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”?

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…

On Simplicity and Scripture: Struggling with the Word

One thing I’ve noticed over the years of being involved and associated with different ministries and programs is this: we seem to crave simplicity. Not that I have a problem with simplicity, it’s just that, in certain contexts, it becomes dangerous.

Let me explain via a couple of scenarios that I find quite common:

  1. I attend a church service in which the preacher’s text is a single verse. And from that verse, the speaker (who is usually quite gifted), paints a beautiful and complete picture of the Christian life. He points out things I have never seen, he reveals things hidden in the original text (because the rough accent mark is used, this word is inverted, giving the word a completely different meaning, etc) Life is g0od. I am enlightened. Until a few days later I try to explain my new-found knowledge to a friend. Questions are raised. The puzzle pieces which fit together so neatly a few days ago now have imperfect edges. I explain that I must have missed some of the points. I assure my friend, the fault must lie with me.
  2. I come across a difficult passage in scripture. I re-read it. I re-re-read it. I consult Strong’s for each word in the passge, including “the“. I check different translations. Finally, I stumble across a translation that abstracts away enough of the text that I make some sort of sense out of it. I am elated. I mark the verse down as “Assimilated” in my Conquer the Bible Diary.
  3. My wife asks me a question about a verse or a passage of Scripture. I begin answering her as best I can. My answer is incomplete and only raises more questions (But if that is true, then wouldn’t that mean…). I grow exasperated. She becomes frustrated. I finally answer the question with an answer to this effect: Well it sort of works like this, blah, blah, and somehow works together with blah, blah, and I’ll look into it and get back to you. I never exactly get around to answering the question.

I hope you can see the common thread that runs through each of these examples.

  1. A speaker takes a single verse and builds a system around it.
  2. I, in my desire to “understand” God, am willing to trade away his word.
  3. I, in my desire to end my wife’s questioning or to get back the television show I am watching or to avoid having to change my life due to the implications of Scripture, simplify the word of God, and in so doing, show contempt for it’s authority

This is where I see the danger in desiring simplicity. God did not give us a single verse, he gave us his complete word. God did not give us 500 translations to pick and choose from, there are good ones and there are bad ones, and we are to seek HIS meaning, not the verson that is simplest or the most expedient or the most culturally correct. God did not say that every verse would take five minutes to explain, he did not say that his teachings would fit in an email tag line or on a T-shirt. We are to struggle with the word, we are to wrestle with his meaning. No single verse can give us a complete understanding of God. No ten minutes of study will equip us for life’s battles. No man-created system can ever replace a dynamic relationship with Him.

Predestination, Free Will, and Obedience

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that predestination and free will are mutually exclusive, but I’m not so sure that I buy it. Scripture talks about both predestination and choice and from my understanding of this issue, the two can exist quite happily side by side.

The best analogy that I have for what I’m talking about is this: Let’s say you and I sit down to play a game of chess, and I have absolute foreknowledge (i.e. I know every outcome to any move I make). From my point of view, I can determine your resulting actions with my first move, what’s more, the knowledge I possess makes the actions that I cause you to make, a conscious choice on my part. But this is the interesting part: from your perspective, you are just playing a game of chess. My foreknowledge does not affect your game in any way, unless you choose to think about it (and to dwell on it). Of course, if we were to flesh the analogy out a little more to represent Him more fully, God would also have the advantage of having created/fashioned his “opponent”, the chess board, the rules of the game, and everything else involved.

So how can God hold people accountable for what he has pre-determined?

The short answer is because he is God. Come to think of it, that’s the long answer as well. As a parent, I have to say that it’s not that much different with my 18 month old son, and I’m not anywhere close to being omni-anything (omnivourous, maybe). There are plenty of times that I know he is tired, or very suceptible to some temptation and I choose to put him into a situation where I “know” he will fail. And I punish him. Even though I’ve been responsible for his training, even though I can see it before it happens.

But doesn’t that make us into puppets? How can God take pleasure in puppets?

Ask an author. Ask a movie director. If a human being can write a story and love his creation, if a director can make a film and be pleased and thrilled with his work, why can’t an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God create a universe, tell a story, and reveal himself in all His glory and be pleased with what he has done? Or to say it a different way: On the seventh day of creation, did you think that was going to be the last time that God looked at what He had done and said it was very good? Do you believe that when the world has run its course and God reveals to us His grand design, that He will look back at any place in time and say, “This was not supposed to happen…” do you believe there will be any blemish upon the canvas?

But if God has “stacked the deck” and pre-determined all things, why do we proclaim the gospel? Why bother?

