C.S. Lewis Project

 the C.S. Lewis project

For almost ten years, I have had the idea of studying one theologian or Christian writer for an entire year. The idea first occurred to me when the principal of the Christian school where I taught offered the possibility of teaching a high school summer school class. I started lesson planning a summer course that would cover the works of C.S. Lewis. The whole summer schedule fell through and I never taught that course, but the idea remained.
I have tried over the years to entice friends and fellow pastors to study one Christian writer for a whole year. Each time, everyone liked the idea, but they were too busy to commit to a whole year of studying one person. I tried to keep my options open – Aquinas, Calvin, Edwards, Lewis, Schaffer, or even someone more contemporary like David Wells. Still, I couldn’t get anyone interested.
You might be asking – Why didn’t you do it yourself? Good question. I’ve tried several times, but each time I get distracted. But, I’ve decided this will be one of the two resolutions I make for 2010. I am going to spend a year reading the works of C.S. Lewis.
You might be asking – Why is he telling us this? Good question. I want to invite you along on the journey. 49 weeks of C.S. Lewis. This blog will help keep me focused. Each week, I’ll blog about my reading. Yes, I’ll still be blogging about other things as well, but I will also blog about my C.S. Lewis Project.
In addition to keeping me focused, I want to invite you along for the ride. If you are interested in reading along and passing along your insights, just let me know. It would be nice to have other people along for the ride. If you don’t want to come along for the whole ride, but just want to jump aboard for a book or two, that is fine. If you want a complete list for the whole year, let me know. The books we will read are: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, The Great Divorce, Abolition of Man, The Weight of Glory, The 4 Loves, Reflections on the Psalms, Surprised By Joy. Anyone interested?

 

REFLECTIONS ON THE PSALMS

who is my neighbor? (C.S. lewis project Reflections on the Psalms 1-3)

Though it is not the central point of chapter one, Lewis challenges us with a view of judgment we all fear. He mentions the story of judgment Jesus presents involving sheep and goats. “The goats,” Lewis says, “are condemned entirely for their sins of omission; as if to make us fairly sure that the heaviest charge against each of us turns not upon the things he has done but on those he never did – perhaps never dreamed of doing.”
Indeed, the story of the sheep and the goats is most frightening because of the response of both sheep and goat. The sheep and goat both say, Lord when did we see you hungry, without clothes, sick, or imprisoned?
In other words, both groups were behaving so naturally they did not even realize what they were doing. The righteous naturally involved themselves in ministering to others – even the least of society. The wicked naturally ignored these people because they never dreamed of involving themselves in the lives of anyone, especially the least of these.
I recently read In The Neighborhood by Peter Lovenheim. It is the story about his neighborhood. He was shocked when his neighbor killed his wife and then himself. As a journalist, he tried to discover how his neighborhood was so disconnected that the disappearance of this family had had no impact on the community.
As he gets to know the family and friends of the murdered woman, a haunting question lurks in the background of every interaction: If this woman knew her neighbors, would she still be alive today? If she could have run next door, knowing she would be safe, would it have made a difference?
We don’t know people. And because we don’t know them, we can’t really help them. And because we don’t really help them, aren’t we just naturally ignoring those in need?
May God grant us the courage to look past ourselves.

THE 4 LOVES

what is love (C.S. Lewis Project The Four Love Intro-chap 1)

When I was in high school, my Sunday School teacher once said, “If you are not a Christian, you cannot really love other people.” I told him that he couldn’t be right. I told him that plenty of people had love for each other. We went round and round. Neither of us convinced the other.

Love is not a simple concept. The more we think about the more difficult it is to pin down. I will not be the first person to try to make sense of love:
George Bernard Shaw said, “Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else.” Which seems a bit cynical.
American essayist Henry Louis Mencken said, “Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.” Which seems intriguing and cynical.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.” While he is poetic, and I like the idea, I’m not sure this helps us.
W.B. Yeats said, “True love is a discipline in which each divines the secret self of the other and refuses to believe in the mere daily self.” I’m not even sure what this means.

I say this as I begin reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Love is a tough thing to figure out. As long as we don’t think about it too much, we can make all kinds of assertions about love and they sound right. On further reflection, they don’t hold up as well. There was a time I taught this definition of love: Love is sacrifice. I don’t teach that anymore because it is so much more than that. My definition was ridiculously narrow and my concept was actually a little too Kantian.

Lewis opens The Four Loves by addressing his own struggle, “The reality is more complicated than I supposed.”

dissecting love? (C.S. Lewis Project Four Loves chap 2)

I think sometimes we try to dissect love. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis as if he clearly defines four types of love. But it doesn’t seem like he makes such neat distinctions. In fact, he talks about how the loves overlap. How they need to overlap and blend together.
I think we make a mistake by differentiating the different aspects of love. We run the danger, as I have heard so many people who read The Four Loves do, of calling some loves Good and other loves Bad.
I have renewed respect for this book because Lewis doesn’t try to put love on the dissecting dish. We must always leave room for mystery.

love and indifference (C.S. Lewis Project The Four Loves Chapter 5)

The last chapter of The Four Loves begins by talking about how difficult is to love. If we love, we will suffer pain. But what is the alternative? Lewis says, “If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.”

Love can be such a painful thing we are tempted to say, ‘If this is the way it ends, I’ll just stop loving.’ But, as I say in my new book The Battle Inside: “The first way to win the battle with indifference is to be willing to care. It is much easier to isolate ourselves with the protection of indifference than it is to risk our lives with love. Loving others means we will be vulnerable, but it is worth the risk.”

THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

 how do you serve? (C.S. Lewis Project The Weight of Glory)

Long ago, I had to mediate a conflict between a young worship leader and another leader in our church. The woman began to lecture the young worship leader on commitment. As she told him about commitment, she said that she hated the current job she had in the church, but was doing her work as unto the Lord. I thought it was a curious thing to say. I hate what I am doing, but I do it as if I am working for the Lord. She had no inner desire to do the work, in fact she hated it. The very thing she detested, she was supposedly doing for God. Her attitude was one of complete contempt, yet it was supposed to be a virtue because it was church work that needed to be done.

I’ve met a lot of people who are sacrificial and miserable. They do their duties, but they do them with a spirit of bitter, angry, frustrated resentment.

The problem with these people is that they have exalted unselfishness and diminished love.
When we list unselfishness as one of the highest virtues, we have misplaced our priorities. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis said, “Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.”
People who do sacrificial deeds out of unselfishness tend toward misery. People who do sacrificial deeds out of love tend to do all of their work out of joy.

And you can instantly tell the difference.

Far too often, we speak in the language of “have to.” I have to go to church. I have to read my Bible. I have to give. I have to live a certain way. When we put our Christian life in such terms, it does not sound very appealing.

In the essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis argues that the key to living the Christian life is to desire the right things. For the Christian that means our great desire is heaven and every other desire is wrapped up in that desire. As we get wrapped up in the desire for heaven, we grow in maturity. Our motivation changes from law and obedience to gospel and longing. We move from “have to” to “want to.”

 what are you looking for and why are you still looking? (C.S. Lewis project The Weight of Glory)

What are you looking for? And why are you still looking? I find those two questions compelling. I know I am not alone. In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis calls it “something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” Though it hasn’t actually happened, it has almost happened hundreds of times. In fact, Lewis says, “our experience is constantly suggesting it.” What we receive here on earth is “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not yet visited.”

Lewis says much of this world tries to silence that great desire. Yet, it remains. All the world can do to kill it, yet it remains. It remains because we are looking for something bigger. We know it is out there. We get hints of it all of the time. We see glimpses of it.

That is why heaven is still compelling today. All the misinformation about heaven has done nothing to kill our desire for it. The silliness of stupid looking angels on clouds playing harps have not killed a much more serious desire for us to see all things made right. I deeply desire to see justice, and heaven answers that desire. I deeply wrong to see the wrongs of this world made right. And heaven will deliver. I deeply desire to see me made right. And heaven will deliver.

