God’s Work Within Us

CS Lewis wrote the following bit in a letter written approximately one year before the end of his life:

“The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ This you [may] have realised. But you [may be]  expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you should be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don’t see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way.
“Your question what to do is already answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed—your friends, your music, your books. Remember we are told to ‘rejoice’ [Philippians 4:4]. Sometimes when you are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give you something.
“As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’”[1]

I cite CS Lewis often in what I write. He seems to capture so much of what it means to be human in God’s world, illuminating God’s grace in us and in the world as God works out our salvation, the author and perfecter of our faith.

These words Lewis wrote are so much more poignant that they were written toward the end of his life. Gone is the impetuous, tottering confidence of youth in working salvation out, replaced by the steady, trusting confidence of old age that God is working within.

As I survey a thousand times I have failed God in working out my salvation, I find solace in the hope and faith that God is working within me. I don’t always see it. Sometimes my sin overshadows any light I see in me, but God’s gentle light always shines through that darkness… when I turn to Him.

Often my inclination is to turn away. I fear His wrath. I am disappointed in myself. I think I should be better than that. I don’t want to bow at His feet. Yet again. How many times? How many times!

And I recall that nothing is hidden from God. Nothing. We stand, sit, lie, walk at all times under the gaze of an infinite God. Nowhere I can go, even into the deep recesses of my own heart, away from God. Even if I block myself from the inner chambers of my own heart, yet God is there.

God, save me from myself! I can only hope and trust that You will, as You have said, because I am utterly unable.

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[1] CS Lewis in a letter to Keith Manship from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III (September 13, 1962)

Comment on Jay-Z, Beach Chairs, and Happiness – III. The Structure of Happiness … and Fish


My thoughts today come via Jay-Z, Beach Chairs, and Happiness – III. The Structure of Happiness.

I encourage you to read the blog I am “pressing” here before going further. the main point I take away from it is that happiness is not as subjective as we post-moderns suppose. Maybe the classicists, like Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. are right. Ultimately, truth and our own thriving is an objective end that doesn’t blow with the winds of individual tastes.

I am reminded of the analogy that Lewis makes of a fish in water that might long to be out of water. One the one hand, the water limits the fish. It can’t enjoy life out of the water,though it longs to experience it. The fish is, therefore, limited and unhappy in its watery “prison”.

I think many of us would characterize our unhappiness in this way, but I am not talking about such temporary objects of our unhappiness, like financial difficulties, hunger, a desire to be grown up, and the like. These things are not changes in our environment, and they also aren’t ultimate things.

We all know that temporal satisfaction is fleeting. (Or we should know it.) On the most basic level, we hunger; we eat and are full; but we will hunger again. We might think that having enough money to meet all our needs would provide the happiness we desire, but experience tells us that we usually want more even when we have enough.

Our desires are such that they might never be sated. They are apt to expand and keep on expanding (without some intervention). This “truism” might be evidenced by the fact that some people who seem to “have it all” nevertheless commit suicide. Actors, millionaires, etc. are not immune from the kind of unhappiness that leads them to take their own lives.

These examples might also be evidence that temporal satisfaction isn’t the same as ultimate satisfaction. We have a longing for some object that transcends the temporal things to which we gravitate for satisfaction and happiness.

Thus, I attempt to distinguish between temporal objects of our satisfaction and happiness and ultimate objects of our satisfaction and happiness. When we seek temporal things as our most prized object, we are bound to be disappointed, unsatisfied and unhappy.

I am not sure I can “prove” it, but my intuition (for lack of a better term) tells me, as with the blogger whose post I am sharing, that our ultimate satisfaction and happiness lies in some objective and ultimate object. The subjective ones we often spend most of our energy and lives pursuing can’t ultimately satisfy us or make us happy.

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The Eternal Significance of the Mundane

We are either moving toward God or moving away from Him. We are never standing still.


Tim Keller, in preaching on the First Temptation of Christ, observed that the first temptation of Jesus by Satan in the desert was a mundane one: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) Everyone needs food. In our modern day, we would say that people not only need food, they deserve it as fundamental right.

Surely, the Son of God deserves bread, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t just make a little bread out of a stone. Right?

This is how Satan comes at us: “You need it. It’s just a small thing. C’mon, you deserve it!”

In the story, Jesus had just fasted for forty (40) days, and the forty (40) days were over. Jesus was hungry – more like starving! (Luke 4:2) He had done what he set out to do; he fulfilled the commitment he made, and he was free to eat.

This is how Satan works on us. He gets us thinking about ourselves, our needs, and (if he can push us far enough) our rights. “You have a right to that bread! Take it!” It wouldn’t have seemed “wrong” for Jesus to have turned a stone into bread.

And this is the struggle: will we live our lives serving ourselves, doing what we want, going with the flow of our natural inclinations, fulfilling every personal need and desire, the captain of our own souls? Or will we consciously live our lives for God and others, letting God direct us, yielding our selves to the One who made us?

We tend to think of the big temptations, not realizing that Satan is always there trying to get us to feed from his hand.  His hand is always out, offering morsels and tidbits. We often feed from his hand without realizing it. We may go about our days unaware of the momentum of the movement of our hearts, feeding little by little on things that are moving us away, not toward, God.

