The book is set up to begin about six and a half weeks before Easter, with the last reading for Easter Day. The readings aren’t numbered in the book, but I numbered them in my notes. I was confused when I ended up with forty-seven. Then I remembered some day’s readings contained two short selections. So, as the title says, there are fifty readings, but not over fifty days. I started a week late, so I ended the Sunday after Easter.

Some readings are familiar quotes, such as those from the Narnia series or Mere Christianity. Others are from more obscure sources, like private letters. I’m always amazed at how literary Lewis sounds even in a letter. I wonder if he was a perfectionist who made several copies of a letter until it sounded just right? Or did such prose just flow from him? I remember reading somewhere that his books did not need much editing, so perhaps the latter is true.

Though some of the selections were easy to grasp, some suffered from the loss of their context.

I was also reminded that, though I love much of what Lewis wrote, I don’t agree with him on every little point of doctrine. I have several of those places marked, but I don’t think I’ll list them all here for the sake of time and space.

So, all told, I was more than a little disappointed in this volume. Nevertheless, as I said, there are always rich nuggets in his writing. Here are a few I found:

Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions (p. 7, originally from The Four Loves).

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble. But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? (p. 14, originally from Mere Christianity).

We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience (p. 15, originally from Mere Christianity).

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same (pp. 60-61, (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 80, originally from Mere Christianity).

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in (p. 212, originally from Mere Christianity).

One of the most poignant passages to me was a letter from Lewis to a Warfield Firor about facing the ramifications of aging (including compulsory retirement and rheumatism) and letting those “begin . . .to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus-world has fastened on one” and remind that “what calls one away is better” (pp. 138-139). (A portion of the letter is here.)

Though I doubt I’ll reread this book in coming Lenten seasons, I was blessed by some of its pages. I was also encouraged to reread Mere Christianity some time and to look up The Letters of C. S. Lewis.



Book Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

I did not start reading anything by or about C. S. Lewis until about twenty years ago. Something I read then indicated that his marriage was just one of convenience so his American wife could stay in England. Since then I’ve read varying accounts of his relationship with his wife, Joy. Patti Callahan asserts that the woman whom Lewis mourned in A Grief Observed and who inspired Til We Have Faces had to have been more than just a dear friend. The letters between the two have been lost, but Patti researched all of the other pieces of Joy’s and Lewis’ writings she could find plus biographies of them to get to know Joy. Based on her findings, she crafted a fictional story titled Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis.

Mrs. LewisJoy was something of a child prodigy, graduating from high school and college early and earning a master’s degree by age twenty. She was Jewish, an atheist, and, for a brief time, a Communist. She married William Gresham in 1942 and had two sons, but the marriage was troubled almost from the start. Bill was an alcoholic with some seeming mental issues after his military service. In one incident when Bill was drunk, despairing, and talking of suicide, Joy dropped to her knees and prayer to a God she did not believe in – and felt something of an encounter. It was enough to change her perspective and start her searching for answers. She had read and respected C. S. Lewis and knew he had converted to Christianity from atheism, so she wrote to him.

They corresponded for three years. In the meantime, due to health issues and a need for more answers, Joy took a trip to England, where she stayed with a friend, rested, wrote, and finally met Lewis, who asked her to call him Jack. By this time, Joy’s marriage was seriously crumbling, and she was beginning to have feelings beyond friendship for Jack. But she wanted to keep her friendship with Jack pure. She determined to try to save her marriage – until she learned that her husband and cousin were having an affair. Then she asked for a divorce.

Joy returned home as soon as she was able and returned to England with her boys. She and Lewis visited often. She and the boys even stayed with Lewis and his brother, Warnie, for several weeks. They read and edited each other’s writing, walked, ate, drank. Joy fell hard for Jack, but he treasured the philea (brotherly, friendly) type of love they had. He felt he was too old to start thinking about romance, and, besides, in the eyes of his Anglican church, she was still married. When Joy had to face leaving the country due to bureaucratic regulations, Jack offered a civil marriage and bought her a house. When Joy was diagnosed with cancer, Jack realized his true feelings for her and married her in earnest.

Joy was an intelligent, complicated woman. She reminds me very much of the woman at the well in John 4, “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the saying goes. Early in her life, she was made to feel that she could never “measure up.” Her father punished her for besmirching her A report card with a B. Her mother compared her unfavorably to her prettier, more graceful cousin. She sought for acceptance and assurance of her worth in a string of sexual encounters. She came to learn that sex in itself does not equal love.

Joy is also a reminder that true Christians don’t always fit in a nice, neat box. Really, we have to look no further than our Bibles to know that. Almost every major figure in the Old Testament had serious family and/or personal issues, and the NT epistles dealt with issues in churches that we scratch our heads over these days. Yet even in the messiness of her life both before and after salvation, and the up and down pattern of her growth, there’s a steady trajectory of growing in grace and knowledge.

I must know when it is enough. And I must trust God — again and again I was learning and relearning to trust the truth who had entered my sons’ nursery. The rusty and decrepit habit of trusting in only myself, only abiding in my own ability to make things happen, died hard and slow (Chapter 40).