I find it a tragedy that so much of the church is focused on trying to get “heaven on earth.” I don’t think we focus enough on what is to come. If we did it would really change us. Instead of seeking treasure here, we would seek treasure there (Matthew 6:19-24). Instead of chasing after our own pursuits, we would be chasing after the eternal.

We should not be embarrassed but this desire for heaven. We ought to cultivate it.

THE ABOLITION OF MAN

 that’s not just your interpretation (C.S. Lewis project The Abolition of Man Chapters 1-2)

During my college education, I took a class on contemporary literature. Still, to this day, I’m not sure what the point of the class was. It was taught by a man who firmly believed there was no right interpretation to literature. He said, “Whatever the class agrees is the truth of a text will be the truth for our class.”
I raised my hand and said, “So, if I can convince the class that a certain story we are reading is really about dogs, then that will be what it is really about?”
He told me I would probably not be able to convince the class, but if I did, the majority would rule.
As I continued to work through the semester, I came to the realization that this view of literature came from a much deeper position. The bigger problem was not that we were interpreting literature that way, it was that we were interpreting all of life that way.
The C.S. Lewis work ‘The Abolition of Man’ examines the same territory I have seen in my travels through education. He says that objective right and wrong (virtues) has given way to subjective opinion (values).
If, when we make judgments, we are only talking about our feelings, we have lost all objective sense of reality. Everything slips into subjective feelings and personal values. Life was no sense of cohesion and we have lost all sense of truth.
The moment my teacher told the class the text would be nothing but our personal opinions was the moment we ceased to learn anything. The moment we subjectively decide what is right and what is wrong, we have lost all sense of the moral because we become a law to ourselves.

THE GREAT DIVORCE

 when Heaven is not an option (C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce 1-3)

The Great Divorce is a book about a bus ride from Hell to Heaven. The basic idea is a fictional version of the idea he laid out in the chapter on Hell from The Problem of Pain. That chapter basically said people reject Heaven in favor of their own way of doing things. Now, Lewis explores the idea through characters who want their own way.
The first chapters detail the bus trip from Hell to Heaven. As they stand waiting for the bus, we meet a group of people who cannot get along with anyone or anything. They are so caught up in themselves that they cannot get along. In fact, one man reconsiders the idea of going at all because of the other people he was to ride with.
At one point, the narrator meets another man who says, “Why on earth they insist on coming I can’t imagine. They won’t like it when we get there…”
The narrator asks if the people like Hell?
“As much as they’d like anything,” the man replies.
And, that is the bottom line for those who are so consumed with self. They cannot really like anything or anyone. Their own selfishness is always getting in the way.
I believe it was Milton who said that some can make a Heaven of Hell and a Hell of Heaven. So it is with these people in the opening chapters. They dress up Hell like it is not so bad. They reject Heaven because they cannot stand the idea of submitting.
This is why there is no marriage of Heaven and Hell (as William Blake purposed) but only a great divorce.

 the destination or the journey? (C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce chapter 4)

In The Great Divorce, the ghosts take a bus ride from Hell and come to the edge of Heaven. There they must confront the issues that kept them from Heaven in the first place. There is a certain intellectual ghost that does not feel right heading for Heaven. He would rather remain in the Gray Town (Hell, though he cannot call it that). Why? Because he is continually kicking around new ideas. He does not want to come to a destination. He wants to wander on the journey. The ghost tells one of the bright people (someone trying to convince the ghost to travel to the destination of Heaven), “For me there is no such thing as a final answer, the free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind…”
I can’t help but think of a professor I had in Seminary. He was always chasing new ideas. One time he explained he was working on an article about forgiveness. His idea: you do not have to forgive people if they do not ask for forgiveness. If they are not sorry for what they did, you don’t have to forgive. He said, “I’ve just got one problem. When Jesus was on the cross, He said, ‘Forgive them because they do not know what they do.’”
I couldn’t help but smile. Yes, that pesky Jesus keeps getting in the way of our new pet ideas.

In the middle of the conversation between one of the Bright People and the intellectual ghost, the Bright person tells the ghost, “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and you were glad when you found them. Become that child again: even now.”
Yes, life is a journey. But, that journey is meant to end up at a destination. The Bible says there is a kind of person who is always learning but never coming to an understanding of the truth. Unfortunately, many people think life is about the journey and have lost sight of the destination.

what a shame (C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce chapter 8)

In the early days of the Great Depression, the worst thing that could happen would be to lose your job and end up unable to support your family. So, when men lost their jobs, they wouldn’t tell their friends and family. They would get up and get dressed for work and leave as if nothing was wrong. Some men continued the charade for weeks. Sometimes the only way friends and family knew the man had lost his job was when the home was foreclosed and all of the family possessions, which were often bought on credit, were taken.

What was true in the world of the Great Depression is all too often true in the spiritual world. We get up and get dressed and go to work or go to school and go to church and go about our lives pretending nothing is wrong with us spiritually. How many times have you been asked: ‘What is wrong?’ And there is a spiritual problem you are avoiding so you say: ‘Oh, nothing.’

We are people of the illusion. We want to portray an image. That image is of someone who has it together, of someone who is doing fine, of someone who is in control. We think that is what happy people are like. We think happy people are composed and in control.

There is a woman in The Great Divorce who cannot bear the thought of people seeing her as almost see through. She is ashamed of the way she will look to the others who are more “solid.” Her shame is keeping her from moving on to heaven.

One of the Bright People (an angel) says she must embrace her shame rather than allow it to ruin her. It says of shame, “If you will accept it – if you will drink the cup to the bottom – you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds.”

The Bright Person tells this woman that she was created for infinite happiness. Christ opens His key message on change (Sermon on the Mount) by saying, ‘Happy are those who do not have it together. Happy are those who cannot do it on their own. Happy are those who are not in control.’ In a world that says take charge, Christ says, you are not in charge.

Don’t be afraid to drink the cup to the bottom, it is the only way to find happiness. But, if you try to hold on to shame, it just burns.

cut it out (C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce chapter 11)

In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis tells of a man (ghost on vacation from Hell) who has a large red lizard resting on his shoulder. He has decided to turn around and head back. One of the Bright People (an angel) engages the man in conversation.

“Off so soon?” the angel asks.
The man tells the angel the little red lizard will not be quiet.
The angel offers to kill it.
They debate the issue. The man makes excuses:

We can do it later.
The red lizard went to sleep and now it won’t be a bother.
I’m sure I can handle him now.
A gradual process would be better than killing it completely.
You would kill me if you killed it.

With his excuses exhausted, the man finally says, “It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

Jesus spoke of radical elimination of anything that might cause us temptation. He said if an eye causes us to stumble, cut it out. If a hand causes us to stumble, cut it off. The reason Jesus spoke of poking out eyes and cutting off hands was not because He wanted everyone to be maimed. He wanted His followers to know that following Him requires the radical removal of things that cause us to stumble. The radical removal of habits does not happen without pain and suffering. J.I. Packer is right when he says, “Pain and grief, moans and groans, will certainly be involved, for your sin does not want to die, nor will it enjoy the killing process…You feel like you are saying goodbye to something that is so much a part of you that without it you cannot live.”
The irony is that the moment we cut out desires that creep like lizards on our shoulders, we are free. We are more alive than we ever have been. When we listen to the lies our desires sometimes tell us, when we allow them to control us, we are not free. We are enslaved. The sooner we recognize this, the better off we are.

