“When I attempted . . . to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light.”
“For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: ‘Nobody [notices] us.'”
“A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers.
“And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.”
And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
To CS Lewis was posed the following proposition and question:
“Many people feel resentful or unhappy because they think they are the target of unjust fate. These feelings are stimulated by bereavement, illness, deranged working or domestic conditions, or the observation of suffering in others. What is the Christian view of this problem?”
Today, the same question has taken on a sharper edge aimed at Christianity and the character of God: If God is all good and all powerful, why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Either God isn’t all good; or God isn’t all powerful; or God simply does not exist.
CS Lewis answered the question put to him as follows:
“The Christian view is that people are created to be in a certain relation to God. If we are in that relation to Him, the right relation to one another will follow inevitably. Christ said it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt, 19:23; Mk. 10:23; Luke 18:24), referring, no doubt, to riches in the ordinary sense. But, I think it really covers riches in everything – good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.
“All these things tend, just as money tends, to make you feel independent of God. Because if you have them, you feel happy already and contented in this life. You don’t want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness, as if it could last forever.
“But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently, He may have to take all these riches away from you. If He doesn’t, you will go on relying on them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it?
“But I am beginning to find out what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a cruel doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows work punishment, but I find in practice that, when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a punishment it becomes easier to bear.
“If you think of this world as something simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable. Think of it as a place of training and correction, and it’s not so bad.
“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think of it as a hotel. The other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is what comforts and strengthens you in the end.
“The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world become pessimists; the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”
I like to say that perspective changes everything. Because human beings are finite, our perspective is limited. Change it, and the world looks different from the new angle.
Lewis had a perspective of this world that allowed him to see it as beautiful, for what it is worth. Perhaps, he was colored by his experience as a late teenager fighting in World War I. He knew the worst the world had to offer.
When he became a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he found the “silver lining”. He found hope and light in the darkness of the world.
Many people who live in the late 20th and 21st centuries have had a relatively good time of “this life” compared to people just a few generations before us (and even more dramatically compared to people of centuries past). Our perspective is colored by our relative prosperity. In the United States today, even those who live below the poverty line live higher and better than most of the people in the rest of the world (and in times past).
The comparative riches we have tend to make us feel independent of God. Indeed, the shift in the question of the problem of evil from focusing on individual unfairness to thinking it is proof that God does not exist is a product of our perspective.
We have enough that we are willing to accept that what we can gain in this life is all there is. We have embraced a shadowy happiness in lieu of true joy that God offers to those who seek Him.
No relatively contemporary writer or thinker has had more influence on me than CS Lewis. I read Mere Christianity as a college seeker. I read the Chronicles of Narnia also in college in a weekend, intrigued by the way his imagery grew out of and expanded the panoply of Scriptural ideas with nuance and depth.
I have read many of his books since then, including his science fiction trilogy, the allegorical Great Divorce, his autobiographical book, Surprised by Joy, and many of his books and essays with more philosophical and theological import. I still have books of his on my nightstand I have been meaning to read.
One of Lewis’s repeated themes is the so-called “argument from desire”. The “argument”, which can be reduced to a logical syllogism, is not really a strong logical argument for God, but it has strong existential appeal.
The idea appeals to the human condition and the sense in all of us that we are destined for more than what this world offers. The existentialist side of the coin is that nothing satisfies. Period. Both sides of the coin candidly recognize the frustrated desires of people that ultimately go unsatisfied.
For a more complete treatment of the “argument from desire”, I suggest Lindsley’s article or The Argument from Desire from Boston College professor, Peter Kreeft. But all of this is, in truth, really an excuse to get to songs inspired by CS Lewis.
One of my favorite songs of all time is the CS Lewis Song by Brooke Frasier from New Zealand. The opening lines are an homage to Lewis’s argument from desire.
If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary, Then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared Speak to me in the light of the dawn Mercy comes with the morning I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me
Am I lost or just less found? On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way? Is this a soul that stirs in me, is it breaking free, wanting to come alive? ‘Cause my comfort would prefer for me to be numb And avoid the impending birth of who I was born to become
Speak to me in the light of the dawn Mercy comes with the morning I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me For we, we are not long here Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it And I, I was made to live, I was made to love, I was made to know you Hope is coming for me Hope, He’s coming
Following is a video version of the song that takes a more Kafkaesque approach to the song.
A person posed this question to N.T Wright: “If my body decays, and goes on to become reconstituted into plants and animals and things, what remains? What is essentially me?” NT Wright responded by noting, first, that Tertullian and Origen discussed this question in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and CS Lewis picked up the same theme in the 20th century in his book, Miracles.
CS Lewis observed that fingernails, hair, skin and the entire the human body are in a constant condition of flux. “Bodies change their entire molecular kit once about every seven (7) years”, Wright noted.