Much of what I’d done — mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex — had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? . . . From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. [God] was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love — to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing. Possibly it was only a myth, Jack’s myth [Til We Have Faces], that could have obliterated the false belief that I must pursue love in the outside world — in success, in acclaim, in performance, in a man.

The Truth: I was beloved of God.

Finally I could stop trying to force someone or something else to fill that role (Chapter 44).

Jack: I’ve spent all my life in an attempt to find Truth and moral good and then to live it. I can’t discard my moral habits for feelings, which are just that — feelings (Chapter 42).

I enjoyed getting to know Joy and seeing Jack as a normal person in everyday mode. And I loved the truths quoted above that Patti incorporated into the story.

However, even given Joy’s penchant for looking for love through sex at first, there seems to me to be more of a sensual aspect of the story than needed to convey Joy’s misdirection. Even a hill is unnecessarily described as appearing “like the breast of a woman in recline.” Another friend mentioned the preponderance of alcohol in the story. Even allowing that different Christians have different convictions about whether and how much a Christian can consume, alcohol seems the major drink of choice for any occasion here. It’s mentioned even when we really have no need to know what the characters are drinking. I’m left wondering why. I don’t know how much of these things are the author’s choices and how much of it is integral to Joy’s story. Because of these issues, this book won’t appeal to everyone. While I don’t endorse everything in the book,  I think if one can set aside some of the objectionable elements, Joy’s growth as a person, as a Christian, and her impact in Jack’s life and work can be seen and appreciated. The choice whether to read it or not must be left to individuals.

Linda is currently hosting a four-week book club to discuss this book. Week one’s discussion is here: week two is here. Week three is here., just posted today, with one more session coming next week. So it’s not too late to join in if the discussion if you’d like.

Linda also pointed us to a couple of nice videos. In this one, the author shares her thoughts and shows photos of Jack and Joy and videos of Jack’s house, the Kilns.

This one shows aspects of Oxford, integral to both Jack and Joy:

An interview with the author is here (HT to Linda).

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laudable Linkage


Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads on the Web:

How to Shipwreck Your Theology. ““What is the most brilliant theology good for if it is to be shipwrecked in one’s own house?”

Maybe Women are Some of the Worst Offenders.

9 Things to Know About a Widow’s Grief.

Love Letter to a Lesbian, HT to True Woman, from a former lesbian.

“Let Me Know How I Can Help!” (This Will, Because They Won’t), HT to Linda. Practical ways to ask for or offer help in a time of need.

How Breastfeeding Changed My View of God, HT to True Woman. “God’s love for us is no Hallmark sentiment. This image is not primarily a celebration of our newborn cuteness…Rather, this verse reveals God’s hard-won, self-giving, dogged commitment to our good, a refusal to let us go—however frustrating we become, an insistence on seeing his image in us—and a painful provision for our most desperate need.”

C. S. Lewis’s Wonderful Letters to Children. I love his manner with them.

A Pathway to a Full Life.

This is cool and somewhat mesmerizing to watch: magnetism in slow motion, HT to The Story Warren:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: C. S. Lewis Letters to Children

CS lettersI rediscovered C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, on my bookshelf when I was trying to rearrange the books to make room for more. I had forgotten I even had it and had never read it, so I decided to save it for Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge this month.

The book was published after Lewis’s lifetime: my copy was published in 1985, about 20 years after Lewis’s death, but I am not sure if that is when it was first published. It’s a short book: 114 pages not counting the bibliographies at the back. The book opens with a forward by Doug Gresham, Lewis’s stepson, a brief introduction, and a short overview of Lewis’s childhood. The editors note that the letters are only representative samples: there were way too many to include all, and many of them answer the same questions.

What the editors don’t say is how they obtained the letters. He wrote most of them “in longhand with a dip-pen and ink” (p. 4), telling a correspondent in one of the letters, “You can drive a typewriter, which I could no more drive than a locomotive (I’d sooner drive the locomotive too)” (p. 77) (fascinating article on other reasons why he did not use a typewriter is here).  Did he make carbon copies, or did some of the correspondents send their letters back to his estate? We’re not told, but we are told that “Originals or photocopies of the letters in this book are housed in either the Marion E. Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Illinois, or the Bodleian Library, Oxford” (. 7).

When reading the Narnia series, I have often marveled that a man with the education and brainpower Lewis had, and with so little real-life experience with children, could communicate so effectively with them. He’s neither condescending or cloying. In “On Writing to Children,” Lewis said, “The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.” That same perspective is reflected in his letters.

Many of the children’s letters ask about the Narnia series: questions about specific characters, when the next book would be out, why wasn’t he going to write more than seven, etc. Some of them carried on regular correspondence with him for years (as many as twenty years in one case), sending him pictures they made or bits of their own writing, which he critiqued honestly. Most are very short and to the point. One of the longest and most touching was to the mother of a boy who had written to him because the boy was afraid he loved Aslan more than Jesus.