A GRIEF OBSERVED

 everyone has a plan until they get hit (C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed)

When boxer Mike Tyson was interviewed before a fight, the reporter said that Tyson’s opponent believed he had a plan that would beat Mike. He asked Mike what he thought about his opponent’s plan. Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”
Everyone has a plan until they get hit. It works in every area of life.
Everyone is a perfect parent…until they have kids.
Everyone is a perfect politician…until they run for office.
Everyone is a perfect spouse…until they get married.
Everyone is a perfect leader…until they become the boss.
Everyone has an answer for pain…until they experience pain.
I just finished The Problem of Pain, a book that laid out a great philosophical case for the reason we have pain. It only lacked in one area – personal experience. This next book is A Grief Observed. It is the personal journal of C.S. Lewis after his wife died of cancer. The Problem of Pain was neat and reasonable, A Grief Observed is messy and emotional. The Problem of Pain was C.S. Lewis with a plan. A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis once he got hit.
Yet, through it all the faith survives. Whether we reason it through, or fall flat on our face in a mess of emotion, the important thing is that the faith survives. We don’t have to be perfectly together, but we do have to remain faithful.

 pain is a concussion (C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed Chapter 1)

Lewis says suffering the death of a loved one is like experiencing a concussion. Unless you have experienced the death of someone close to you, you don’t understand. You want the person who has suffered loss to hurry up and get over it. You don’t understand it is like getting hit in the head and losing clarity.
Imagine falling hard, sitting up, and feeling completely disoriented. That is what it is like.
Several years ago, my father in law died in our front yard. It was sudden and devastating. Six months later, we shut down the church we had been at for more than ten years. Everything came unraveled.
I spoke to a friend of mine a few months after these events took place.
“How are you doing?”
“Okay. Not great, but okay,” I said.
“You know,” my friend said, “the fog lasts for about a year. And then you can move forward. When my mom died, it took about a year before I felt like I was out of the fog.”

That was the most comforting thing anyone said.

Too many people want us to hurry up and be “OK.” But, suffering is messy. It is hard. There is no magical moment where you wake up and you are past it all. The fog lifts over time, not all at once.
May we have the grace to walk along side of those who are in the fog of pain without becoming impatient, judging or condemning them.

 the pain of silence (C.S. Lewis Project A Grief Observed Chapter 1)

“Meanwhile, where is God? … go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence…The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.”
Years ago, I read these words during a sermon I preached from the book of Job. The message centered on Job’s frustrated desire to hear from God. I was attempting to show that through the ages Christians have struggled to hear from God in tough times.
After the service, an older gentleman approached me and asked this question, “Do you think C.S. Lewis was actually a Christian?” I have to admit the question caught me off guard. Had this man never experienced the silence of God? If so, did it bother him?
The pain of suffering desperately calls for a word from God. If you have not been desperate for a word from God, you have not really suffered. If you have not really suffered, probably best not to comment on the suffering of others by asking if they are really Christian.
There is no magic bullet we can use to hear from God. Sometimes in the pain He is silent. He operates on His own timetable. But, the persistent eventually hear from God. If you look up the teachings of Jesus, you will find He emphasized persistent prayer more than any other part of prayer.
The answers do come if we keep asking. But they come in His time.

 the pain of an almost answered prayer (C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed Chapter 2)

I don’t know about you but the most difficult thing for me to handle is the prayer that is almost answered. The prayer that seems to be answered, but then is not, is the toughest thing for me to handle.
I can really identify with Lewis, who struggled with the death of his wife. Leading up to her death, things looked promising, then she took a turn for the worse.
“What chokes out every prayer and every hope is the memory of all the prayers H and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised by our own wishful thinking; hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by x-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle.”
I have had several moments were something great almost happened. I have had several big prayers that were almost answered. Doors opened. Hopes skyrocketed. And just when it seemed like it was coming true, the door shuts, the hopes crash to the ground.
I’d like to say that I handled these situations with grace and faith, but sometimes I haven’t. But, if we are going to live faithfully, we eventually have to come to the same place Job did during his trials. He said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

 what if there are no answers (C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed Chapter 2)

What if there are no answers? What if there is no way to guarantee we can get through pain and suffering? What if the only answer is to suffer?
C.S. Lewis says that all of his writings might just be ramblings of someone who is trying to find a way out of suffering. Lewis finishes with the thought, “It doesn’t matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”
I think this answers the question why there are so many books on managing pain and suffering. Everyone is looking for the cure, as if there might be a real cure. The path through suffering is not a straight shot in 5 easy steps.
We are so obsessed with managing life. We have books that manage everything in “Easy Steps.” Here are some Christian titles:
The Ten-Minute Marriage Principle: Quick, Easy Steps for Refreshing Your Relationship
Five Steps to Financial Freedom: Money Management Made Easy–Bible Study Workbook
Six Steps to Spiritual Revival: God’s Awesome Power in Your Life
The Six Steps to Emotional Freedom: Breaking Through to the Life God Wants You to Live
Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
5 Steps to Making Disciples
The list could go on and on.
We are people who like formulas. We would love nothing more than for the world to be like a recipe. Just follow the instructions and BAM! we have a perfect life. Five easy steps!
Thank God for pain. Thank God for struggles. Thank God that every formula, by every expert for every problem, ultimately fails. If any formula ever succeeded, we would trust the formula and not God.
The answer to pain is not to find a management technique, but to seek out a personal God who is there and ready to interact with us.

 how imagination can deform us (C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed Chapter 4)

Imagination has tremendous value. It can push us from the present into the future. It can help us move from what is to what can be. Imagination can help us get out of a rut by providing alternatives. Imagination is an incredible tool of transformation.
But, it can also end up a tool of deformation.
At the beginning of A Grief Observed, Lewis fears his imagination will turn his wife into an imaginary woman. He talks about meeting a friend he hadn’t seen in ten years. When he met the real person, the imaginary friend from his imagination disappeared. In its place was the real person. He found himself saying, “I had forgotten that’s how he is.”
Lewis says that if we hold onto images too tightly, those images become too “holy.” The person is lost and the image is the only reality. We do not need our “holy” images; we need the real thing. We do not need a God of our imagination – we need the real God. We do not need a person of our imagination; we need the real person.
If we allow imagination to control our interactions with God and with others, we will be severely disappointed with the results. We will live in a kind of fantasy land. We have all had moments where we imagine things in a negative light. We say things like, “I never wanted that job anyway. It wasn’t that great.” We emphasize all the negatives to blunt the reality of rejection. We have all had moments where we imagine things in a romanticized way. We say things like, “I don’t think there is any other person who is right for me. That person was The One.” We emphasize all the positives to keep our eternal love going. This kind of imagination does little to help us live real life.
I once heard someone talking about their mother. They said, “She thinks we are like the Waltons, but we are actually more like the Simpsons.” As I’ve reflected on that over the years, I realize that many people live just like that. They live with a bloated imagination that deforms all of life. They cannot see reality because they have built up too many “holy” images about the way they think things are.
The sooner we discard our “holy” creations and settle into the real thing, the better off we are. Once we take off the blinders we can deal with the reality. Real life is not wished, it is lived.

THE PROBLEM OF PAIN

 next C.S. Lewis book: The Problem of Pain

The next book in my reading in the C.S. Lewis Project (reading 10 books by Lewis throughout the year) we next turn to the book The Problem of Pain.
I invite you to pick up and join us. Several people are reading along with me and I want to encourage you to join us.
Here is the reading schedule for the book:

Beginning April 25 – Chapter 1-2

Beginning May 2 – Chapter 3-5

Beginning May 9 – Chapter 6-9

Beginning May 16 – Chapter 10

 the problem (and opportunity) of pain (C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain)

What is the problem of pain? The problem of pain is simple: If God is all powerful and all good, why is there suffering? This is the problem Lewis tackles in his book The Problem of Pain. Lewis used to reject God because of the pain in the world. But, he says that rejecting God because of pain in the world fails to take into consideration the whole picture.
Lewis lays out a rather interesting 4 part development of religious thought. This 4 part development is as follows:
1. People have supernatural fear. This is not fear like – “I fear a tiger in the other room.” This is the fear of “There is a ghost in the other room.” It is fear of something beyond, something supernatural.
2. People have a morality. All people know there is a right and a wrong. This moral law inside of us is both approved by us and disobeyed by us.
3. Supernatural fear and morality are combined in a single being. Throughout history, people of various religions have linked this supernatural fear with morality.
4. Jesus Christ identified Himself as the being. Christ said He was, and is, the supernatural being worthy of supernatural awe and the judge of the moral law.