CS Lewis says we are either moving toward God or moving away from Him. This happens every day, day after day, in all the hundreds and thousands of choices we make, reactions to circumstances and thoughts that we entertain.

The momentum of our lives is something we don’t often stop to consider. It often isn’t obvious to our conscious minds. We may not even be aware of all the little things that add up and feed that momentum in the direction we are going. We are highly aware of the momentous times in our lives, but we are largely unaware of the mundane times where real direction and momentum are sustained.

I think about these things in light of two recent announcements by two prominent (at least highly visible) men who were once Christians and now have renounced their faith. Marty Sampson, the Australian songwriter for the global megachurch, Hillsong, announced this week, “I’m genuinely losing my faith….”[1]

Just days before that, well-known Christian author, Joshua Harris, who championed purity and advocated that Christians shouldn’t date before marriage in a widely popular book, announced (on the heels of his own divorce), “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus…. I am not a Christian.”[2]

According to CS Lewis and Tim Keller, we are shifting – all the time. Our momentum is taking us toward God or away from God at any given moment and at every moment in our lives. We are never merely standing still.

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God is the Fulfillment of the Desires He Built into Us

We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Psalms 51:1-2 ESV

I have written about how we can’t throw out the Old Testament and accept the New Testament in its place, as modern sensibilities might suggest. (See, for instance, Jesus and the “Old Testament God”) The Old Testament is the seed for the New Testament. Everything revealed in the New Testament was first revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament.

Moderns tend to want to view “the Old Testament God” as something different from the God revealed in the New Testament by Jesus, but Jesus affirmed the Old Testament.  Jesus says that the Old Testament anticipated and pointed toward him. (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27)

The Bible verse of the day quoted above was prayed by David in Psalm 51. David expressed the desire of all of us when he asked God to have mercy on him, to “blot out” his transgressions, to wash away his iniquity and to cleanse him from his sins. We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.

We do have the capacity to ignore our consciences and to deny that desire for forgiveness. If we do that too often and too long, our consciences become callous and dull; the desire for forgiveness diminishes; and we no longer have the sensitivity God built into us that drive us toward Him. Psychology tells us that we all have that conscience, but we do have choice in how we respond to it.

C S Lewis talks about how our desires and our needs have a correlative reality in something that fulfills those desires and needs. He observes that we hunger, and there is food to meet that hunger; we thirst, and there is water to quench that thirst; we have sexual desires, and there is conjugal love we have with another person that fulfills that desire… at least temporarily.

That those desires are only temporally met and satisfied, says Lewis, suggests that there is something else, something more. We also have a deeper and more fundamental longing within us to know God and to be known by God, to be forgiven by God and for eternal life and relationship. CS Lewis says that the reality we know, the satisfaction of temporary longings and desires, is some evidence of a more fundamental and satisfying reality that will fulfill our enduring and deepest longings.

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The Place for Experience in the Mix of Science, Faith and the Evidence for God

When asked what would make them believe, some atheists say a personal experience with God would do it.


On the show and podcast, Unbelievable! On Christian Premiere Radio in the UK hosted by Justin Brierley, the host often asks people, atheists and Christians, what would make them believe (or not believe, as the case may be). Most people think of arguments or historical or scientific proofs, but not everyone.

In one particular episode Michael Ruse, a professor and philosopher of biology at Florida State Universality, participated in discussion with John Lennox, a professor of mathematics and philosophy at Oxford, on the subject of Science, Faith and the Evidence for God. When asked the question about what would make him believe, Michael Ruse surprisingly (for me at least) said that it would have to be a personal experience with God.

Michael Ruse is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Ruse is an evolutionary biologist who has debated against intelligent design proponents. He has been on the Advisory Council to the National Center for Scientific Education. He is a Bertrand Russell Society award winner for his dedication to science and reason.

Thus, my surprise to hear him provide such an “unscientific” answer to the question of what it would take for him to become a believer. I have since heard other atheists provide similar answers. Intelligent Christians, I think, underestimate the power of personal experience.

To be fair of Michael Ruse, though is a decided atheist, he has a healthy respect for theology. Maybe that is because he is a philosopher, and not just a scientist.

I say “just a scientist” because there is a school of thought among modern scientists that we don’t need philosophy anymore, that science is all we need. (People like Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson have expressed this view.)

But science, by definition, is limited to the study of the natural world, matter and energy (or “molecules in motion” as some like to say). Anyone who makes the claim that science is all we need has made an a priori determination (an initial presupposition) that molecules in motion are the sum of all reality. Neither theology, nor philosophy, fit into a world like that. And, where, then, does that leave mathematics and logic?

Michael Ruse, being an expert in philosophy takes great offense at the notion that philosophy has gone the way of God and is dead (alluding to Nietzsche’s great contention). It’s natural for a philosopher to take that position, I suppose, even an atheist philosopher. After all, he has devoted his life to philosophy!