I am not the same person physically that I was when I was born, or graduated from college at age 22, or graduated from law school at age 31 or when my last child was born when I was 39. I am not the same person, physically, at 60, as I was when I was 39.
All of the molecules in my body have switched out many times over those years, yet I am still recognizably me. Maybe a bit larger, with gray hair and visibly aged from my mid-twenties, but I am still me even though none of the same molecules exist in my 60-year body.
NT Wright re-phrased the question in different ways: If a ship goes into a port and one year later, after all parts of it have been replaced, it goes into port again, is it the same ship? If my grandfather has a spade, and replaces the blade and handle several times, is it the still the same spade?
I don’t know about a ship or a spade, but as for me, I know that I am still me even though I don’t have a single molecule left over from my 22-year old self. I have more experiences; I have gained more memories. People can see in my body and mind some resemblance of the “me” they might remember.
Though memories aren’t physical things I can show anyone, I can describe them, and people who share those experiences with me can recognize them. Those nonphysical memories are undeniably “part” of “me” – things I have picked up along the way in addition to the extra weight in my physical body.
CS Lewis says that people are like the curve in a waterfall. They have continuity of form but discontinuity of matter. Matter pours through us. The “us” matter pours through is the real thing – not the matter.
On this day six (6) years ago, Facebook informs me that I posted this quotation from CS Lewis:
“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”
I don’t know if CS Lewis is exactly right, but he is getting at the same idea – that we are something more than our physical selves. We aren’t reducible to our physical selves. Our physical selves aren’t even made up of the same molecules that once existed in us. Not one molecule remains from my 22-year old self – yet my self remains.
This mystery is extended in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Jesus, God promises to give us new bodies. Our bodies will be changed, Scripture says, but each one of us will remain the same person and be recognizable. Biblical scholars say we will be more fully us then we were before.
In a sense, it’ will be the opposite of the saying about a sick person who is “just a shadow of himself.” Except, the perspective will be reversed. We will see that our bodies were just a shadow of what we will become. Wright says there is a “real you” that is much more like you, vividly more like you, then you are now.
Getting around to attempt an answer to the question posed, NT Wright says, “Nowhere in the New Testament does it describe a soul leaving a body and going to heaven.” What does he mean?
If you don’t have the present time or inclination, consider at least this statement:
“[W]hen we blindly follow the agenda of party over the values of the kingdom, we are in danger of making politics our functional god. When our public discourse parrots the talking points of blue or red rather than the radical call of neighbor love, we are in danger of losing the credibility of our witness…..
“So how do we carry ourselves politically? Fuller spoke with characteristic wisdom on that issue as well: ‘If a wise man wishes to gain over a nation to any great and worthy object, he does not enter into their little differences, nor embroil himself in their party contentions; but, bearing good-will to all, seeks the general good: by these means he is respected by all, and all are ready to hear what he has to offer. Such should be the wisdom of Christians. There is enmity enough for us to encounter without unnecessarily adding to it.'”
“The gospel is offensive enough, so let’s allow people to be offended by it. When we replace the gospel with politics in our affections, we will draw the battle line in the wrong place and drown out the mesmerizing voice of Jesus beneath tired drone of petty partisan squabbles.”
I posted yesterday, Questions for Christians in America, out of frustration. My frustration is that so many Christians seem to be so colored by their politics that the Gospel is obscured in their rhetoric and the things they are focused on, at least on social media. The field is ripe for the harvest, and we seem to be stuck in out political tents, fixated on political platforms, defending actions Scripture condemns and fighting for our own rights to a comfortable existence in which the world bows to us.
I don’t pretend sit in judgment on individuals in their personal walks with God. I don’t want to come across self-righteously. When I post things like that (and this), I am stirring up and exhorting myself and the tendencies I see within me. I don’t exempt myself from the fray.
But, I can’t stay silent. My soul grieves within me. We are missing opportunity to share the Gospel, to introduce people to love of Christ. Worse: we are turning people away from the Gospel by focusing too much on temporal things. We seem to be spending ourselves to protect institutions and current political positions, when eternity yawns ahead. Think about it:
“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual.
“But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.”
–C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
Why do we spend so much time trying to reform a temporary nation when individuals with eternal value are getting lost in our rhetoric?
The following statement from Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations, sums it up pretty well in an Op Ed in the NY Times (originally written in September 2016):
“Like water that refracts light and changes the shape of things, politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity. There is a good deal of hating and dehumanization going on in the name of Christ.”
We can – we must – do better for the Shepherd who died for us while we were yet sinners and gave us the blueprint for His purpose – to go into all the world spreading the Gospel (the Good news) of Christ.