Lewis concludes by saying that this poses a unique problem. To claim the world is wrong because there is pain, is to also claim there is a good to the world. Where did the good come from? So, while Christians must deal with the problem of pain, those who reject God must deal with the problem of good.
In saying there is such a thing as good and bad – those who reject God must deal with the fact they are affirming much of religious thought. They affirm a good and a bad. They affirm a being who would be in control of that good and bad.
Instead of looking at the problem of pain as a problem, we might do well to see it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to dialogue about the nature of good and evil.

 can God be good if there is pain and suffering? (C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain Chapter 3)

The first part of the problem of pain is the goodness of God. If God is so good and so loving, why is there suffering and pain?
The problem with the dilemma is in our understanding of love. Lewis says that our understanding of love is lacking. When we think of love, we tend to think of a God who is more like a grandfather. The grandfather is more interested that a good time was had by all.
But, this isn’t the love God offers. God is creating us to be like Christ. This means we will have discipline as a parent disciplines a child. He cares for us so much that He will not leave us alone until we become like Christ. He will give us what we need to make us like Christ, not what we think we want at the moment.
In this sense, Lewis is right when he repeatedly says, “we are asking not for more Love, but for less.” We do not want the love of a parent that disciplines. We do not want a love of an artist who must make ever part of His creation perfect. We do not want a love like that. Why? It means God’s idea of good will be different from ours. We are most interested in momentary happiness and He is most interested in our holiness.
Even if it is painful.

 spirituality and pain (C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain Chapter 6)

In chapter 6 of The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says, “Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Why can’t I obey God without pain, suffering, and tribulation? It is so ironic that I spend a great deal of time making myself as comfortable as possible, and that comfort only leads me to a Christianity that is subpar and mediocre.
I know this about myself: I am not as committed to Christ if things are going well. I thrive spiritually when there is resistance. I am a better Christian when my back is against the wall, when things are not going my way, when I have to fight. God has boxed me in and I have nowhere else to go.
I get the feeling I am not alone. There are chaplains in hospitals and in the military. Why? Because pain and suffering lead us to seek spiritual answers. They lead us to deep places we just do not go when things are going well.
There are no chaplains at Disneyland.

 on hell (C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain Chapter 9)

In Luke 16, Jesus tells a story about a rich man who died and went to hell. He looks up, sees Abraham a long way off, and calls out to him. He asks if the beggar Lazarus might dip his finger in water and drop the water on his tongue to cool it from the agony of the flame. Abraham turns the rich man down. No. And even if it were possible, there is a chasm between us that we couldn’t cross even if we wanted to.
The rich man makes a second request. Could you send the beggar Lazarus to my family so that they might believe and avoid this place of torment? No. They have Moses and the other prophets. If they do not believe them, they will not believe some guy who comes back from the dead.
The requests are fascinating, but so is the request that was never made. I can’t help but notice that the rich man never says, GET ME OUT OF HERE! Is there any way out? He was already asking for the impossible, so why not ask to be set free? Why not ask for heaven?
In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says, “I believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” I can’t help but wonder if Lewis is correct. What if people prefer hell to submission, even in the next life? They couldn’t submit in this life, what makes us think they would be willing to submit in the next?
I have to think that perhaps they agree with the judgment of God. They don’t approve of it, but they don’t say, I belong in heaven. Why? Because they know that are not willing to do what is necessary to get there. They are, as Lewis says, rebels to the end. They cannot bear the thought of someone else being in control. And no amount of pain will change that.

 does heaven matter? (C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain chapter 10)

C.S. Lewis makes it clear that any discussion about pain that fails to deal with the topic of heaven is missing a big chunk of the discussion. Christians, he said, have always compared the pains of earth to those joys of heaven.
This is hard in the our day because we are such an immediate culture. We want everything now. We even think we deserve everything now. We can reach someone instantly. We can watch everything on demand. We can immediately fulfill any desire we have.
Every desire except for everything to be made right.
And that is where we struggle. We want all our suffering and all of our pain to be set right as soon as possible. But it won’t be. Not on this side of heaven.
That is why heaven is not something to gloss over as childish wishful thinking. Heaven matters. It matters because it satisfies the deepest realities of our theology. Without heaven there is no final reward. Without heaven all the sacrifice for Christ is in vain. Without heaven there is no resurrection from the dead. Without the resurrection there is no victory over death and therefore no victory of sin. Everything here would be a waste.
Some pious people say, “Even if there is no heaven and we die and that is the end, we still would live this way. We would have no regrets.” That sounds really good. But, I couldn’t disagree more. If there is no heaven we are wasting our time. If everything is not going to be made right, why bother? The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” In other words, if this is it, what a waste.
The best is worth waiting for. It is worth giving our lives for. As Paul said to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us…we groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.”

Pain and difficulty are not the last word. We eagerly wait…

THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

 C.S. Lewis Project (The Screwtape Letters)

I first read The Screwtape Letters on a trip from Salt Lake City to Moscow Idaho, where I went to college for a year and a half. I read the whole thing straight through (no I was not driving) and ever since it has ranked as one of my favorite C.S. Lewis books.
If you don’t know the idea behind it, it is this: A demon named Screwtape is writing letters to another demon named Wormwood. He is instructing Wormwood on how to destroy the human he is in charge of.
I think Lewis is at his best because he is analyzing human behavior. Lewis, it seems to me, is a master at analyzing human behavior.
The reading schedule for those interested in following along is:

Week 9 Beginning March 7 – Letters 1-4
Week 10 Beginning March 14 – Letters 5-8
Week 11 Beginning March 21 – Letters 9-12
Week 12 Beginning March 28 – Letters 13-16
Week 13 Beginning April 4 – Letters 17-20
Week 14 Beginning April 11 – Letters 21-25
Week 15 Beginning April 18 – Letters 26-31

I’ll be reading from a cheap old copy of the book that I picked up at a bookstore that no longer exists. The old Intermountain bookstore when it was in Sugarhouse, way back before it burned down, moved several times, then ceased to exist.

 real faith in the real world (Screwtape Letters 1-4)

We are all too likely to fall victim to an ordinary life. In Letter 1, the demon Screwtape tells Wormwood, “You do not realize how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary.” He tells Wormwood of a time a human in his charge was actually beginning to think on spiritual issues. Screwtape managed to distract him by telling him to eat before he thought on such important things. Before long, the human was distracted by ‘real life’ and quit thinking spiritually.
My college Greek professor once told the story of a time he lived in Italy. He said the phone was ringing, he was doing dishes, the baby was crying, and someone rang the doorbell. ‘God what do you want? What do you want from me in all of this?’ he asked.
And in the middle of that chaos, the words of Jesus came back to him. “Seek first the kingdom of God…” Even when the phone and doorbell are ringing, when the baby is crying, and the dishes need washing.
I think we live ordinary lives because we fool ourselves into thinking there is no other way to live. We fool ourselves into believing we can’t live in the real world and still be spiritual people. It is a lie we need to stop believing. We are meant to be spiritual people even when the chaos of the ordinary presses in on us day in and day out.
When I was younger I preached on commitment to Christ at a church. After my message, the pastor of the church stood up and said, “It is easy to be committed when you don’t have responsibilities. When you don’t have bills to pay, or a family to take care of, it is easy to talk like this young man talked. But, we know we have to live in the real world.”
I was stunned. He told his congregation they didn’t have to be committed in the real world. If our faith isn’t lived out in the real world, then it only exists in some kind of private place in our heart. And if we limit our faith to one small place in our heart, we will soon find it has no real significance at all.
Real Christianity must be lived in real life.

 the fantasy of loving everyone (Screwtape Letters 5-8)

I once knew an older lady who said she loved everyone. Week in and week out in church she would tell me she loved everybody. One day she came to church frustrated with her daughter. She told her she hated her. She gave me a list of reasons why she hated her. Finally, at the end of her rant against her daughter, I calmly said to her, “I thought you love everyone.”
She looked right at me and said, “I do love everyone. Except for her. I hate her.”
It is all too easy to love everyone as long as it means no one in particular. It is much easier to love people we do not know. It is much easier to love people in principle without loving them in reality. It is easy to think we are loving people because we have a kind of sentimental feeling toward other people.
The demon Wormwood tells his understudy Screwtape, “The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and thrust his benevolence out…to people he does not know.”
This way, love is nothing but fantasy and hate is all too real.
Many Christians live in this kind of fantasy land. They really do believe they love everyone. But, when you start naming names, they say thing like, “I love them, but I do not like them.” Right. Who are they fooling?

