Mostly stuff on Christianity by an Anglican priest who reads a lot of C. S. Lewis. Please note: all my posts about Lewis' book How To Pray are on the site, under Social Media/blog.

Friday, November 27, 2020

God's Inexorable Love


Have you ever asked God to stop loving you so much?  I’m sure that sounds like a strange thing to ask, but C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, explains to us, that if we are complaining or resisting uncomfortable or painful things in our lives - which his providence has allowed - we may be doing just that very thing.  Why?  How?  We are forgetting that God’s love for us is an inexorable love.  If someone is being inexorable, they are insisting on their own way about things, regardless of how much someone may be complaining about it and petitioning against it.  God has an inexorable love for us, and that means he is going to insist on giving us what is best for us, even when we don’t like how he’s doing it.

Here's an example of God's inexorable love: Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem in a fashion which he knows is a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about the way the king of Israel would come home to his capital city.  The people realize that he is making this claim.  They are also so amazed at the man, that they cannot think that he could be anything else but the king who was to come.  And so, they laud him as a king, spreading their garments in his path, waving palms of royal celebration and throwing them before his approach.  They lift up the old hymns of David and sing the praise of the son of David, returned to rule his people.  Jesus, accepts all this acclaim.  Indeed, when some men told him not to accept it so, he told them that if these people did not cry out with his praise, that the rocks that lay all around his entry would cry out in his honour.  In Jesus’ mind, he is coming to Jerusalem as the son of David; for that is who he is.  He knows he is the king of the Jews.  

But watch him.  What does he do, according to Matthew’s account, when he enters the city and goes straight to the temple, where the people would have continued to worship him?  He brings judgment upon it.  He casts out money-changers and animal merchants, and declaims that they have turned his temple into a den of brigands.  He does not tell the Jews what they want to hear.  He does not tell them that he, their king, has now come to take up his earthly seat and to deliver them from Roman oppression.  He does not tell them that the days of King David have returned, and that he is going to bring them political glory and a religious reformation and revival.  Instead he healed some people and turned around and went back to Bethany.  

As the days followed this event, it became clear that Jesus was determined to not do what they hoped he would do, and they were displeased.  And so, they turned on him.

But here’s what we need to see.  From our vantage point in history, we recognize  that Jesus, though he was purposefully disappointing the expectations of these people, was actually giving them that which was better than what they wanted.  What good would renewed political power and religious practice be for them if they remained the slaves of the sin that had brought them to their troubles in the first place?  It was because God loved them, that Jesus was come to deliver them from their sin and establish his kingdom in their hearts.  He was their king!  And he was bringing his kingdom to them, if they would repent of their sins and receive his rule in their hearts.  Jesus was loving these people, doing for them which He, in his infinite wisdom, knew was the best thing for them.  And his love was perfect.  Even though he knew they would not like what he was doing, and that eventually he would be killed for it, he refused to alter his dealing with them.  We see his fixed purpose to love them, even though they would not understand what he was doing.  We see Jesus loving his people with an inexorable love.  

During the Advent season, we celebrate the coming of the Lord.  We do so by spending time reflecting on our lives and preparing his way into our hearts by reconciling our own wills with his will.  What we need to ask ourselves is, are we prepared to welcome into our hearts a Lord who loves us with this inexorable love?  Can we love, obey and serve this person who will – if need be - go against our wishes, because he knows that there’s actually something better for us?  This is the way he is.  The sooner we are reconciled to it, the better for us.  

Oh friends, let us look up to our Father in heaven, who knows what we have need of before we even ask, and render him the smile of faith.  If he has said “No” to some prayer of ours, or if he is making us wait for what we have asked, or if we simply can’t see how he is possibly going to work out something we’ve brought before him, let us trust his inexorable love.  Let us thank him for loving us so faithfully, so wisely, and so patiently.  Let us sing our hossanas and rejoice in our wonderful King.

image from The Entry of Christ Into Jerusalem by van Dyke (AD 1617).

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Nature of Christian Surrender

[Paul on the Road to Damascus by Rubens]

Years ago, there was a lot of debate in evangelical circles about "easy grace" and "Lordship salvation."  The concern was over people who were being told that they could become a Christian without submitting to Jesus's call to discipleship, as if discipleship was an optional add-on for people going to heaven.  The answer was that "Jesus must be Lord of all or he is not Lord at all."  "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).  In other words, a Christian is a disciple; discipleship is not an option.

We can understand that some evangelicals were so afraid of Pelagianism (salvation by works) that they could reduce the call to "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:21] to just "believe in Jesus," and even minimize that belief to mere intellectual assent to the claims of Christ.  But that is surely a classic example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; in fact, it's throwing the whole house in the bin.

