Sunday, June 24, 2012

We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain sort.

“We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain sort.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

In one beautiful sentence Lewis points to a fine line in the spiritual journey that is challenging for any of us to walk. Those of us who are offspring of the Reformation are eager to agree that spirituality is not as much about what we do, but what God does in us. The first project for God is not the world, but the soul. Each soul. It is through recreated souls that God brings about certain actions that shape the world in a certain way.

The challenge though is to read this sentence and not jump to the conclusion that we are the certain sort of people God wants. Doesn’t God have more to do with you? One of the pitfalls of religion is to base the prototype of spirituality on ourselves. How boring and self-righteous! It’s what makes life exciting – to think that God’s not through we me yet! And the more we realize what more God has left to do in us, the less we might be worried about what more God has to do in others. Maybe that’s the sort of person he’s looking for – someone who graces others as much as she or he has been graced by God … to be as gracious with other’s faults as God has been with ours.

In the end, we will know what kind of people we are becoming by what actions we are performing. Is the nature of my behavior changing? Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Is my fruit pleasing for those around me? That will go to show what tree I’ve become.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

That which I greatly feared has come upon me.

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. Surprised by Joy, p. 228 I was rereading this account of Lewis’s transforming moment today and discovered something I don’t think I ever knew: Lewis when he tells his story tells it to us, partly, through the words of Job: “That which I greatly feared has come upon me.” (Job 3:25) Isn’t it interesting that Lewis quotes the terrifying experience of Job when he tells the story of his own epiphany? It is as if to suggest that truth – in whatever form – can be terrifying. A new reality is destabilizing. It can come in the form that we mostly greatly fear. Do you wonder if there are forms of the truth that we keep at bay because we are simply afraid to face them, or to have them face us? I heard a man recently talk about his decision for sobriety. It came when he had to confront something true about himself – he was causing too many other people pain. His problem was everyone else’s problem. That which he greatly feared had come upon him. He was powerless when it came to alcohol. Sometimes a new idea surfaces in our society and because we have spent so much time convinced of another idea we are afraid to consider something new. We don’t want to consider the possibility that we may have been wrong. And even though shades of the new idea are convincing, we still push it away. The new idea for Lewis was the credibility of God, and that which he greatly feared (being wrong in his atheism) had come upon him. Don’t worry if a new idea pulls you kicking and screaming into a new opinion. You join the ranks of many who have found new life. Lewis continues: I did not see then what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? If you find yourself kicking and screaming – you might just be on to something. That which you’ve greatly feared has, maybe, come upon you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Past Watchful Dragons

Lewis in his great essay on writing for children talks about the challenge of writing stories that bear the reality of the gospel but without the doctrinal and interpetive baggage that adults want to place on the simple story. Says Lewis, "I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could." There is something about us preachers and teachers that sometimes doesn't want to trust the power of the story itself. Somehow we feel the compulsion to tell people what the story means, instead of letting the story do it. I suppose in a sense that's what preaching is -- explaining the story. But maybe our preaching and teaching become the "watchful dragons" that prevent people from feeling the grasp of the tale. George MacDonald, Lewis's literary mentor, in his great essay The Fantastic Imagination compares these things to the experience of listening to a sonata: "If two or three men sat down to write each what the sonata meant to him, what approximation to definite idea would be the result? Little enough -- and that little more than needful. We should find it had roused related, if not identical, feelings, but probably not one common thought. Has the sonata therefore failed? Had it undertaken to convey, or ought it be expected to impart anything defined, anything notionally recognizable?" Can we trust that the story of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit will rouse in those who read and hear what can and should be roused? Jesus seemed content to tell gospel by simply telling stories. Why must we post watchful dragons of explanation and doctrine at the door?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Playing the Part Well

In C.S. Lewis's great essay, The World's Last Nighthe speaks of what it means to have a healthy appreciation of the doctrine of the Second Coming. Too many, he feels, are worried about the plot and ending that they fail to understand their own role. Writes Lewis, "It is (because of) our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we are the characters. But how can the characters in a play guess the plot? We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience. We are on the stage. To play well the scenes in which we are "on" concerns us much more than to guess aobut the scenes that follow it." Lewis goes on to illustrate by talking about a minor character in King Lear to whom the playwright does not even give a name. In the third act he performs an act of instinctive loyalty and bravery and as a result is killed. His unnamed part is 8 lines long, but, as Lewis puts it: "But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted." The part best to have acted. It's nice not to have to worry about the ending of the play or the plot that leads to it. The key is play your part. When the director points our way, act! This is our contribution not only to the present, but to the ending. As students of the New Testament we may be given a peak at the ending, but there is a whole lot of acting that needs to be done in the meanwhile. Who knows? Maybe the whole play turns on our part.