We all have to fight to love real people and not just the imaginary “everyone.”

 nothing (Screwtape Letters 9-12)

We are concerned about what we do. Most of the time, we hear preachers talking about things that we do or might do. We have conversations about what we have done, do, or will do. Rarely do we talk of what we are not doing.
In Letter 9, the demon Screwtape instructs his nephew Wormwood, “As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind.” Sometimes our biggest problem is not what we think, but what we do not think about.
Sometimes are problem is a refusal to do enough thinking. In Letter 12, Screwtape develops the idea. He tells Wormwood that the goal is to keep the man from seeing the truth about his spiritual condition. He says that they do not want the man to deal in specifics “but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.”
And again, in letter 12, Screwtape informs Wormwood, “You can make him do nothing at all for long periods…Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why…”
The great problem of our day is that we lack the intellectual discipline to understand our world – we are not motivated to seek out and understand God, ourselves, and our world in a way that will transform the world.
The great problem of our day is that we are losing sight of dreams and have settled for so much less because we have not motivated ourselves to reach out and dream big dreams.
The great problem of our day is that we lack the willingness to plan our dreams into action, to have the passion to go beyond the safe places and safe people, and live as people who will change the world.
Lawrence of Arabia, the great military leader who liberated Jerusalem said: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
The philosopher, Pascal, once said: “I make an absolute distinction between those who strive with all their might to learn and those who live without troubling themselves or thinking about it.” Christians ought to make that same distinction.

what we laugh at (Screwtape Letters #11)

I love to laugh. I think laughter is a great gift, should be done often, and with the whole heart. But, it seems that our world increasingly uses laughter in a negative way.

In The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape continues to help his nephew destroy human beings in Letter 11. He says humor is a great means of “destroying shame.” We do not feel bad about what we have done if we can laugh at it. We can say the meanest things and then disguise our meanness by claiming we were only joking. In fact, we can compound our meanness by asking someone, “Can’t you take a joke?”

The demon Screwtape says, that the easiest way to destroy a person is by getting him to realize that his behavior will be excused if he can turn it into a joke. So, cruelty is not so bad if it is just a practical joke. Cowardice is shameful unless it is a funny kind of cowardice.

I think we have to be careful about what we laugh at. If we are not, we may find we are laughing at all the wrong things. Which is not a great distance from accepting things we ought not accept.

 church critics (Screwtape Letters # 16)

I once met a man who told me his spiritual gift was criticizing the church. He said he couldn’t join any one church because there were too many problems with them all.
I met another man who told me he was a better Christian by avoiding commitment to church. He said he didn’t need it.
I had a conversation with a former student who used to be so ministry minded, but when she moved away to go to college she said she couldn’t find a church. I asked her why – she said none of the churches were really what she was looking for. She had her list of what a church needed to be and none of the churches she attended were living up to the list. I noticed that service was not on her list. She was looking to take, not to give. So I asked her – are you looking at the churches you attend and asking what can I give to this church?
She said she had never thought of it that way.
In the 16 letter of The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape tells his understudy Wormwood that they must get the man they are trying to destroy to become “a critic” searching for a “suitable church.”
The greatest problem of current church hoppers is that they are critics, looking for what the church is going to do for them. They shop for churches the same way they shop for a car or clothes.
This is not to say that we should not evaluate the church in general, or our own specific church. But, it does mean that we should be part of the solution, not lob criticisms from a distance.
Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a leader in a church he pastured that demanded each criticism come with a solution. No criticism was allowed if it was not coupled with a solution. Otherwise we are critics without any value.

 Jesus and politics (Screwtape Letter # 23)

In Letter 23, the demon Screwtape tells his understudy Wormwood that they should continue to encourage the idea of a “historical Jesus.” What he means is that we seek a political Jesus. This is done by “suppression and exaggeration.” Those who want to fit Jesus into a certain political position emphasis certain aspects of His teaching and minimize others.
The goal of all this, the demon says, is to “distract men’s minds from who He is and what He did.”
I’ve met people who put their politics first and then try to cram Jesus into the mold of their politics. There is the communist seminary professor who liked the revolutionary Jesus. There is the conservative Republican who liked Jesus as a strict moralist. There is the liberal who liked the social justice Jesus.
Lewis is right, each Jesus wrapped in politics emphasis one aspect but diminishes another. The focus is political not personal.
We should always be on guard against the idea that Jesus is on our side of the political spectrum. He did not come to sanctify your politics. He did not have a political party. Honestly, He makes anyone with a strong political position uncomfortable.
The fact that the real Christ makes all politicians uncomfortable should alert us to the fact that Christ is bigger than our politics. We would do well to make sure that we are following the real Christ and not the Christ of the politicians.

 the problem with AND (Screwtape Letters #25)

The demon Screwtape continues to instruct his understudy Wormwood about how best to destroy his assigned human. This time he encourages Wormwood to use a strategy called “Christianity and…” The goal is to get the human to and something to his Christian belief. Christianity and… elevates other things and diminishes Christianity. It is a mixture which does not purify, but dilutes. The goal is to get the man away from Christianity and on to fads.
I know I have been too willing to jump on the latest fad and connect it to my Christianity. Unfortunately, I have been too willing to tie my Christianity to other ideas and then assert that I am the best Christian because I have added “AND” to my Christianity. Christianity AND avoiding all R-Rated movies. Christianity AND conservative politics. Christianity AND certain ways of doing church. I’ve had my own list of ideas and practices that I have added to the faith over the years.
So, what is wrong with an AND? The problem with ANDs is that we end up placing them on the level of Truth. We have to be careful to keep a personal opinion a personal opinion. We should not try to elevate personal opinion, conviction, or desire to the place of Truth. Our opinions change, the Truth does not. Our opinions can be misguided and even wrong, the Truth is correct.
We would do well to check periodically and see if we have any ANDs that are diluting our faith and making it something it was never intended to be.

 the problem with the middle (Screwtape Letters # 28)

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape continues to teach his understudy Wormwood how to destroy the human he is assigned to. In Letter 28, Screwtape tells Wormwood that a long life can be a great advantage to temptation. Screwtape says Wormwood should use length of life because it is harder to keep devotion and easy to become discouraged and disappointed.
Depression was once called the Noonday Demon, because it struck in the middle of life. It used to be known as sloth when it still belonged to theology. The middle of a thing is always the hardest. We get bogged down, we lose sight of the goal, and we get tired. It is easy to sink. The middle is the hardest part. It is easy to start something and it is easy to finish.
The Bible often refers to the Christian life as a race. I Corinthians 9 takes the metaphor of a race and builds on it. It talks about the discipline necessary to compete in The Race.
9:23-27: “And I do all things for the sake of the gospel that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
Dan O Brien is consider by many to be the best athlete to ever compete in the decathlon. In 1992, he was a sure thing to win the Gold Medal in Barcelona. In fact, at the Olympic trials he was on a pace to set the world record. Then he came to the pole vault. He tried an easy height, a height he had cleared many times before. On all three attempts he faulted and his disqualification on the pole vault eliminated him from the 1992 Olympic team. The best athlete of the 1990s did not even qualify for the Olympics.
His downfall? He was ever so slightly out of shape and lack the preparation for the qualifiers.
He got the message. He set the world record later that year and would go on to win in Gold in 96. O Brien himself once said, “The decathlon is like life. You have good events and bad events, good days and bad days, and you have to get through them all.”
Sounds like Christianity. We have good days and bad days, and we have to get through them all. We cannot afford to get lazy in the middle.

