Taking Issue with C. S. Lewis

I’m treading on dangerous ground here, but I think C. S. Lewis has something wrong. In The Weight of Glory we come across this passage, which also appears as an excerpt in the Wikipedia deinition of Sehnsucht.

In speaking of this desire for our own faroff 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. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. 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 worshippers. 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.

My issue with Lewis’ thinking here is that it conflicts with my understanding of the depravity of man. I have no problem with the idea that what every man needs is Jesus Christ; what I do have an issue with is that a man without Christ has any concept of his need for Him (and I realize that Lewis is almost saying that, but not really). Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Lewis in essence, but when he says that we misidentify Nostalgia, Romanticism, and Adolescence for that longing for another country, he misses the point. I would contend that the only reason that anyone in England had a past that contained elements that could be called good was because of the influence of Jesus Christ upon English culture. If Mr. Lewis were to consider a cannibal in the darkest parts of Africa, which aspect of his life would be the mistaken longing for heaven? One could argue, I suppose, that even his depravity is that mistaken urge, and I would be more inclined to that argument, but I don’t believe that’s the argument made here. When Lewis says, 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, I do not think he would attribute to our cannibal’s depravity the idea of a sweetly piercing secret.

I also can’t find a place in Scripture where Christ calls someone to Him, by telling them that He was that thing they always wanted. Instead, He calls men to repent and to escape the coming judgement, He calls men to fear a God that has the power to cast their body and their soul into hell.

I should say this: I love this passage by Lewis. It does speak volumes to me, but it speaks to me as a Christian, and on some level, I think it would speak to men who were raised in a nation built around the morality of Jesus Christ. And that is where I think Lewis misses the mark. If we read this passage (as I originally did) and come away from it with a method for speaking to sinners, we have cheated ourselves. “There is a city for which you have been longing” is not the message that we see in Scripture. Instead we are told to speak to men who are damned and to show them a Savior. And once they know Him, they can rightfully say that now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

As always, comments, critiques, and outright criticisms are welcome.

Obedience and Faith Like a Child

This line of speculation started a while back when a friend posted a Quick Faith Quiz on his blog, wherein he asked:

  1. When Jesus talks about “faith like a child,” what does he have in mind?
  2. Is “child-like faith” different from “normal faith?” (Assuming, in this case, that normal faith is the healthy, 100% supernatural stuff that was good enough for Moses, Elijah, David and everyone else who has been, will be, or are being saved by grace.)
  3. Or should we assume that faith like a child is, well, the one kind of faith that God is after?
  4. That is, either you have this kind of faith, which Christ said will inherit the kingdom of heaven, or you don’t have faith at all?

I think of “faith like a child” to mean obedience without context. Scripture says that we add to faith, virtue. This suggests to me that faith comes before we can understand sufficiently to choose/discern goodness. Before that point, we are obeying without understanding. I tell my son in church to sit down and to be quiet, but he does not yet know that his activity and his noise is disturbing others. But if he is obedient, the effect is the same as if he saw he was disturbing and closed his mouth. Later on, he’ll know and can choose to act virtuously (or not). But faith must come first or else it’s my son’s own brand of filthy rag righteousness. Or in other words, without faith, it is impossible to please God (through obedience to his Word).

Does this make sense to anyone else? What is your take on “faith like a child”?

Postpartum Depression, Love, Joy, and Marriage

I’ve been making a point in this last year to be more transparent. There is a tendency among people and particularly among Christians, to pretend that all is well. That joy means happiness, that peace means a life without conflict. We all have problems, we all have conflict, joy is from knowing that these conflicts are the work of God, peace comes when we accept the things he has put into out lives – the good and the bad.

We had a baby girl this past December, and while it was joyous, we’ve had a difficult time with postpartum depression. My wife had a bit with our first child but it wasn’t quite as bad. Some of it is just due to differences between the two children, but I think (from hearing the same thing from many women who have had 4+ children) that girls are harder on the woman than boys are (even the Torah says the period of rest after childbirth is longer after a girl). So it’s been difficult. I’ve spent a lot of time at night praying, dreading when our daughter would cry, knowing that each time she screamed that Susan was battling with how she felt, struggling with thoughts she did not choose to have. It would be foolish for me to suggest that she was the only one struggling.

There has been an aspect of humility in all of this; I realized that I had not prepared my family in some ways for the challenges of a new child, that I had not been spending time in the Word of God with my wife like I should have been. I had let the world inform our minds on the value of the home, and on the value of children. And so there were many hours spent in prayer: Dear God please help my child to have faith so that she will not demand to be held constantly, please help my wife to call upon you, to cast her cares upon you, to take the thoughts she is having captive. Please help me to be wise in my words, prompt in my actions. Help me to be not so foolish as I have been, Above all else, thank you for this child, thank you for these sleepless nights, thank you for showing me my failures before they cost me more than they already have. It is getting better, much better, but it is still on occasion difficult. The real difficulty is in not falling back into old habits as I see improvement, in believing that the crisis is over, that I can return to my foolish ways without consequence.

There is more about these things that I would like to say, but they can come later. For now, this is sufficient. For those of you who read this, how does this compare to your own experiences? How did you deal with similar struggles?

Skepticism, Bias, and Faith

A friend of mine ranted eloquently about skepticism and the inescapable nature of bias, and it got me to thinking about faith.

While skepticism is a good starting point for coming to truth, it must ultimately give way to faith. The committed skeptic quickly becomes the man who believes nothing, who trusts nothing, who sees nothing, as in the end, he finds nothing that he cannot doubt.

Reading through the Bible is fairly interesting when you consider that the men that we encounter there could recite their lineage back to Adam, and that much of their faith was based on the word of their fathers. Today, we live in a nation of wounded men and wounded sons, and such faith is mocked.

Skepticism and doubt are interesting though, as René Descartes used them to plumb to the depths of his faith in God. His summary, I think, therefore I am, arose from his attempt to find the one immoveable point with which he could then move the universe and bring him to the knowledge of God. Ultimately though, skepticism fails, but only in that it must surrender to faith. A better “proof” for Descartes would have been, He is, therefore I am.

As always, comments or insults are welcome.

Questions About Faith and Obedience

Over at Bittersweet Life, Ariel is conducting a little quiz on faith. I have a few questions of my own. Consider this story:

A man calls his son and says to him: Son, I am getting old and I will die soon. One of your mother’s greatest pleasures is sitting in her chair on the porch and watching the sunset. The porch is falling in, so I want you to withdraw some money from my account and have the porch fixed. The son is touch and impressed by his father’s concern for his mother. This is thoughtful thinks the son, and so he withdraws the money. The next month the father calls the son again. I will die soon says the man and I want your mother to be well cared for. I have a piece of property which is at its peak in value. Sell it for me and put the money by so that your mother will be taken care of. My father is wise, thinks the son, for that property is indeed at its peak, and it is well that my mother should be takes care of. And so he sells the property. A month later the father calls him again. I have another piece of property he says, and it’s value is high, sell it for me and set the money by as well. My father is losing it, thinks the son, there is a development coming in near this parcel of land and in the next few years it’s price will triple. And he does not sell the land.

At what point was the son obedient to his father? At what point did he show faith? Did he at any point disobey or show a lack of faith? I’ll weigh in later, but I’m looking for your thoughts…