Sometimes he shares just a glimpse of his home life and responsibilities: when the people he was caring for had problems, when his wife was ill, when he himself was ill. On a sad note, to his goddaughter, a few months after his wife died: “I couldn’t come to the wedding, my dear. I haven’t the pluck. Any wedding, for reasons you know, would turn me inside out now” (p. 94). And a funny one: “I’ve been having a…cyst lanced on the back of my neck: the most serious result is that I can never at present get my whole head & shoulders under water in my bath. (I like getting down like a Hippo with only my nostrils out)” (p. 37).

Assorted notes and quotes:

  • When one girl wanted to know Aslan’s “other name,” he didn’t tell her directly but gave her several clues.
  • When one girl questioned why the Pevensie children grow up in Narnia but are still children in our world: “I feel sure I am right to make them grow up in Narnia. Of course they will grow up in this world too. You’ll see. You see, I don’t think age matters so much as people think. Parts of me are still 12 and I think other parts were already 50 when I was 12: so I don’t feel it very odd that they grow up in Narnia while they are children in England” (p. 34).
  • He tells several that the books are not an allegory like Pilgrim’s Progress in which everything represents something. They’re a “supposing” of what it might be like if there was another world with people that needed saving and Jesus came in the form of a lion rather than a man. “Reepiceep and Nick-i-brick don’t, in that sense, represent anyone. But of course anyone who devotes his whole life to seeking Heaven will be like Reepicheep, and anyone who wants some worldly thing so badly that he is ready to use wicked means to get it will be likely to behave like Nick-i-brick” (p. 45).
  • A bit of humor: “I never saw a picture of a baby shower before. I had to put up my umbrella to look at it” (p. 47).
  • On what happened to Susan: “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end–in her own way. I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the sort that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was ‘all nonsense'” (p. 67).
  • “A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc) can do the journey on their own!” (p. 72).
  • “American university teachers have told me that most of their freshmen come from schools where the standard was far too low and therefore think themselves far better than they really are. This means that they lose heart (and their tempers too) when told, as they have to be told, their real level” (p. 84).
  • “You know, my dear, it’s only doing you harm to write vers libre. After you have been writing strict, rhyming verse for about 10 years it will be time to venture on the free sort. At present it only encourages you to write prose not so good as your ordinary prose and type it like verse. Sorry to be a pig!” (p. 87).
  • When asked which of his books he liked best: Till We Have Faces (though he felt it “attracted less attention than any book I ever wrote,” p. 107) and Perelandra (p. 95).
  • He often closed his notes by asking them to pray for him.

I loved this window into Lewis’s life and thinking.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

 (Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)



Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

ScrewtapeThe idea for what would become The Screwtape Letters first came to C. S. Lewis in 1940, and, when they were completed, they first appeared one at a time in a weekly Anglican publication called The Guardian. The public response prompted publishers to make it into a book as soon as possible. It was first published in England in 1942 and in the USA shortly thereafter.

Lewis thought it might be both “entertaining and useful” to write a series of letters from an older devil to a younger apprentice in his work of tempting and tripping up a new “patient.” The type of approach, presenting “a negative point of view to lift up the positive,” was unusual for Lewis, but he felt it “would give a fresh, even comical perspective on the subject and might attract readers who might not normally think about such things.” Why a comical approach for such a serious subject, one that ended up being very difficult and unpleasant for Lewis to write about?” Partly to “[lure] the ordinary reader into a serious self-knowledge under pretense of being a kind of joke”* (McCusker’s preface) and because “humor involves a sense of proportion and a power of seeing yourself from the outside” (Lewis’s 1961 preface).

In his preface to the original edition, Lewis notes that “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” In the same preface he “[advises the reader] to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.” He writes in the preface to the 1961 edition that “Satan, the leader or dictator of the devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael,” an archangel, and “God has no opposite.”

At first it is a little hard to get used to the reverse thinking of the letters: Screwtape refers to God as “the Enemy,” to the devil as “Our Father Below,” to his position in the “Lowerachy” of hell, etc. It takes frequent mental adjustments throughout the book, and I can see at least partly how it could seem so oppressive for Lewis to try to express what a devil’s thoughts might be.

Screwtape’s nephew, Wormwood, is his apprentice and correspondent, and Wormwood, seems to want to come at the patient with a full-fledged attack and arguments. Screwtape counsels him that argument is not the answer, because by arguing, “you awake the patient’s reason, and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?” (Letter 1). Likewise, Wormwood wants to be able to “report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing…Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (Letter 12). Thus, distracting someone on the verge of a spiritual crisis with thoughts about lunch proves quite effective.

When Wormwood’s patient becomes a Christian, Screwtape threatens “the usual penalties” but admits there is still plenty they can do, such as to “work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax” that occurs a few weeks after his conversion, for “If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.” Wormwood can also point out the flaws in the patient’s church and fellow churchmen, “[keeping] out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?'” (Letter 2).  He offers a few more suggestions, among them:

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. (Letter 4).

[The Enemy] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them (Letter 5).

Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here (Letter 7).

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the human to take the pleasure which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula (Letter 9).

A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all–and more amusing (Letter 9).

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical…If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it (Letter 11).

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? (Letter 14).

Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind (Letter 15).

The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil (Letter 16).

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him…They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ (Letter 21) (Ouch! This one hit particularly home for me.)