MERE CHRISTIANITY

 c.s. Lewis project: Mere Christianity Week 1 -Preface

This year, I have decided to read through 10 works of C.S. Lewis. This week, me and several friends, began the first book, Mere Christianity. Look to some past posts to see the schedule. We would love to have more people involved in the project. Here are some of my thoughts on the Preface of Mere Christianity.

On the scope of the Book

I find critics who say Lewis is not truly advocating a “Mere Christianity” correct. In fact, what Lewis sets out in the preface is not exactly what he does in the book. Many fundamental issues are touched on, but not developed. Even in his apologetics, he fails to include an explanation of central doctrine like the resurrection.

On Language

My favorite part of the preface has to do with the use of language. Lewis makes a clear distinction between words that are useful and words that are useless. I think it is vital that we recognize the difference in every conversation.
Lewis says, “When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise it no longer tells you facts about the object it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object.”
His example is the word “gentleman,” which used to carry a concrete description. A gentleman used to be someone with a coat of arms and land. The word came to mean someone who behaved well. Lewis concludes, “A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old, coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word.”
Objective concrete words lose their value when they become words of personal preference.

On church

Concrete, objective language says a church is good because of the truth of the doctrine and the holiness of the people. Language of personal preference says a church is good because we like it. As Lewis says, “The question should never be ‘do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘are these doctrines true? Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?’”

 c.s. lewis project: Mere Christianity week 1 chapters 1-3 As I begin my work week in my year long journey through 10 works of C.S. Lewis, I will be blogging about the adventure.

Book I Chapters 1-3 Overview

N.T. Wright said, “The virtue of this first section, I think, lies not in the fact that it makes a convincing argument as such, but that it highlights features of human existence that are puzzling and interesting and point beyond themselves.” And, I think he is right. This is why the title of the first section is so appropriate: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.
Recently Timothy Keller (The Reason For God) and N.T. Wright (Simply Christian) have both picked up on this concept of clues God has left. They have expanded the idea and included several clues that, when pieced together create a compelling case for God. Both sections of their books are well done and I recommend them. However, Lewis creates a compelling case based on one idea. The idea did not begin with Lewis, but he has a way with language and his conversational tone makes you nod your head and say, ‘Yeah.’

Chapter 1-3

Lewis begins by establishing two realities: Human beings know the Law of Nature and they break it. “These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” After he establishes this, he spends the rest of chapter one, two, and three dealing with objections people have to this idea of the moral law inside.

Objection 1. There is no moral law

“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair.’”

Objection 2. Isn’t the moral law really the herd instinct?

Aren’t we merely behaving according to the group? Lewis answers by saying there is a desire to help and there is a desire for self-preservation. Then a third part that judges between the two instincts to decide what action will be taken. This third part cannot be instinct, it judges the instincts.

Objection 3. Isn’t the moral law really a social convention placed in us by education?

Freud believed the moral law came from our parents and formed what he called the superego. Lewis says no one has placed moral law in us. We may have been taught some morality, but that does not mean the moral law is a human construct. Freud’s understanding of Superego was completely fear based. We fear breaking the rules imposed on us by our parents and then culture in general. My thinking is that Superego does not take into account any positive elements of morality. There is nothing positive in Freud’s system. What if someone was compelled by goodness to obey the moral law? There is no love in Freud’s system. What if someone was compelled by love to obey the moral law? As a result, the Superego concept fails in delivering an understanding of the moral law. Though Freud offered a replacement for the moral law written on our hearts, his concept is too limited to be useful in real life.
Lewis brings up a point different from my point. He critiques Freud by asking, How come we compare moralities and call some morality better than another? So in saying one morality is better than another, we are saying there is another standard that judges standards. Lewis says, “The standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.”

Objection 4. What we call the moral law is simply human convenience

This argument claims that: 1. the behavior I think is bad is nothing but an inconvenience to me and 2. The behavior I call good is convenient to me. But sometimes doing right is very inconvenient. Telling the truth when a lie would be easier is very inconvenient. The moral law then “is not simply a statement about how we should like men to behave for our own convenience; for the behavior we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behavior we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite.”

So, despite the attacks mounted against the moral law over the years. I find it holds up rather well. Kant said there are two things that support a belief in God: the sky above us and the moral law within us. Despite the attacks on creation and the moral law – both still whisper, or as Lewis says, provide us clues to the meaning of the universe. Lewis concludes chapter 3 that there appears to be “a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.”

  c.s. lewis project: Mere Christianity week 2 chapters 4-5

A quick note to all who have joined the C.S. Lewis project – I have enjoyed the conversation to this point. We continue to have people all over the country join us on this year long journey through 10 works of C.S. Lewis. We invite you to join with us if you haven’t already. We are still at the very beginning of this journey.
A friend of mine named Justin has posted a page on his sight to encourage discussion about the readings. I’m also posting over there. If you would like to read more, check it out. http://web.me.com/hortty/The_Hortons/The_C.S._Lewis_Project/The_C.S._Lewis_Project.html

Book I: Chapters 4-5

Chapter 4: From moral law to moral lawgiver

Lewis makes a clear distinction between laws that science forms and laws that are beyond science. Even if all of science were to know all there is to know in the whole universe, Lewis says the questions: “Why is there a universe? Why does it go on as it does? Has it any meaning? would remain just as they were.” What is observable does not answer all of life’s issues.
So, what science cannot answer, Lewis says, the moral law begins to give us a hint at God. Though it is not observable, we know it is real because it exists within us. And here he says, “I find I do not exist on my own. I am under a law. That somebody or something wants me to behave in a certain way.”
This is where Lewis introduces a moral lawgiver. Though he only calls it a mind in this chapter.
So, the reasoning goes like this – There is a moral law. If there is a moral law, there must also be a moral lawgiver.

Chapter 5: What we learn about the lawgiver

Continuing to build off of Kant, Lewis says there are two ways to learn about God. These two evidence are
Creation – which reveals He is a great artist
Moral Law – which reveal He is interested in right conduct
Lewis spends the rest of the chapter discussing the implications of this giver of the moral law.
This is where Lewis is incredible insights.
God is good. But that goodness does not necessarily bring comfort to those who really think about it. Lewis says, “Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing religion.” We are too quick to believe in God’s goodness without considering our own badness. If the moral lawgiver is strict about his goodness, and based on the law within us we believe he is, then our badness is offensive to his goodness.
And finally, Lewis gets the point he has been headed to all along: “Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness.”
He has spent five chapters on the problem and now brings us to the solution. To me this is exactly where we need to begin our dialogue. Yet, it is the place we are least likely to begin it. We are much too likely to tell people how their finances, emotional and physical health, parenting, marriage, and sex life will be better if they accept Jesus.
As he says so many times in the first 5 chapters, he is not selling soft soap. Tragically, we have a generation of soft soap salesmen. I’ve had pastors and seminary professors tell me not to spend so much time on sin. Lewis spends most of his time building a case for sin. We have lost the sinfulness of sin. Too many Christians do not mind that this has happened.
I still believe, in a modified form to fit the time we live in, that Lewis gives us the best blueprint to speak to a world that is growing increasingly deaf to its need for God. Selling God as a ticket to happiness is soft soap. Challenging people to open up to the reality of a real right and wrong to which we are accountable is what we so desperately need to recover.

c.s. lewis project week 3 where does right and wrong come from? As I continue to read through 10 works of C.S. Lewis this year, I am currently on Mere Christianity Book II chapter 1-3.

Where does right and wrong come from?

