Category Archives: C.S. Lewis

#CCLent17 / Day 22 / March 25 / Humble Apologetics

cslewisIn your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.  (1 Peter 3)


Apologetics is the work of ‘defending the faith.’ There has not been a greater apologist than Lewis. But this prayer/poem clearly shows us that our dependence is on God, not our clever words or arguments about God!

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964)


 

#CCLent17 / Day 16 / March 18 / New, not just improved!

Fledge ecd6a9c11c323a4f87d9706c74e61f95So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  (2 Cor. 5:17)

C.S. Lewis anyone? In The Magician’s Nephew, the Narnia book that explores creation, Aslan, the ‘Christ-Lion’ turns an old horse named Strawberry into a winged horse named Fledge (from an Old-English world meaning to acquire the feathers to  fly.) In this case, Fledge is a horse dramatically changed, not just improved!


In Mere Christianity, Lewis notes that God came “to produce a new kind of man:”

It’s not like teaching a horse to jump better and better,
but like turning a horse into a winged creature!


Lord, You’ve made me new and I want to ‘Fly!’  Amen.

Joy amid Sorrow & the Atheists’ Dilemma

light_splash“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian!” (G.K. Chesterton) In a sermon, Joy amid Sorrow – in our Advent series at Christ Church – I began by quoting Philip Yancey’s introduction to Chesterton’s famous apologetic work, Orthodoxy. You can listen here. I suggested 4 “Disciplines” that cultivate JOY. Here, I want to provide the full quotations that deserve rumination.

YANCEY:
“It struck me after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I seen a philosopher who goes around shaking his head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure.”

“Yet it looms as a huge question – the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians.”

Christians have an easier time on this one. “It’s natural that a good and loving God would want us to experience delight and joy. We start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheist have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world (they insist is) full of randomness and meaninglessness?”


CHESTERTON:
Everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided .
The mass of men have been forced to be (happy) about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless… it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, (humans are more humanlike), when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude,…praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.
Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed – joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small.
“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan – is the gigantic secret of the Christian!…
Jesus chose to conceal something about himself:
(Chesterton says it’s not his tears – or his anger)
“He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His MIRTH.”
(NOTE: by ‘Mirth’, Chesterton means His overflowing gladness and joy.)

Let me throw in some C. S. Lewis from Reflections on the Psalms:
But how can we exult in a world where there is so much to lament? Where can we find joy in a world where hate is strong, as Longfellow has written, and mocks any expression of peace on earth and good will to men? In the “jocund” Psalms—where music, festivity, and agriculture are not things separate from religion, nor is religion something separate from them—Lewis claims, “I find an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real.”

(BONUS: a recently discovered letter by C.S. Lewis gives another window into understanding of Joy. Read about it here.)

C.S. Lewis on Chastity and Lust

chastityThe 7th Commandment on adultery, as with the other commandments, is miles deep. It guards the sacredness of sex and marriage. Listen to Cheryl Lavornia’s recent sermon (“What’s Love Got to Do With It?”)  for the straight talk on adultery and associated de-humanizers! C.S.L. has a classic word about the true problem with lust. Here is an excerpt from Mere Christianity.

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.” Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong.

. . . You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally (strange) about the state of the sex instinct among us?

. . . [Y]ou and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess. Modern people are always saying, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean two things. They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that is the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body—which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”

If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I do not say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult. It is easy to think that we want something when we do not really want it. A famous Christian long ago told us that when he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity; but years later he realised that while his lips had been saying, “Oh Lord, make me chaste,” his heart had been secretly adding, “But please don’t do it just yet.” This may happen in prayers for other virtues too; but there are three reasons why it is now specially difficult for us to desire—let alone to achieve—complete chastity.

In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so “natural,” so “healthy,” and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humour. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth—the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself (apart from the excesses and obsessions that have grown round it) is “normal” and “healthy,” and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humour, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary; so the claim made by every desire, when it is strong, to be healthy and reasonable, counts for nothing. Every sane and civilised man must have some set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others. One man does this on Christian principles, another on hygienic principles, another on sociological principles. The real conflict is not between Christianity and “nature,” but between Christian principle and other principles in the control of “nature.” For “nature” (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life. The Christian principles are, admittedly, stricter than the others; but then we think you will get help towards obeying them which you will not get towards obeying the others.

In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

Thirdly, people often misunderstand what psychology teaches about “repressions.” It teaches us that “repressed” sex is dangerous. But “repressed” is here a technical term: it does not mean “suppressed” in the sense of “denied” or “resisted.” A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now come before the mind only in a disguised and unrecognisable form. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all. When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

What’s the use!

cslewisWhen the world seems to be coming unglued, it’s easy to lean toward despair or acedia or worse.

On October 22, 1939, Lewis preached at the University Church of St. Mary in Oxford. I had the privilege of hearing an English orator re-enact the sermon at this church when I attended a conference in Oxford a few years ago. This sermon was later published in various editions as The Weight of Glory with other wonderful essays.

The occasion of Lewis’ sermon was this. Less than two months earlier Hitler had invaded Poland. (We forget that 500,000 Poles were killed or deported at the beginning of the war!) England was about to face the horrible onslaught of the Nazi attack known as the Battle of Britain. This is what C.S. Lewis told assembled students on that day:

It may seem odd for us to carry on classes, to go about our academic routine in the midst of a great war. What is the use of beginning when there is so little chance of finishing? How can we study Latin, geography, algebra in a time like this? Aren’t we just fiddling while Rome burns?