That’s probably more than enough, but there is so much more. When the patient does begin to feel as if he has done something wrong, Screwtape advises trying to help him avoid “the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin,” but rather to encourage a “vague, though uneasy feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well” (Letter 12). If the patient gets to the place of proclaiming “No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue…not even the expectation of an endowment of ‘grace’ for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad” Letter 14).

The particular edition I read also included “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” originally an article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1959. It’s written as Screwtape giving an after-dinner speech in hell at the annual dinner for new graduates of the Tempter’s Training College for Young Devils. Though it contains some general advice from Screwtape, a great deal of it involves politics and education and “devilish” tends on those fronts.

Lewis said in his preface to the 1961 edition that “Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. ‘My heart’—I need no other’s—’showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.’ ” Thus this isn’t an exhaustive study of every way we can be tempted. I was a little surprised at a few obvious things he didn’t cover (like trying to keep people away from Bible reading). Maybe he felt those were obvious enough that they didn’t need to be dealt with. He doesn’t really discuss spiritual warfare, either, or show how a “patient” can resist temptation except in a few passing observations. His main purpose was to show how Satan can so easily get us off course, sometimes by the merest step away from the way God intended things.

I won’t give away what ultimately happens to the patient or Wormwood, but I did enjoy this peek into the devices of the devil. As I said when I introduced this book for Carrie‘s Reading to Know Classics Book Club for this month, II Corinthians 2:11 was a motivating factor in reading this book: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

There were a few little places where I didn’t agree with Lewis, most notably a mention of Limbo in Screwtape’s toast, a place for “creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell.” McCusker quotes a letter from Lewis in which he describes it as a place for the “virtuous unbeliever,” where it’s pleasant except for a “faint melancholy because you’ll all know that you missed the bus.” I don’t know where he got such an idea (it’s noted he explored it further in The Pilgrim’s Regress, which I have not read), but it is not a Biblical concept. McCusker also has a note from a chapter in Letters to Malcolm on a sentence where Screwtape mentions a “final cleansing” before death for humans that Lewis also believed in Purgatory, not as a Catholic doctrine so much as just a need for a final cleansing from whatever sin we were stained with when we get to heaven. I thought that was odd as well. When we repent and believe on Christ, all our sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven, and we’re seen through the righteousness of Christ, not our own. But otherwise, I thought he showed amazing insight and a great deal of cleverness in writing about such concepts in such a way.

The particular version I read was the e-book The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition by C. S. Lewis with preface and annotations by Paul McCusker. I found it on a great sale a few months before reading it. His preface and annotations were very helpful: the annotations included definitions of obscure words and explanations of some unfamiliar references as well as cross-references to some of Lewis’s other writings that expand on concepts mentioned here. Sometimes I wrestled with whether to chase down the references or just read the story, but most times it was rewarding to get that additional insight. I was grateful McCusker included both the preface to the original version and the 1961 version here as well.

Carrie will have a wrap-up post for discussion of this book tomorrow. If you’ve read it with her book club, you can link up your post there. I am looking forward to seeing what others thought of this book. It was my first time to read it, but I can tell it’s going to be one I come back to often.

By the way, Carrie shared in her review a clip of a play made from this book. I agree with her that it works better as a book than a play!
*It is difficult to put page numbers for quotes from an e-book, because they might vary on different devices or with different size fonts, so I just put what section or letter the reference is from.

Reading to Know - Book Club

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: The Problem of Pain

Problem of PainIn The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis sets out truths and speculations about why a wise, loving, kind, and omnipotent God would allow so much evil, suffering and pain in the world. It’s a question that troubles believers and unbelievers alike and one which was a major hindrance to Lewis’s own conversion.

Chapter 1, “Introductory,” traces three threads through human philosophy and development that lead to religion: an awe or dread of unseen beings, which Lewis calls the Numinous; a sense of some kind of morality; and the connection between the Numinous and morality. The Numinous is either “a mere twist in the human mind…or else it is a direct experience of the really supernatural, to which the name Revelation might properly be given” (p. 10). In Christianity there is one more thread: the historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ. Either Christ was “a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, and is, precisely what He said. There is no middle way” (p. 13).

To ask whether the universe as we see it looks more like the work of a wise and good Creator or the work of chance, indifference, or malevolence, is to omit from the outset all the relevant factors in the religious problem. Christianity is not the conclusion of a philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event following on the long spiritual preparation of humanity which I have described. It is not a system into which we have to fit the awkward fact of pain: it is itself one of the awkward facts which have to be fitted into any system we make. In a sense, it creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving (p. 14).

Mankind tends to think that “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both” (p. 16). Lewis spends the next couple of chapters talking about God’s omnipotence and goodness. Some pain is inherent in nature: fire warms when used rightly but burns when one gets too close to it. Some pain arises when individual beings assert their own wills which then clash with each other. God in His omnipotence could have made it impossible for people to sin against each other, but He made man with a free will and the ability to choose his actions.

You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it’, you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can’. It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God (p. 18).