However, another error presented itself in the reaction to this "easy believism."  The error was a false idea of what "surrender" to Christ meant.  I lived with this error for a long time, years ago.  I'm sure there are people who still do.  This false idea of surrender is that our discipleship is begun and maintained by a "total" or "absolute" surrender - the adjectives urged are key.  A person is led to believe that they have not "really" surrendered to the Lord unless they have practically negated their own existence.  After all, are they not to "die to themselves?"  But this death-to-self is wrongly understood as such a renunciation of the self that the believer is not to have any will of their own at all.  Thus, New Testament expressions as "Christ is my life" are taken to mean that Christ replaces my own personality.  This results in such absurdities - and this is an actual case - as going through a cafeteria line and asking God whether or not he wants me to choose green beans or peas.  Such a misunderstanding leads to spiritual and psychological damage.

There is a passage in The Problem of Pain where Lewis corrects this error.  It is part of his first proposition made to round off his discussion of human pain, found in chapter 7.  He mentions the Christian doctrine of "mortification," and agrees that only God can kill or mortify sin in us.  He does not provide any biblical references, but one could refer to Romans 8:13 or Colossians 2:23.  He goes on to talk about "total renunciation."  He explains that submitting to God's will is not renouncing our wills - given to us by our Creator - but submitting them to God in a readiness to do his will.  In his lovely, common-sense fashion, Lewis argues that if our wills - indeed our whole personality - is not actually used in living out our lives, then we have no will or life to surrender!  If we are trying to live by making no choices of our own, then what power or "material" of choice do we have to give to him, to render to his service, or to obey his law?  

As Lewis explains, trouble interferes with our lives as we are naturally living them out as ordinary creatures, seeking our own and other's good.  Pain is an interruption that calls us to exercise a readiness - which is an attitude of submission - to alter our course and submit to God's will for our lives, or the lives of those we seek to serve.  

To die to one's self is therefore to turn from our rebellion against God to an attitude of readiness to do his will, whether it is something we like or not.  The totality of this submission is our readiness to do his will in every area or sphere of our lives.  The Holy Spirit living in us does not do the will of God instead of us.  He enables us to do the will of God, not only as to whatever duty may be involved but in the right manner.  This is not Pelagianism, but living out the new, regenerate life,  exercising the grace given us by our Lord, as he works in us to desire and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  

Lewis's doctrine is so wholesome.  The call to discipleship is not a call to cease to be God's creatures - human beings.  Indeed, it is a call to be free from our past slavery in Adam to begin to really live out our own lives, true to our new selves in Christ.  Our troubles thus become opportunities to exercise our new, freed wills by doing the will of God (Hebrews 12:11).

NB: Acceptance of Lewis's understanding of submission lays on us the responsibility of our choices.  We cannot be like the person - so often encountered - who will make no decisions in life: "Whatever you want, dear, is fine with me."  Rather, Jesus, having renewed the image of God in us through regeneration, says, "OK, now what do you want me to do for you?" [cf. Luke 18:41]. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

An Important Conversation

Douglas Murray and Dennis Prager hit on issues important for Christians who seek the redemption and healing of our culture for God's glory and the good of our neighbours.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

CS Lewis on "Rejoice in the Lord"

In Chapter 4 of The Problem of Pain, when Lewis affirms that we ought to experience the emotion of guilt or shame related to our sinfulness, he does not do so because he thinks we should be a gloomy people.  He sees those emotions as alerts to the fact of our sinfulness, which we need to honestly and concretely acknowledge and not forget.  But as for the climate of our souls, he recommends - as a "layman," of course:

"My own idea, for what it is worth, is that all sadness which is not either arising from the repentance of a concrete sin and hastening towards concrete amendment or restitution, or else arising from pity and hastening to active assistance, is simply bad; and I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to 'rejoice' as much as by anything else." (p. 61, 2001 ed.)

He speaks of our refusing to rejoice as "needless."  It is needless because there is so much to rejoice about, and because we are not commanded to be gloomy about what's wrong with us.  We are to experience sorrow for sin, either in our own lives or what it is doing to others, but only enough to motivate us to do something about it.  Otherwise, what's the use - especially when the condition of our souls affects our ability to love others, which is paramount?  Worth considering.

A problem with "kindness"

"...pity for the oppressed classes, when separated from the moral law as a whole, leads by a very natural process to the unremitting brutalities of a reign of terror." (The Problem of Pain)

People that want to tyrannize will cultivate the idea of "oppressed" or "victim" classes in the society they want to rule.