Monday, April 30, 2012

The central Christian belief

cross-in-snow-350 The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like…. A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.
    We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 54-56.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sweeter than honey

honey “More to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb” (19:10). One can well understand this being said of God’s mercies, God’s visitations, His attributes. But what the poet is actually talking about is God’s law, His commands; His ‘rulings’ as Dr Moffatt well translates in verse 9 (for ‘judgements’ here plainly means decisions about conduct). What are being compared to gold and honey are those ‘statutes’ (in the Latin version ‘decrees’) which, we are told, ‘rejoice the heart’ (v. 8). For the whole poem is about the Law, not about ‘judgement’…
    This was to me at first very mysterious. ‘Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery’ — I can understand that a man and must, respect these ‘statutes’, arid try to obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate. If this is difficult at any time, it is doubly so when obedience to either is opposed to some strong, and perhaps in itself innocent, desire. A man held back by his unfortunate previous marriage to some lunatic or criminal who never dies from some woman whom he faithfully loves, or a hungry man left alone, without money, in a shop filled with the smell and sight of new bread, roasting coffee, or fresh strawberries — can these find the prohibition of adultery or of theft at all like honey? They may obey, they may still respect the ‘statute’. But surely it could be more aptly compared to the dentist’s forceps or the front line than to anything enjoyable and sweet.
    A fine Christian and a great scholar to whom I once put this question said he thought that the poets were referring to the satisfaction men felt in knowing they had obeyed the Law; in other words, to the ‘pleasures of a good conscience’. They would, on his view, be meaning something very like what Wordsworth meant when he said we know nothing more beautiful than the ‘smile’ on Duty’s face — her smile when her orders have been carried out. It is rash for me to differ from such a man, and his view certainly makes excellent sense. The difficulty is that the Psalmists never seem to me to say anything very like this.
    In Psalm 1:2 we are told that the good man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.” To ‘exercise himself’ in it apparently does not mean to obey it (though no doubt the good man will do that too) but to study it, as Dr Moffatt says to ‘pore over it’. Of course ‘the Law’ does not here mean simply the ten commandments, it means the whole complex legislation (religious, moral, civil, criminal and even constitutional) contained in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The man who ‘pores upon it’ is obeying Joshua’s command (Joshua 1:8), “the book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night.” This means, among other things, that the Law was a study or, as we should say, a ‘subject’; a thing on which there would be commentaries, lectures, and examinations. There were. Thus part (religiously, the least important part) of what an ancient Jew meant when he said he ‘delighted in the Law’ was very like what one of us would mean if he said that somebody ‘loved’ history, or physics, or archaeology. This might imply a wholly innocent — though, of course, merely natural — delight in one’s favourite subject; or, on the other hand, the pleasures of conceit, pride in one’s own learning and consequent contempt for the outsiders who don’t share it, or even a venal admiration for the studies which secure one’s own stipend and social position.

C.S. Lewis, ‘Sweeter Than Honey,’ Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 338-339.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spiritual renewal will not be found by digging up the past

tulips Many religious people lament that the first fervors of their conversion have died away. They think—sometimes rightly, but not, I believe, always—that their sins account for this. They may even try by pitiful efforts of will to revive what now seem to have been the golden days. But were those fervors—the operative word is those—ever intended to last?
    It would be rash to say that there is any prayer which God never grants. But the strongest candidate is the prayer we might express in the single word encore. And how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.
     And the joke, or tragedy, of it all is that these golden moments in the past, which are so tormenting if we erect them into a norm,tulip-bulbs are entirely nourishing, wholesome, and enchanting if we are content to accept them for what they are, for memories. Properly bedded down in a past which we do not miserably try to conjure back, they will send up exquisite growths. Leave the bulbs alone, and the new flowers will come up. Grub them up and hope, by fondling and sniffing, to get last year’s blooms, and you will get nothing. “Unless a seed die….”

C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 26-27.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Praying to change the world

Kate Middleton sporting an umbrella“Praying for particular things,” said I, “always seems to me like advising God how to run the world. Wouldn’t it be wiser to assume that He knows best?”

“On the same principle,” said he, “I suppose you never ask a man next to you to pass the salt, because God knows best whether you ought to have salt or not. And I suppose you never take an umbrella, because God knows best whether you ought to be wet or dry.”

“That’s quite different,” I protested.

“I don’t see why,” said he. “The odd thing is that He should let us influence the course of events at all. But since He lets us do it in one way I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other.”

C.S. Lewis as published in St. James [Church] Magazine (December 1945, Birkdale, Southport) and God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 217.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A very interesting and honest preface (Part 2)

TD Bank's grumpy old menIf any real theologian reads these pages he will very easily see that they are the work of a layman and an amateur. Except in the last two chapters, parts of which are admittedly speculative, I have believed myself to be restating ancient and orthodox doctrines. If any parts of the book are ‘original’, in the sense of being novel or unorthodox, they are so against my will and as a result of my ignorance. I write, of course, as a layman of the Church of England: but I have tried to assume nothing that is not professed by all baptised and communicating Christians.
    As this is not a work of erudition I have taken little pains to trace ideas or quotations to their sources when they were not easily recoverable. Any theologian will see easily enough what, and how little, I have read.