This impending war has taught us some important things. Life is short. The world is fragile. All of us are vulnerable, but we are here because this is our calling. Our lives are rooted not only in time, but also in eternity, and the life of learning, humbly offered to God, is its own reward. It is one of the appointed approaches to the divine reality and the divine beauty, which we shall hereafter enjoy in heaven, and which we are called to display even now amidst the brokenness all around us.

Will we continue to flourish as fragile people in a broken world – putting God’s truth and beauty on display no matter what the cost!

Looking for Pleasure in the right place.

screwtapes-desktopMy son, Stephen, recently told me of a friend who is doing his doctorate on “The Happiness of God!” I thought of this as I was reading Psalm 16. It ends with a beautiful expression of the locus of true pleasure and happiness.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)

With this Psalm obviously in mind, C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, has the senior devil writing to his understudy, bemoaning the “unfair advantage” that God (his ‘Enemy’) has over the devils as they do their dark, inverted work:

He (God) is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore’. Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the ‘Miserific’ Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood… He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working, Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.

There’s no real pleasure on ‘the dark side!’

Q – Are you believing any devilish lies about pleasure?

A C.S. Lewis Feast – Online

cslI want to draw your attention to a recent conference with outstanding presentations around the life and work of C.S. Lewis. Speakers included several great Lewis scholars, pastors and theologians covering a variety of important topics.

The conference was titled The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Immagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis. 

Connect here to listen to any of the presentations.


TOPICS:

_ Myth Wars: C.S. Lewis vs. Scientism, N.D. Wilson

_ The Friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Colin Duriez

_ C.S. Lewis and the Care of Souls, Lyle Dorsett

_ Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles, Joe Rigney

_ C.S. Lewis, Romantic Rationalist: How His Paths to Christ Shaped His Life and Ministry, John Piper

_ C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture, Phillip Ryken

_ Undragoned: C.S. Lewis on the Gift of Salvation, Douglas Wilson

_ In Bright Shadow: C.S. Lewis on the Imagination for Theology and Discipleship, Kevin Vanhoozer

_ C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth: God’s Eternal REmedy to the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Randy Alcorn

_ What God Made is Good – and Must be Sanctified: C. S. Lewis and St. Paul on the Use of Creation, John Piper,

Do you know your enemy?

We are in a spiritual battle. One of the tactics of the Enemy is to lull us into a sleep that denies we are even spiritual creatures in a universe saturated with God’s powerful presence – forgetting that we are in a spiritual war requiring spiritual weapons.  Listen to our recent sermon at Christ Church on The Spiritual Battle.

We need to have our thinking right about Diabolos, the Devil, who is the Deceiver and Destroyer – and also our Defeated Enemy!

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which
our race can fall about the devils.
One is to disbelieve in their existence.
The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
They themselves are equally pleased by both errors
and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

(Screwtape Letters)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, 
seeking someone to devour. Resist him,firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering 
are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, 
the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  (1 Peter 5:8-11, ESV)

We need to:
Know our Enemy;
Know our Human weaknesses and vulnerabilities;
and we need to Know our God better to resist the Devil effectively with a firm faith!

Q – Where do you need to be more alert to the tactics of the enemy in your life?

Poetry Monday – Humility and hope in a broken world

narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac

C. S. Lewis on the Battle with Pride

fourbattlesIn a sermon on 1 Peter 5:1-6, The Battle With Pride, we had readers do an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters. I’ve listed some great Lewis quotes on Pride and Humility below.  But if you’d like to read the whole Letter (#14) from Screwtape, just click here.

I’ll end with some background on the writing of Screwtape during WW II that you will find fascinating!

Lewis Quotes on Humility and Pride:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. […] There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.[…]The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.  (Mere Christianity)

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. [The way to take this first step, continued Lewis, is to glimpse the greatness of God and see oneself in light of it.] He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of [the pretensions which have] made you restless and unhappy all your life. (Mere Christianity)

True Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. 

After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. (Yours Jack, letter)

I suppose (it seems hard saying) we should mind humiliation less if we were humbler. It is at any rate form of suffering which we can try to offer, Colossians 1:24.

Try not to think, much less speak, of their sins. One’s own are a much more profitable theme! And if on  consideration, one can find no fault on one’s own side, then cry for mercy: for this must be a most dangerous delusion. (Yours Jack, letter)

The ‘Hitler connection’ in the writing of The Screwtape Letters:

The letters were originally published in (Engl newspaper) The Guardian in 31 weekly installments – from May through November, 1941. Lewis conceived of The Screwtape Letters in the summer of 1940. On the evening of July 20th, he heard a broadcast speech by Hitler and later wrote to his brother, Warnie: “I don’t know if I am weaker than other people, but it is a positive revelation to me that while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little.”

Lewis went on to explain that (after going to worship) he was “struck by an idea for a book which I think would be both useful and entertaining. It would be called As One Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient.’ The idea would be to give…the psychology of temptation from the other point of view.” …God becomes “The Enemy” and “Our Father’s House” is not heaven but hell…

The Screwtape Letters was greeted with great critical and popular enthusiasm when it first appeared. The book was reprinted eight times in 1942 alone. Contemporary reviewers wrote that “Lewis is in earnest with his belief in devils, and as anxious to unmask their strategy against souls as our intelligence department (is) to detect the designs of Hitler.”  (The Guardian, 13 March 1942)

NOTE: Lewis was paid £2 per letter—but he would not accept the money. Instead, he sent the editor of The Guardian a list of widows and orphans to whom the £62 was to be paid. He did the same with the fees the BBC paid for the ‘Mere Christianity’ broadcasts, and those The Guardian paid for the weekly installments of The Great Divorce in 1944–5.

SOURCE: Lewis, C. S. (2011-08-15). Screwtape Letters (Enhanced Special Illustrated Edition), Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.