If we say there is injustice in the world, where does such a judgment come from? If it is from personal opinion, there is no case for justice. Remove God from the equation and we remove any kind of standard for right and wrong. If we say there is real, objective wrong in the world, where did that standard come from?
So, to continue the line he started at the beginning of the book:
Moral Law – Moral Law Giver – Real world right and wrong
If we remove God, where does our right and wrong come from? Atheists and unbelievers tend to brush the moral argument aside in two ways:
1. Personal preference. Some atheists follow the line of Betrand Russell and says their right and wrong is nothing more than personal preference. Most have thought about this and abandoned it because they realize there is no case for morality based on personal preference.
2. Societal standards. This seems to me to be the personal preference argument multiplied.
I have heard a third argument that is hardly worth mentioning. It is the argument from biological instincts. This sounds like a variation on the personal preference argument with an evolutionary twist. Imagine the world running around using a morality based on animal instincts? Have these people not seen the way animals treat each other?
I have yet to see an argument against the moral law that I find compelling. It still stands as one of the great clues to God. After all these years, I still find the argument Lewis provides to be compelling. If anything, my respect for this argument has grown in rereading Mere Christianity.

 c.s. lewis project week 3: building bridges to our world I was talking to an old friend the other day and we got on the topic of the state of Christianity. He mentioned that the disappearance of theology was hurting his church. People just didn’t know what they believed. He said he was amazed at how many people had completely wrong ideas about their faith.
This has been a common theme of mine for some time. I’ve watched so many people live out a cheap faith and then, when trials come, and their cheap faith doesn’t work anymore, they abandon it. They claim Christianity didn’t have the answers. The $1.99 faith they picked up at the church of walmart or whatever discount church they went to did not have the answers. I agree. But real Christianity does have the answers.
This is one of the reasons I regret to come to this part in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Most of you know by now, I am reading through 10 works of Lewis in 2010.
We should always seek to be as simple as possible when we communicate the message of faith. However, Lewis himself says that we should avoid being so simple: “It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple.” Yet, there are times I find Lewis frustratingly simple.
Lewis presents one of his famous arguments. The argument is commonly referred to as the Trilemma. Though Lewis did not invent the argument (it was around for a long time), he certainly popularized it. The argument basically says Jesus was either
1. Liar – a bad man because He lied about who He was.
2. Lunatic – a mad man who really believed His claims of divinity but was not really devine
3. Lord – He was who He said He was.
What is good about the argument
I think Lewis is solid when he says Jesus did not leave open the option of “good moral teacher.” I agree that this is an argument form ignorance. Anyone who actually read the Gospels would not say He was just a good moral teacher.
What is bad about the argument
One of the problems I have with this book is that time and time again Lewis oversimplifies. His constant use of either/or eventually weakens the book. In C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, I think Lewis critic John Beversluis is right to say:
One of Lewis’s most serious weaknesses as an apologist is his fondness for the false dilemma. He habitually confronts his readers with the alleged necessity of choosing between two alternatives when there are in fact other options to be considered. One horn of the dilemma typically sets forth Lewis’s view in all its apparent forcefulness, while the other horn is a ridiculous straw man.
The Trilemma fails because Lewis gets to pick the categories. If you stack the deck, of course you will come out a winner. That is what Lewis does. The Trilemma fails because it is too simple. Some of those who met Jesus in the Gospels did call Him a mad man – they said He was demon possessed. Some of those who met Jesus accused Him of lying. Some called Him Lord. But, even in the Gospels, there are plenty of other responses. Some thought His teaching was not so good. In fact, in John 6 many followers quit following because His teaching was too hard to grasp. Some people thought He was a dangerous revolutionary seeking to overthrow Rome. Some people today think He part history, part legend. Some think He is just a legend.
This simplifying of ideas to an either/or is something that has bothered me throughout the book. I realize we have to keep in mind the time Lewis wrote in and who he wrote to, but I still have difficulty with his either/or style.

Sociologists say that more people live in cities than in rural areas. This trend is expected to increase. City life and city thinking is more complex than ever. If we are going to explain Christianity, we had better be ready to dialogue with people over a long period of time.
The age of throwing a little 3 minute presentation at someone and asking them which circle best represents their life, then leading them in a prayer, is over. The age where we must wrestle with tough issues through long term dialogues has dawned.
There are times Lewis helps build bridges to our world (like the first 5 chapters of MC). But there are times he is frustratingly simple. We will not win people to Christ by stacking the deck and saying – See we win!

 on the end of the world (Mere Christianity Book II 4-5) Years ago, I had coffee with a successful businessman from a successful family. We discussed the current political climate and I told him I was disturbed with the direction the country was taking. I told him I thought a war we were in was the wrong choice. I told him I thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. I was concerned with the leaders position on the war and did not trust what they were doing.
He rather flippantly said, “Well, if things are going in the wrong direction, maybe this is the end. So, either way it works out.”
I have to tell you that this man was not one to throw out flippant comments and I was surprised by what he said.
But, as I reflected on that conversation I’ve realized that Christians have a flippant attitude toward the end of the world. Many of them have a weird kind of excitement about everything coming apart. They like the mass destruction more than the actual return of Christ.
C.S. Lewis says, “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens it’s the end of the world.”
Lewis is at his best when he challenges our childish and naïve beliefs about God and His system. We could all learn from what Lewis says. We ought to realize that in order to set the world right, a terrible price will be paid. That is what drove the early Christians to spread the message to as many people as quickly as possible.

 A virtue we need to recover (Mere Christianity book III chapter 2) The crusades were a difficult time in the history of Christianity. There is no greater tragedy than the crusade we call the “Children’s Crusade.” Several young leaders led thousands of children and young adults from France and Germany. They travelled toward Jerusalem to peacefully declare God’s message to Muslims in an effort to convert them. Though details are sketchy, it is believed many of them were enslaved by merchants who offered to take them to Jerusalem. They took the children and sold them off in the slave market. Many who left on the crusade never returned home. And, they never made it to Jerusalem. They simply disappeared.
I’d like to say that we are smarter, that we know better than to follow foolish ideas. But, I read recently of a massive scam that took place in churches across the United States in the late 90s and early 2000s. In a period of four years, 4,000 people bought 7,000 “cars” and were robbed of 21 million dollars.
The scam started in a Compton, California church. Robert Gomez told the congregation a rich man had died. In his will, he wanted to give cars away to believers for a fraction of their cost. The cars, Gomez said, were caught up in court. As soon as the will was cleared up in court, the cars would be available. But, believers needed to jump on the opportunity now.
There was no rich man. There were no cars. Gomez used the money to finance his gambling debts.
C.S. Lewis said, “Many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good,’ it does not matter being a fool.” But, Lewis says, God expects us to use our common sense.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told His follower to be “as shrewd as serpents.” In Luke 16:8, Jesus lamented, “The sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” Jesus was saying the non-Christian has a better understanding of his world than we do of the Christian world. The non-Christian knows how to maneuver his world better than the Christian does in God’s system.
What does it mean to be shrewd? The word itself means to be wise, understanding, and skilled. Some define shrewdness as the use of God-given resources in order to accomplish God-given goals.
We are far too naïve in “God’s work” and in “God’s blessings.” We blindly believe that as long as we have good intentions, that is all that matters.
Lewis points out that prudence, or a sharp and developed common sense, was once called a cardinal virtue. It is a virtue we desperately need to recover.

 do we have the answer or not (mere christianity book III: Chapter 4) Over the years, I have met many Christians who have given up on the Christian system and instead bought into a psychological framework with which to seek real life change. They become disillusioned because they think Christianity cannot speak to the depths of the human personality. They have bought into the idea that psychology fills in what Christianity is missing. Each time I hear someone say this I wonder why they have not dug deeper into the Bible to see just how fundamentally lifechanging the message is.
When Lewis takes on Freud I think he gives far too much away. He says that Christianity and psychology are two different ways of approaching humanity. So far so good. But then he makes a mistake. He says that “bad psychological material” is something that the psychologist can cure. This raw material for decision making consists of “various feelings and impulses.” Bad psychological material, he says, is not sin but disease. My question to Lewis is why should the Christian give ground in the area of feelings and impulses? Does Christianity have nothing to say on these issues that would be beneficial to the one who encounters problems. Can’t Christianity speak to these issues better than psychoanalysis? And if we cannot speak to emotions and desires in every way, shape, and form, how can we ever speak to them at all?
If we cannot speak to the deepest needs of a human being, we might as well pack up and go away. If we cannot speak to the issues of “raw material” (as Lewis calls it) then we are at best a shallow band-aid to the real pain, hurt, and sin of the human heart.
I believe God changes people at the heart of who they are. This is not a laundry list of dos and don’ts. Christianity changes us from the inside out.

