Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fifty Years to Forgiveness

I had the occasion this week to read again Letters to an American Lady, the compilation of letters that C.S. Lewis wrote to Mary Willis Shelburne, an American widow living in Washington, D.C..  The correspondence began in 1950 and ended shortly before Lewis' death in the fall of 1963.  The letters themselves are remarkable in how they reveal Lewis' steadfastness for this woman who seemed in constant need of encouragement.  Lewis was steadfast to all who corresponded with him.  He committed himself to reply to every letter he received -- children and adult alike.  His collection of letters, published by Harper, stretch to well over 3000 pages with several letters to a page! 

In the last year of his life, four months before dying, Lewis wrote Ms. Shelburne with the glad report that he "at last had forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood."  This was a man who appeared in his life fifty years before and had arbitrarily and maliciously abused his students physically and emotionally.  He was later to be found insane.  Nevertheless, Lewis harbored anger and resentment.  Even after accepting Christ he couldn't bring himself to truly forgive the man.  He would pray forgiveness for the evil schoolmaster, long dead, but in his heart he knew that he couldn't let the pain go.  

But he wouldn't stop trying!  He took the clause in the Lord's Prayer seriously:  Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  He realized that the two acts are forever interlinked.  "The forgiving and the being forgiven are really the same thing," he tells the widow Shelburne.  For fifty years he appealed to Christ for help in doing what he himself could not do.  And finally, after a half century of pleading, the Holy Spirit brought about a work of grace. 

It makes me wonder how seriously I take the call to forgive.  How many times have I given a faint wave of grace and yet harbored a lingering resentment.  God cares too much about our enemies to let us get by with the mere lip service of accepting apologies.  He knows it takes more than that for people to truly encounter the sweet mercy of Christ.  It takes our appeal to the Holy Spirit for something to be done IN us, so something can be done FOR them.  All become the better for it. 

Who remains on your "need to be truly forgiven" list?  Fifty years is a long time, but it's worth it in the end. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Love, whether you like it or not

C.S. Lewis always manages to defy simple characterization. Just when you think he fits the customary evangelical model he comes out with something that makes you pause and wonder and reconsider. Try this on for size from The Four Loves:

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already forseeing -- or should we say "seeing"? there ar no tenses in God -- the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

Lewis in other places writes that God is beyond time.  All things happen in one moment for God.  We see events unfolding sequentially, God sees them happening at once.  And so when God creates, he creates with the cross in mind.  He loves because we won't love back.  This is love -- love unconditioned by our response.  It doesn't matter if you like it, God will love you anyway. 

Karl Barth in his Dogmatics says, What unites God and us men is that He does not will to be God without us, that He creates us rather to share with us and therefore with our being and life and act His own incomparable being and life and act, that He does not allow His history to be His and our ours, but causes them to take place as a common history.  That is the special truth which the Christian message has to proclaim at its very heart. 

Your life, beyond what you may ever know or want, has been taken into the life of God on the cross.  His history is our history.  His love is our love.  Denying it, doesn't make it not so.  What a great message to share.