But “if the universe must, from the outset, admit the possibility of suffering, then” wouldn’t “absolute goodness…have left the universe uncreated”? Lewis “warn[s] the reader that I shall not attempt to prove that to create was better than not to create: I am aware of no human scales in which such a portentous question can be weighed” (p. 27). But he goes on to offer some thoughts about “how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without contradiction” (p. 27).

What we mean by goodness is not always what true goodness actually is:

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction (pp. 31-32).

Even humans don’t want friends and loved ones to continue in a course that makes them happy but is hurtful or destructive to themselves and others, so we can understand that Divine love, so much above ours, will need to correct, halt, or discipline individuals and attempt to bring them to repentance, which will involve some degree of pain.

“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” As an artist erases and reworks a drawing until it becomes as perfect as possible, “One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less” (pp. 34-35).

Similarly, when a man has a dog, “man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. In it’s state of nature it has a smell, and habit’s, which frustrate man’s love: he washes it, house-trains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely. To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the ‘goodness’ of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond it’s animal destiny, would have no such doubts” (p. 36). Man cares for animals he loves: he “does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes. We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses – that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more love, but for less” (p. 36).

The parent-child analogy is a closer one to spiritual truth than man and art or man and dog, but no loving father says, “I love my son but don’t care how great a blackguard he is provided he has a good time” (p. 37).

When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy. Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about ‘His glory’s diminution’? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces (p. 46).

Lewis then goes on to explain why mankind needs such alteration in the first place. He asserts this is necessary because in his time there was not so much a sense of sin as people would have had in the times when the Bible was written, against which the gospel appeared as very good news indeed. He gives various reasons for that to show that “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis – in itself very bad news – before it can win a hearing for the cure” (p. 48) and then goes on to show how pervasive and deceptive sin is in our hearts.

It’s when he discusses how man became sinful in the first place in his chapter on the fall of man that I have my first serious problems. He regards the first few books of the Bible (at least, maybe more of it) as mythic. He believes in the evolutionary view of man’s development and as such believes that the “first man” could not have sinned as Adam did because he would not have had the intelligence, self-awareness, or conscience to, since he was what we commonly think of as a prehistoric cave man. At some point in man’s continued evolution, mankind as whole sinned against God by somehow preferring its own way rather than His, of somehow rejecting His reign, and thus the rest of human race was born in sin. He rejects the idea that we are responsible or accountable for or being punished for Adam’s sin. He has problems coming to terms with the statement that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Now, I don’t believe that believing in evolution disqualifies a man from salvation or heaven, but I think taking a great deal of the Bible as mythic is not only wrong, but creates new problems. It makes more sense to me that since Adam sinned and was corrupted, every ancestor of his was also corrupted, and thus we are all born sinners, than to try to imagine that the sin of a group of people somehow plunged the entire human race ever after into sin. I think it is quite dangerous to take plain statements of Scripture as mythic and symbolic. I have X marks (which I sometimes put next to statements I disagree with in a book) and question marks all through this chapter and can’t take the time or space here to delineate them all. I do understand that Lewis was speaking from the intellectual viewpoint of his day. He’s not afraid to contradict prevailing viewpoints with Scriptural truth where he see it clearly, but I assume he must not have heard a convincing argument in regard to creation and a literal interpretation of Genesis. He comes out at the right place in the end: “that man, as a species, spoiled himself, and that good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily a remedial or corrective good” (p. 85), but the way he gets there is convoluted.

The next two chapters on human pain are the best, in my opinion. Lewis proposes that about four-fifths of the pain in the world arises from our own sinfulness, our bent as people created with choice and free will to use that will to sin against others.

“We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms” (p. 88).

But there are other kinds of pain that do not come directly from other people’s sins against us.

The first answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain… to surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death (p. 89).

Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive. That this process cannot be without pain is sufficiently witnessed by the very history of the word ‘Mortification’ (p. 89).

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it (p. 90).

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’ Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise (p. 94).

God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had. The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture. It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts. The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’ (pp 95-96).

Sometimes pain also serves as a reminder that this world is not all there is and isn’t meant to satisfy: when something painful happens – illness, bad news, etc. – “At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ” (pp. 106-107). “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home” (p. 116).

And though he doesn’t mention Romans 5:3-5 (“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”), he does discuss the principle that suffering develops these things in us.

Lewis said near the beginning that he was writing merely to explain the problem of pain, not to necessarily tell how to deal with it. Yet he does say, “If pain sometimes shatters the creature’s false self-sufficiency, yet in supreme ‘Trial’ or ‘Sacrifice’ it teaches him the self-sufficiency which really ought to be his – the ‘strength, which, if Heaven gave it, may be called his own’: for then, in the absence of all merely natural motives and supports, he acts in that strength, and that alone, which God confers upon him through his subjected will. Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God’s, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it.”

He discusses the moral objection to hell in another chapter and makes several good points. I’ll just share this one:

In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does (p. 130).