 where does love begin (mere christianity Book III Chapter 9) Growing up in church, I heard this kind of argument all the time: Just act like you are supposed to and eventually your heart will follow your actions. And in my recent reading, C.S. Lewis said, “Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you did.”
I think people like Lewis feared the type of Christian who might say – “Well, because I do not feel like loving others, I do not have to do it.” I fear the kind of Christian who says – “I’ll do it because I should.”
Some still say that we should do the good deed and hope the internal life follows. I think we ought to get our internal life straight and then perform the deed. After all, the Apostle Paul said that if I give all my stuff away in order to feed the poor and offer my life to share Christ and I do it without love – it profits me nothing. Paul makes this clear in I Corinthians 13:1-3 when he says:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have the faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

When I bought my wife flowers on Valentine’s Day, of course she thanked me. But, imagine if I said to my wife, “Well, I had no desire to do it and I really saw it as something that seemed like the right thing to do. After all, it is my duty.”
Would that be an honor to her?
No. In fact, I imagine I would receive the flowers back and hear the words ‘I don’t want them.’ No act, no matter how grand or great makes up for a lack of love within the act. If we act out of duty, indifferent to the people we are acting on behalf of, we have lost what it means to live as Christians in relationship to one another. Action without the motivation of love is not love, but legalism. The legalists do all the right things but their motive is indifferent obligation. Love is as much about motive as it is about action and we dare not divorce the two.
The words of Jesus kept me from an externals first approach. He told the Pharisees (who were great with externals), “First, clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean also.” Start inside and let the inside move to the outside.
I’ve met too many people who started with the outside and never found the change on the inside. We must start from the inside out. First, change the heart, Jesus says, and everything else will change along with it. We develop personality, character, relationships, spirituality, stability, and ultimately all action from the heart. Without a proper understanding of the heart, we do not have the foundation to make real and significant changes in our lives.

 able to answer (Mere Christianity Book VI Chapter 1) Sometimes I feel like we are talking to ourselves. Sometimes I feel like we are answering questions no one is asking. Sometimes I feel like we are offering 2 dollar answers to million dollar questions.
There was a time when we didn’t need to offer thorough answers. There was a time when we did not have to engage in dialogue about our faith. Those days are long gone.
C.S. Lewis is right to say, “In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now.”
As culture moves rural to city, we come in contact with more ideas than ever before. We can now visit the cultures of the world without leaving any large city in the United States. We need to be able to dialogue with people who want to converse about spirituality. I Peter 3:15 says, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” That includes people who are not satisfied with a simplistic response.
It is time we did the hard work of understanding who God is, who we are, what is wrong with the world, and how it can be made right. The world is looking for answers. We need to be ready, willing, and able to speak to them where they are.

 God’s love (Mere Christianity Book IV Chapter 2) There is an idea in among some Christians that God’s love is kind of like romantic love. God is crazy about us and can’t stand the idea of losing us. He loves us unconditionally the way a lover loves their partner. In fact, even the things that are wrong about us are tolerated. After all, His unconditional love is constantly on us. His love is blind to any fault we might have. In fact, we sometimes believe God is so in love with us, that even our flaws and failures aren’t very offensive to Him.
Honestly, many want God’s love to be the love of chivalry. We want God to think we are the greatest no matter who we are or what we do. We want Him exist for our well being and do nothing that would inconvenience us. We want His love to be indulgent. We want instant forgiveness without consequences for our behavior. When God does not give us whatever we want, we tend to question His love. We reason that love means getting whatever we want. We spend far too much of our time and energy measuring God’s love by our standards.
We use the words personal relationship to speak of salvation in Christ. And we should. But, we should not assume that personal relationship is like romantic love. Yes, God does use the metaphor of Himself as the groom and the church as the bride. But, we always run the risk of taking metaphorical language too far.
C.S. Lewis is right to point out that when the Bible says God is love, it is making a statement about who He was and is even before we came on the scene. In the Trinity of God – The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit – love existed from the beginning. The dynamic love of God operates within the three person God.
The real miracle is that God invites us to enjoy a love that already exists in Himself. He invites us to join Him in what He already has within Himself. But, we have to understand that this love is very different from romantic love. God’s love is like a parent in that it includes correction. He loves us too much to leave us like we are. God’s love is heroic. It goes to great lengths and sacrifice to save us. God’s love is raging, it does not tolerate defection. God’s love is stubborn, it constantly demands. God does not wink at our sin and say, ‘It’s okay. You know I love you.’ God does not say, ‘It is all for you. Everything I do is about you.’
God does not get the privilege of loving us. We get the privilege of joining a love that has existed all the time. We get the honor of loving God and living for Him in that love.

 it comes with a cost (Mere Christianity Book IV Chapter 8-10) It comes with a cost

When I got out of high school, I worked for an auto parts warehouse. One of the people I worked with was a guy named Jim. Jim was a neo-nazi skinhead who told me many stories about life in a skinhead gang. Jim was also raised Catholic. He knew the basic doctrines and did not feel there was a problem with being both skinhead and Catholic.
The more we discussed the nature of following Christ, the more he realized his two lives could not really co-exist. I should him passages in the Bible where Jesus said following Him was all or nothing.
One day he looked at me with an expression of shock and said, “You know, there aren’t very many Christians are there?”
I shrugged, “Probably less than we might think.”
C.S. Lewis finishes Mere Christianity with the reality that Christianity is much more than doing a few good deeds. It is more than allowing Christ to change some obvious flaw in our lives. It is more than giving Christ some of our life. Lewis says, “Christ says ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you.’”
I find it interesting that Lewis felt compelled to tell people this from the beginning. I think too often we are afraid we might “scare people off” with the real message of Christ. Christ wasn’t afraid to say really challenging things to the crowds who followed Him. He told His disciples they would have to deny themselves, take up their own cross and follow (Luke 9:23). But, He told the crowds the same thing. He told the crowds, “Whoever does not bear His own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). This was not some special teaching for the elite, this was His call to anyone who would follow.
I think we sell people short when we do not tell them the whole story. In fact, Jesus goes on to clearly state the person who wishes to build a tower will first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to finish the building. Jesus says the person who considers following Christ should sit down and count the cost to see if the price is too high. We are so afraid people might say no to Christ that we often try to hide the cost.
Jesus never did.
When I left the auto part warehouse to go to college, Jim was still wrestling with the idea of surrendering control to Christ. But, at least he knew what it meant to give his life to Christ.
We do a great disservice to people if we are not honest and open about the challenges Christ presents to everyone who will follow Him.

 final thoughts on Mere Christianity So, I finished Mere Christianity. One C.S. Lewis book down, nine to go.
I thought before moving on to Screwtape Letters, I would give a few final thoughts:
1. Morality
When I started, I thought the argument for the moral law was a strong argument for God. Basically, Lewis says that bad and good came from somewhere, or more precisely, someone. Without God, morality falls apart. After reading Lewis again, I read some of those who disagreed with Lewis. The best arguments were:
Morality comes feelings
Morality comes from society (which seems to me to be the feelings of the majority)
Morality comes from intellectuals (maybe the worst argument of all)

2. Observations
I find Lewis to be one of the great observers of behavior. His ability to understand the subtleties of behavior is impressive. For instance:
Pride is primarily competitive.

3. Failures of the book
No emphasis on the resurrection seems a gaping hole in a book meant to lead people toward Christ.
Giving in to Freud and allowing psychology to treat the human heart while Christianity has nothing to say on the matter is, in my view, a mistake.

Now, when I started I said I was not as impressed with the book as so many. I think I appreciate it more than I did going in. I enjoyed his insights the whole way through.

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