But then, consider that he knows something of what he talks about. Just as scientists know a great deal more about science than me, a philosopher knows a great deal more about philosophy than, well… a scientist (who studies only molecules in motion). It isn’t hard to understand why such a person might begin to see the world as nothing but molecules in motion when that is the constant and continual focus of life long study, but the theologians and philosophers, even atheistic one, protest there is more.

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The False Promise of Pleasure

Statue of writer and playright Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square in Dublin, Ireland.

“Meaninglessness does not come from weariness with pain. Meaningless comes from weariness with pleasure….  No one is more fed up with life than one who has exhausted pleasure. Some of the loneliest people in the world are those who have lived indulgent lives and emotionally and physically drive themselves to impotence.”

This is a quotation from Ravi Zacharias in a talk he gave titled, the Problem of Pleasure. If you listen to Ravi Zacharias much, you will note that he returns to this theme often, and he often mentions Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish poet and playwright. He was a brilliant writer and thinker who was an outspoken atheist and lived a hedonistic lifestyle.

Wilde is described as “the supreme individualist”. The Picture of Dorian Gray, is described as a “novel of vice hidden beneath art” tinged with “self-conscious decadence”. The Importance of Being Earnest, commonly believed to be his best work written at the height of his career, is more subtle and nuanced, but continues the same theme, as do all of the works of Oscar Wilde. (See Wikipedia)

We know much of Wilde’s private life, ironically, from a much publicized court case that publicized his private life when Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was also an outspoken atheist. Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, was the person who introduced Wilde to “the Victorian underground of gay prostitution”. Queensberry’s defense was to prove his statements true by hiring private investigators to uncover the “salacious details of Wilde’s private life”. The trial that Wilde initiated left him bankrupt as the defense proved the truth of Queenberry’s statements.

Wilde, the “colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society”, spared himself no pleasure and wasn’t shy about his lifestyle. Like Solomon, though, he retained a sort of wisdom borne of experience. Having been baptized as a child, he often used biblical imagery and characters in his writing, though his use was, perhaps, sacrilegious.  During a two year prison sentence for homosexual actions, he requested the Bible in multiple, languages, Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works with Christian themes. When he was released from prison, the Catholic Church turned down his request to spend six months at a monastery, and Wilde wept at the news.

As I sit here thinking of these things, I am also thinking of the unfolding story of a friend, a very enthusiastic and committed believer in God. He is a lover of the stage, a former Shakespearean performer. In that sense, he shares something in common with the playwright, Wilde. My friend is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a series of strokes that could leave him incommunicative and paralyzed. Even in his desperate physical situation, he and his family have experienced the presence of God sustaining them in faith. They exhibit a transcendent joy and peace even in the middle of the difficulties they face.

We are naturally attracted to pleasure and pull back from pain, but sometimes the pleasures we seek cause us pain. We tend to think that pleasure is good and pain is bad, if not in a moral sense, then certainly in an experiential sense. God gives us the ability to experience pleasure and pain. In that sense, God gives us both pleasure and pain. Neither one is intrinsically good or bad. CS Lewis implies this when he says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.

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CS Lewis on the “True Myth”

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth. 

The Areopagus in Athens

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened…”

This quotation is from CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves: from The Kilns (on his conversion to Christianity), 18 October 1931. If you have read much of what I write, you would readily notice that I quote and allude to CS Lewis often. He resonated with me in college, and he continues to resonate. He is cited by more diverse groups of people, perhaps, that any person I can think of. He had a unique way of approaching things from fresh points of view, often pulling those fresh ideas from the dusty tomes of ancient literature. His concept of myth and True Myth is one such point.

Some might consider his frequent allusions to ancient, pagan myth heretical, and some might even confuse his love of pagan myth as New Age. I find him to be extremely orthodox in unorthodox ways, and I find his creative approaches to orthodoxy to be refreshing and thought-provoking.

We don’t have to look any further than the ultra-orthodox, Paul the Apostle, to find some common ground with CS Lewis. When Paul was in Athens, some Epicureans and Stoics he debated in the marketplace, brought him to the Areopagus to address a Greek crowd. In that address, Paul referenced an altar inscribed “To An Unknown God” and quoted Aratus, a Cilcian poet (Phaenomena 5): “in him we move and live and have our being”. (Acts 17:22-28)

Paul used the quotation from Aratus that was spoken by a pantheistic poet to convey a theistic principle about God. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?) On the one hand, Paul connected with the people “where they were” using language and references they understood to convey something about God. In one sense, this is how CS Lewis relates the ideas of myth and True Myth.

It’s interesting to me, as well, that Paul know enough about pagan poetry to quote Aratus. In Titus 1 (v. 12), Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides. Again, it’s striking that Paul knew enough about pagan philosophy (presumably) that he could quote Epimenides.

What CS Lewis says about myth is that it contains some elements of truth, which shouldn’t be surprising at all, as truth is universal and should, therefore, be something that is universally recognized. The difference between myth and True Myth is that all myth ultimately is just a shadow of the True Myth. All myth conveys truth through storytelling. True Myth isn’t just another story; it is The Story. It isn’t “just” myth, but reality – “it really happened” as CS Lewis says.

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