C. S. Lewis.
Magdalen College, Oxford, 1940

C.S. Lewis, Preface, The Problem of Pain (1940; reprinted New York: HarperCollins Signature Edition, 2001) xii.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A very interesting and honest preface

TD Bank's grumpy old menWhen Mr. Ashley Sampson suggested to me the writing of this book [The Problem of Pain], I asked leave to be allowed to write it anonymously, since, if I were to say what I really thought about pain, I should be forced to make statements of such apparent fortitude that they would become ridiculous if anyone knew who made them. Anonymity was rejected as inconsistent with the series; but Mr. Sampson pointed out that I could write a preface explaining that I did not live up to my own principles! This exhilarating programme I am now carrying out. Let me confess at once, in the words of good Walter Hilton, that throughout this book ‘I feel myself so far from true feeling of that I speak, that I can naught else but cry mercy and desire after it as I may’. Yet for that very reason there is one criticism which cannot be brought against me. No one can say ‘He jests at scars who never felt a wound’, for I have never for one moment been in a state of mind to which even the imagination of serious pain was less than intolerable. If any man is safe from the danger of underestimating this adversary, I am that man. I must add, too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.

C.S. Lewis, Preface, The Problem of Pain (1940; reprinted New York: HarperCollins Signature Edition, 2001) xi-xii.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

What is Jesus to make of us?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.


What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ? – Part 5
C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What are we to make of Easter?

Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They Ire not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they Ire clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it in simply because he had seen it.
empty_tomb     Then we come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection. It is very necessary to get the story clear. I heard a man say, “The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.” On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival. I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost- survival. On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost. The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe. Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse”. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?

What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ? – Part 4
C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331-332.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The difficulty of Jesus claiming to be divine

What are we to do about reconciling the two contradictory phenomena? [1 – the moral teaching of Jesus, 2 – his claims to be God] One attempt consists in saying that the Man did not really say these things, but that His followers exaggerated the story, and so the legend grew up that He had said them. This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, they belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God—that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily.
Jesus at the Last Supper as depicted in The Passion

What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ? –Part 3
C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Jesus cannot be just another moral teacher

On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him: “Are you the son of Brahma?” he would have said, “My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.” If you had gone to Socrates and asked, “Are you Zeus?” he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, “Are you Allah?” he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, “Are you Heaven?” I think he would have probably replied, “Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.”poached egg-muffin-toaster The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are not looking for a piece of toast to suit you you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects—Hatred—Terror—Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.
    What are we to do about reconciling the two contradictory phenomena?

What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ – Part 2
C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What are we to make of Jesus Christ?

easter_cross2“What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what are we to make of Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding what it is going to make of an elephant has comic elements about it. But perhaps the questioner meant what are we to make of Him in the sense of “How are we to solve the historical problem set us by the recorded sayings and acts of this Man?” This problem is to reconcile two things. On the one hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of His moral teaching, which is not very seriously questioned, even by those who are opposed to Christianity. In fact, I find when I am arguing with very anti-God people that they rather make a point of saying, “I am entirely in favour of the moral teaching of Christianity”—and there seems to be a general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of His immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purest and best. It is not sloppy idealism, it is full of wisdom and shrewdness. The whole thing is realistic, fresh to the highest degree, the product of a sane mind. That is one phenomenon.
    The other phenomenon is the quite appalling nature of this Man’s theological remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point that the appalling claim which this Man seems to be making is not merely made at one moment of His career. There is, of course, the one moment which led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him, “Who are you?” “I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see Me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the Universe.” But that claim, in fact, does not rest on this one dramatic moment. When you look into His conversation you will find this sort of claim running through the whole thing. For instance, He went about saying to people, “I forgive your sins”. Now it is quite natural for a man to forgive something you do to him. Thus if somebody cheats me out of five pounds it is quite possible and reasonable for me to say, “Well, I forgive him, we will say no more about it.” What on earth would you say if somebody had done you out of five pounds and I said, “That is all right, I forgive him”? Then there is a curious thing which seems to slip out almost by accident, On one occasion this Man is sitting looking down on Jerusalem from the hill above it and suddenly in comes an extraordinary remark—“I keep on sending you prophets and wise men.” Nobody comments on it. And yet, quite suddenly, almost incidentally, He is claiming to be the power that all through the centuries is sending wise men and leaders into the world. Here is another curious remark:
in almost every religion there are unpleasant observances like fasting. This Man suddenly remarks one day, “No one need fast while I am here.” Who is this Man who remarks that His mere presence suspends all normal rules? Who is the person who can suddenly tell the School they can have a half-holiday?

C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 330.