Lewis has a chapter on animal pain, which he confesses is primarily speculation since the Bible says nothing about what animals feel and they can’t tell us. But here is another place where his evolutionary thought comes in and contradicts clear Biblical truth. He says earlier generations felt that suffering of animals and all creation came about as a result of Adam’s fall. We get that from a few places, among them that Genesis 3:17-19, where God said told Adam: “cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” So apparently before this time there were no thorns and thistles and it wasn’t hard work to get something to eat. Then in the millennial kingdom, when Christ rules the earth, it is prophesied in Isaiah 11 that in that time:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

So we assume from this that the harmful behaviors which shall no longer be were a part of the original fall and not part of animal’s original creation, since they are set right here. But Lewis says this “is now impossible, for we have good reason to believe that animals existed long before man. Carnivorousness, with all that it entails, is older than humanity (p. 137). I have an X by that statement as well as a few others in this chapter.

Even more alarming to me is his thought that “it might be argued that when He emptied Himself of His glory He also humbled Himself to share, as man, the current superstitions of His time. And I certainly think that Christ, in the flesh, was not omniscient – if only because a human brain could not, presumably, be the vehicle of omniscient consciousness, and to say that Our Lord’s thinking was not really conditioned by the size and shape of His brain might be to deny the real incarnation and become a Docetist. Thus, if Our Lord had committed Himself to any scientific or historical statement which we knew to be untrue, this would not disturb my faith in His deity” (p. 137). It would disturb mine, and I don’t believe for a moment that Christ believed “superstitions of His time”! There were multiple incidences of His displaying omniscience even while in human form. I just discussed this recently in a chapter from J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God in this post.

Lewis closes with a short chapter on pain which is mostly speculative but does include the theme present in The Last Battle in the Narnia series, that it’s the place we’ve been longing for our whole lives.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a pat on the back. I am sorry this is so long, but when I write about a book, I want to convey not only a glimpse of what it is about to those reading, but I want to record the salient points as well as my own thoughts and impressions to remind myself of in the future.

I was a bit frustrated that Lewis didn’t go into more of the Biblical reasons for suffering, but then I reminded myself that it wasn’t his purpose to write such a treatise: he was merely wanting to address the problem of pain from a philosophical viewpoint couched mostly in Scripture. I remember reading somewhere which I can’t trace now that someone who read this book then approached Lewis about making the talks which eventually became Mere Christianity.

There are a lot of really good nuggets in this book. But there are enough questionable things that this would not be my first choice to recommend to someone on this topic. That would be When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes. But I would still recommend this with caution about some of the problem areas.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Join Us in Reading The Screwtape Letters in September

I have been honored that Carrie has asked me to choose a book for her Reading to Know Classics Book Club for the past few years. Normally I choose a book I know, love, have reread multiple times, and am eager to share with others.

screwtape-lettersThis year, however, I chose a book I have never read before: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. It is a series of letters that a senior demon writes to a junior demon-in-training in how to win a man to their side. I enjoy reading Lewis, but I have avoided this book. Years ago when I first became a Christian, there was an emphasis on spiritual warfare that was honestly a little wonky in places. I read some of that kind of thing at the time, but later on avoided it except for when I would come across it in my Bible reading or hear it preached in church. I was always a little afraid of the devil. I knew he was greater and stronger than I was. I also knew that Jesus in me was greater than him, but I’d still rather keep my distance. I had this subconscious naive notion that if I left the devil alone, I wouldn’t attract his attention and he wouldn’t bother me as much. Some friends and I discussed once that our flesh gave us so much trouble that the devil didn’t really have to do too much with us. Both are mistaken and unbiblical views. On the opposite extreme, I have also known people who give the devil too much credit and see him behind every problem or issue. It’s good to be balanced and Biblically-based in this area.

After reading some other Lewis books last year, I looked up some excerpts from this book online and felt that it was finally time to read it. The verse that keeps coming to mind is II Corinthians 2:11: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” It doesn’t pay to be ignorant of his ways. From what I have seen so far, Lewis handles this whole topic with irony and humor in some places but with convicting accuracy. I am looking forward to finally delving into this one because it is a classic I have neglected, because it is Lewis, and because I think it will be spiritually helpful.

Part of the enjoyment of a reading club, online or in person, is discussing the book with others who are also reading it. Carrie has a post here where you can let her know if you’ll be joining in, and at the end of the month she’ll have another post where we can share our thoughts or the links to our blog posts about the book. I think it is highly likely your library will have a copy, or you can find it in almost any form online (paperback, e-book, audiobook). Project Gutenberg Canada has a free online version here. I happened upon a good sale on the annotated e-book version last year – I’ll have to see if the extra notes are helpful or distracting. Whatever way you’d most enjoy reading it, I hope you’ll join us!

Reading to Know - Book Club

Book Review: The Weight of Glory

Weight of GloryThe Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis is a collection of his essays. Some were sermons, some were addressed to specific groups, a couple were published in other venues. Five of them were published together in a book during his lifetime and a few more were added in a 1980 revision. There is a lengthy introduction by Walter Hooper, in which he gives some of the background of the essays, where, when, and to whom they were given, as well as his connection to Lewis.

I probably have a higher percentage of pages tabbed in this book than any other. I’ll list the essays with a few words about each:

“The Weight of Glory” discusses out desire for heaven and what “glory” actually means. That seems like such a paltry summation, but thoughts from this essay stayed with me for days. An excellent outline of the chapter is here. In talking about whether the promise of heaven is a “bribe” and whether longing for it is right, Lewis remarks:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (p. 26).