In such a scenario, the reason for doing anything is obedience. In the chess game analogy above, we know the objective, but in life, we have a more limited sense of understanding of God’s ultimate goals. What I mean to say, is to some extent, we don’t know exactly what God is about. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

In the end, this ties back to everything I’ve said previously on this blog about gender issues and the church. We know that wives represent the church and husbands represent Christ, we know that the oneness of flesh and the mystery even of sexual union has some symbolism of God’s ultimate plan, but it’s not clear. And so we obey. Usually with great hesitation and with horrible motives, but as we draw closer to Him, with greater and greater fervency. And all the while, we think: When the light on the other side of the glass comes on and it becomes clear, what will we see, what will we be, and what will we know and understand of Him?

Testimonials vs Scriptural Arguments

Testimonials vs Scriptural Arguments

Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, there is an article by Stan Gundry. In it, he makes some interesting statements

Arguments in which both sides launch aggressive offenses and structure fortress-like defenses can be unnecessarily adversarial. I am not suggesting that such arguments have no place, but let’s acknowledge that their value is vastly over-ratedStories cover the same territory, but they are testimonialsand it is hard to argue with someone’s testimony.

I take issue with his presuppositions regarding testimonials, especially when the “goal” of the testimonial is to change our understanding and processing of Scripture. Let me give an example. If you have a minute, go and read Genesis 16 and 17, if you don’t have time, here’s a recap of the story.

God has promised Abram that he will be a great nation. His wife, Sarai, is, up to this point, barren. Sarai says to Abram,

Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

This is fairly interesting for a number of reasons, but the one that is most interesting to me is that Sarai is clear as to why she believes she has not given birth: The Lord hath restrained me from bearing. So, Abram goes into Hagar, and she conceives and Ishmael is born. Now, fast-forward thirteen years to the beginning of chapter 17. God comes to Abram again and makes the promise of a great nation, he changes his name to Abraham and he institutes circumcision. Then God says,

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? (Genesis 17:15-17)

And then Abraham says:

And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

Thirteen years after he goes into Hagar, Abraham is still trying to sell Ishmael to God as the Son of Promise. God says, no way, but, I will bless him.

And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
(Genesis 17:20-21)

Now, we skip ahead to Genesis 25 and read this:

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 25:13-17)

We know a little more about Isaac. We know that he married Rebekah and that he had two sons, Jacob and Esau. We know that he became wealthy. We know his story in greater detail without having to look it up. But, here is my question; Ishmael had twelve sons, each a prince with castles and lands. If someone looked at the fruit of Abraham’s actions, his child with Hagar and his child with Sarah, which one would they conclude was more “successful”. Would they conclude that going into Hagar was such a bad thing after all? Could they even conclude that it was a good thing? Based on Ishmael’s life, would the modern church have told Abraham, go down into Egypt and purchase from the slave blocks one hundred Hagars and get them all with child and raise up an army of Ishmaels? I wonder.

This is just one of the problems with interpreting Scripture through the lens of personal experience. Last week, I read a piece by Bart Campolo with the following statement (this excerpt is from a letter someone had written Bart) :

When you came to visit my team, you told a story about how when you first started working in rough neighborhoods, you got to know a girl who was gang-raped as a nine-year-old and – after her Sunday School teacher told her God must have allowed it for a reason — rejected God forever. Because you believed God was indeed in control, and because you believed that girl’s lack of faith doomed her to eternal damnation, you decided that God must be a ‘cruel bastard.’ [Emphasis mine. the full article has been removed from the Youth Specialties site, but can be accessed via the Google cache here ]

When I read the article the first time, I remember thinking, rejected God forever?!? How does he know? And even if she never received Christ as her Savior, I reject the idea that it makes God a “cruel bastard” and I do think it shows the difficulty of our defining God based on our limited frame of reference.

I guess the closing thought is this: Hindsight isn’t 20/20. We like to think it is, but it’s just another perspective and full of it’s own pitfalls. In the end, it is Scripture and Scripture alone that instructs, corrects, reproves, and indoctrinates, and when we try to elevate our minds above it, we become the worst sort of fool. I should also say, that I’m not against testimony/personal experience and that I’m not saying it is worthless, quite the contrary. What I am saying is that we are never to use our perception as a lever to move Scripture. Instead, we should let Scripture bring clarity to our experience.

Sodomy in the Church

Marriage is not about you. This life is not about you. Consider:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Hebews 11:3

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33

Marriage is about Christ and the church. It is a witness. It is a symbol. We do not need to ask ourselves why sodomy is so rampant in our culture. We need only look at the marriages in the churches of our nation. With every husband that refuses to lead, with every wife that lifts her head to rule, we have shown the world how we can place a skirt upon Jesus Christ. We have shown them that the words chosen to frame the worlds, were poor in their choosing. We have said to the world, “the sexes are identical” and they have responded with the homosexual movement, a movement whose very name means “the sexes are identical”. Should it come as a surprise? Our attitude toward sodomy begins in the home and in the church. Our attitude toward sodomy begins everyday. Because marriage is not about us. This life is not about us. It is all about God.