He speaks of the almost ineffable quality of longing we have for something we haven’t quite experienced yet:

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. …The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited” (pp. 30-31).

About the things we do not understand:

“If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know” (p. 34).

The section on the glory of heaven is deeply thought-provoking. Just one quote from it:

“The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

I’ll try to be a little more brief with the remaining ones.

“Learning in War Time” addresses students who wonder if they should be working toward their chosen professions while the war is on, whether doing so is “like fiddling while Rome burns.” Lewis brings this into the larger question of whether “creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or hell” should “spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparable trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology” (pp. 48-49). His answer is yes, and he goes on to explain why.

“The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord'” (pp. 55-56).

“An appetite for [knowledge, beauty, the arts] exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain” (p. 56).

“Why I Am Not a Pacifist” was given to a pacifist society in 1940. Lewis explains that while “war is very disagreeable,” there are just causes for war (for instance, what would have happened if no one had stood up to Hitler?) and there are Biblical examples affirming war. He then goes on to explain why Jesus’s command, “”But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39) is not a justification for pacifism. Lewis says the text “means exactly what is 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” (p. 85). One example he proposes is when one witnesses and attempted murder, tries to help, and is knocked away by the assailant. No one would think this verse meant to stand back and let the murderer have his way. But in a case where “the only relevant factors…are an injury to me by my neighbor and a desire on my part to retaliate,” we’re to mortify that desire.

“Transposition” was probably the hardest for me to grasp. The basic theme is that it is hard to take something very complex and put it into simple forms: for example, a pencil drawing or even a painting of a landscape may be beautiful and give us an idea of the actual scene, but it is not the same. The actual scene has elements which can’t be expressed in limited resources. We face the same problem with trying to explain spiritual things when there is so much more to them, so much that we won’t even grasp until we’re transformed in heaven.

“Is Theology Poetry?” answers the question “Does Christian theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imaginations? Are those who believe it mistaking aesthetic enjoyment for intellectual assent, or assenting because they enjoy?” While Lewis concedes that Christianity has some poetical or metaphorical aspects to it (indeed, one can hardly describe spiritual truths without some kind of metaphor), the metaphor is not to be mistaken for the reality. He also discusses that Christianity can make room for science and reason and makes some pretty good points against evolution.

“The Inner Ring” is about what we would call the inner circle in our day and the fact that nearly every group has one. It may not be bad in itself, but “our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in” (p. 149) can  lead us into temptation. If you’ve read That Hideous Strength, the third in Lewsis’s space trilogy, this was exactly what drew Mark Studdock further and further into an evil organization, which he didn’t recognize as such because he was so blinded by his ambition to be included.

“Membership” deals with the idea that though we need solitude sometimes, we are created as part of the body of Christ. Religion seems to be “relegated to solitude,” or made a private affair, by a society which then keeps one so busy that there is little time for solitude, and the busy-ness of “the collective” takes the place of true spiritual friendship. As one who likes time alone, this sentence convicted me: “The sacrifice of selfish privacy which is daily demanded of us is daily repaid a hundredfold in the true growth of personality which the life of the Body encourages” (p. 167). He is not saying at all that one should never have privacy or solitude, nor is he saying that we lose our identity when we become a member of the Body of Christ, but rather that is where we find our true identity. The following paragraph stood out to me:

“The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love” (p. 170).

“On Forgiveness” begins with Lewis wondering why believing in the forgiveness of sins was put in the Creed of his church, when it seemed that would be obvious and go without saying or without need of reminder. But he discovered that believing in forgiveness is not so easy to do and does need frequent reminding. Too often when we come to God for forgiveness, what we really want is for Him to excuse us.

Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ But excusing says ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive (pp. 178-179).

Too often we “go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses” (pp. 179-180).

And he reminds us that the same forgiveness we seek from God, He commands us to show to others. It is in this essay that his famous line comes from: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (p. 182).

On “A Slip of the Tongue,” Lewis shares that one day in his prayers he inadvertently mixed up the “temporal” and the “eternal.” Though it was just a slip of the tongue, he did realize that too often that is exactly what we do.

“I mean this sort of thing. I say my prayers, I read a book of devotion, I prepare for, or receive, the Sacrament. But while I do these things, there is, so to speak, a voice inside me that urges caution. It tells me to be careful, to keep my head, not to go too far, not to burn my boats. I come into the presence of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerably inconvenient when I have come out again into my ‘ordinary’ life. I don’t want to be carried away into any resolution which I shall afterwards regret. For I know I shall be feeling quite different after breakfast; I don’t want anything to happen to me at the altar which will run up too big a bill to pay then…The root principle of all these precautions is the same: to guard the things temporal.”

“This is my endlessly recurrent temptation: to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim nor float, but only dabble and splash, careful not to get out of my depth and holding on to the lifeline which connects me with my things temporal” (p. 187).

“Our temptation is too look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant taxpayers” (p. 188).

“For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: ‘He must increase and I decrease.’ He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls. Let us make up our minds to it; there will be nothing ‘of our own’ left over to live on, no ‘ordinary’ life” (p. 189).

“What cannot be admitted—what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy—is the idea of something that is ‘our own,’ some area in which we are to be “out of school,” on which God has no claim. For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him” (p. 190).

This is so convicting to me, because that is precisely my tendency, to keep some area of my will for my own, to fear what He might ask. Even after, as Lewis said, “daily or hourly repeated exercises of my own will in renouncing this attitude…it grows all over me like a new shell each night” (p. 192). Thankfully “failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal…We may never, this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance” (p. 192).

One of the things I appreciate most about Lewis is that he “could…swiftly cut through anything that even approached fuzzy thinking,” as Sheldon Vanauken wrote. Plus he so often hits the nail right on the head: in the last essay I had the feeling my innermost thoughts had been found out. I came across a blog post a few weeks ago where the blogger, whose views I would probably generally agree with, mentioned several areas where he differed with Lewis. So far I haven’t found the differences he mentioned. The only one that stood out to me in this book was that he would take some parts of the Bible as symbolic that I would take to be literal. But I think if we are regularly feasting on and meditating on God’s Word, we can read with discernment authors with whom we might not agree on every little point. Lewis has a way of writing that delineates the truth clearly and precisely (even though his intellect is so far above my own) in a manner that is easy to understand. And I can’t think of any writer whose work make me long for heaven more. This book will definitely be reread at intervals through the years, especially the first and last essays.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

No Mere Mortals

Some years ago I read a book someone loaned to me about a Christian man in a Communist country. In his culture, respect for elders was taken to extremes. His and his wife’s lives were severely impacted by the mercurial demands of his mother, but they never felt they should deal with it in any way except to try to please her. It was particularly hard when they all had to live together for a time. In the end he said the Lord used it to smooth some of his rough edges, like a pebble that has been worn round and smooth by being tossed and bumped around in a stream. I wish I could remember the book title or author’s name, because I would love to revisit this book. (By the way, I am not suggesting that mothers-in-law should act that way or that adult children shouldn’t sometimes have some frank discussions with their parents, but this was how this man felt led in his time and culture.)

Around that same time, there was a lady at the church I was attending who, I am sad to say, really rubbed me the wrong way. Unfortunately, that says more about me than it does about her. She was not mean or unkind. I won’t go into the details about what I found so irritating, but I had just about decided that the best way to keep positive thoughts about her and to keep peace in my heart towards her was just to avoid her as much as possible. Then one January, our ladies’ group at church drew names for “secret pals” from others in the group: our primary duty to our secret pal was to pray for her, but we were also encouraged to send notes and small gifts through the year. Guess whose name I drew. Yes, that particular lady. I was tempted to put her name back and draw another, but I decided that was petty, and this woman was one whom I was supposed to especially pray for that year. And praying for her did help. I began to understand a little of why she acted the way she did (for instance, she sometimes seemed to come across as a know-it-all. You almost couldn’t bring up any subject without getting her input and suggested actions. But she was a very intelligent woman, and in her mind she was helping, not “showing off.”)

I don’t remember exactly when those two incidents happened in relation to each other, but in my mind I connected them, and began to think of my “secret pal” as a sandpaper Christian, one designed to smooth off some of my jagged edges.

Though I have moved away and lost touch with that particular lady, it seems like I almost always have one or two sandpaper acquaintances in my life. Again, that is a sad commentary on me more than a reflection on them. I admit sometimes I wonder who is sandpaper to them, but God reminds me that’s His business, and He is working with each of His children to help them grow more Christlike.

I am often discouraged by my lack of love and my abundance of irritation towards people, and it is a frequent matter of prayer. In a quote I saved but can’t find now from a sermon by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones from I John, he makes a distinction between liking and loving and says we are to love people we might not necessarily like, and that helped some. Biblical love, after all, is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. Verses about “forbearing one another in love” help, as does the reminder that God loves them in their imperfections as much as He loves me in mine. Sometimes I have felt that tolerating or forbearing was the best I could do, but God calls me to more. They are His dear children for whom He died, and He wants me to love them as much as I love myself, and even more – as He loves me. A tall order that can only be accomplished by meditating on His great love.

I just started reading C. S. Lewis’s Weight of Glory recently, and one section in the first essay of the same title really helped along these lines. After discussing what our future glorification in heaven means, he writes:

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to …remember that the dullest and most  uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

I would disagree with what I think he is saying about the sacrament – I believe it is symbolic and representative and doesn’t contain any glory in itself. It is a wafer, not Christ’s actual body, meant to put us in mind of His body torn for us. But Christ does indwell a fellow child of God.

No mere mortals. No ordinary people. Future glorified saints. Fellow citizens of the household of God. Sons and daughters of the King. These are the ones with whom we have to do. May we treat them accordingly. And may we treat those who are not yet in the family of God as if we are eager for them to be.

Beneath the cross of Jesus
His family is my own—
Once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
Now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonor
The ones that You have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus
See the children called by God.

~ Keith and Kristen Getty

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40

Love each other