Tuesday, October 31 2006
"Love the sinner but hate the sin." St. Augustine
"For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again." Mere Christianity
How appropriate it is that C. S. Lewis should follow up the chapter on Christian Marriage in Mere Christianity with a chapter on Forgiveness. As Ruth Graham has said, "A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers." And as St. Paul has said, "In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:28). If we love and forgive ourselves then we ought to love and forgive our spouse because we are one-flesh with our spouse. As Paul goes on to say, "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:29-30).
We should hate the sin in while loving the sinner who is our spouse just as we do the same with ourselves. The problem is that we all have a hard time forgiving ourselves, or really, accepting God's forgiveness through Christ. In a letter to a friend written many years after his conversion, C. S. Lewis said it took a long time before he really believed in his heart that God had forgiven him for his sins. Many of us can identify.
But once we begin to have even an inkling of how much God loves us and forgives us through Christ, then we are enabled, by his grace, to pass on that love and forgiveness to others, including our spouse, our children, our extended family, our neighbors, our co-workers, even to our enemies. For if God loved us in Christ while we were his enemies, how can we not love and forgive our own enemies?
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Monday, October 30 2006
"If the old fairy-tale ending 'They lived happily ever after' is taken to mean 'They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married', then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense--love as distinct from 'being in love'--is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be 'in love' with someone else. 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it." Mere Christianity
The quieter, more mature, agape love lived out by those who are in marriage for the long haul is a very attractive thing, something to be greatly desired and sought after. When I was a young pastor in training an older pastor once described this kind of love to me in the following manner. He said, "If I was to have an affair I would have to bring my wife along because she is the only one who knows when I'm supposed to take my pills!"
Falling in love, even having an affair, can, I suppose, be exciting. But what is of far greater value is that love between "til death do us part" spouses which values the spouse's well-being as more important than one's own. I don't want to approach old-age and be sharing it with someone twenty years younger who can't even remember the television shows I watched as a child. I don't want to enter my sunset years with no one to watch the sunset with, no one who knows when I'm supposed to take my pills. I want to know the joy of that old, quiet kind of love Lewis talks about--the kind of love as comfortable as a well-worn slipper, as treasured as a member of my own body. And so I repeat to the wife of my youth the words of Browning:
"Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth" (Malachi 2:15).
Friday, October 27 2006
"The idea that 'being in love' is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made. The curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion's own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do." Mere Christianity
Eros, being "in love", is a feeling. Love, in the sense of agape, is an action. Eros is fleeting. Agape is eternal. And of course, agape is the kind of love God lives out toward human beings, demonstrated supremely in Jesus Christ.
Now a Christian marriage is the venue through which God gives to two of his children, a man and a woman, the opportunity to demonstrate toward one another, before a watching world, agape for a lifetime. God wants married couples to live out, up close and personal, in the context of the ups and downs of everyday life, an example of his universal, contra-conditional love. For agape is love which keeps on loving, keeps on doing what is best for another, in spite of adverse conditions, in the face of that which is seemingly unlovable.
The divorce rate in America today, even or especially among Christians, shows just how well we are doing at living out agape in the context of marriage. But rather than being an excuse to give up, this fact should cause those of us who are married to ask God for more grace, more of the power of the Holy Spirit, to live out this agape through the one-flesh union which is marriage.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Ephesians 5:25-27
Thursday, October 26 2006
"The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ's words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism--for that is what the words 'one flesh' would be in modern English." Mere Christianity
However, the one-flesh idea of marriage wasn't just Jesus' idea. Jesus' words were based upon the statement in Genesis 2:24,
According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the beginning of time God intended one man and one woman (not one man and one man, nor one woman and one woman) to come together as one flesh in lifelong marriage.
There are many things which seek to destroy the one-flesh nature of marriage in our modern society. And we must fight vigorously against all such enemies of what God has ordained. Of course, one of the most notable enemies of one-flesh marriage is the temptation to sexual intimacy and intercourse outside of marriage which is usually accompanied by the false promise of lifelong inloveness if one can simply find the "right" partner. Lewis addressed this false promise in the last essay he prepared for publication: We Have No 'Right to Happiness'.
In that essay Lewis makes several important points:
If we are to maintain God's one-flesh ideal for marriage, we must then work hard at being those good, controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people. For that is the only route to true and lasting happiness.
Thursday, October 19 2006
"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." Mere Christianity
There are two important things to note regarding what Lewis says in this passage. First of all, what does Lewis mean by chastity? He means quite simply that if one is single one must not engage in any sexual activity whatsoever. This extends to the thought life as well--and there is the real rub for many of us. But chastity also applies to marriage. If one is married then one must be completely faithful to one's spouse, sharing the sexual experience only with him or her.
Secondly, it should be noted that with regard to this bit of doctrine Lewis, once again, was preaching from his own experience. From the time he became an atheist in his early teens until the time he became a theist in his early thirties Lewis did not live a chaste life. Then, around 1929, he began to make an attempt at complete virtue. This attempt revealed to Lewis what little he was able to accomplish by his own power as he continually failed in regard to chastity, and then made renewed attempts at obedience. This experiment also led him to rely more on God and seek the power of the Spirit. Once Lewis became a Christian in 1931 he found a new power through Christ to overcome temptation in the area of his sexuality and the Lord enabled him to live a chaste life in singleness and eventually a faithful life in his brief marriage to Joy Davidman Gresham.
As Lewis notes elsewhere, only Jesus knows the full power of temptation because only Jesus fully resisted temptation at every point. This same Jesus can give us power to resist temptation, not only in the area of sexual morality, but in every department of life. Jesus can reveal to those who seek it the glory and the joy of a chaste, pure, holy life--the only life really worth living.
Jesus said, ". . . apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
The Apostle Paul wrote, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
And Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us, ". . . we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Wednesday, October 18 2006
"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." Mere Christianity
In this passage Lewis makes three important and true points:
"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Friday, October 13 2006
"That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it." Mere Christianity
We do not see each other as we really are. This, says Lewis, is the reason why we ought not to judge one another. The cause of what we think is sin in another person may not be that person's choice at all. And the cause of what we think virtue in ourselves may only be our good upbringing.
This leads to the fact that we will certainly have many surprises in heaven. John Newton may have been the first to suggest that there will be three surprises in heaven. The first surprise will be seeing many people there whom I did not expect to see there. The second surprise in heaven will be missing many whom I did expect to see there. And the third surprise will be that I am there; that third surprise is the surprise of grace!
Lewis suggests in his sermon, The Weight of Glory, that rather than judging people for the way they appear to us now, we should focus on the fact that:
What destination are we helping our neighbors toward this day, this very moment?
Wednesday, October 11 2006
"However much you improve the man's raw material, you have still got something else: the real, free choice of the man, on the material presented to him, either to put his own advantage first or to put it last. And this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with." Mere Christianity
Viktor Frankl was one of the great psychotherapists of the 20th century and a survivor of the Holocaust. He lived through internment in four Nazi death camps including Auschwitz, even though his parents and other members of his family died in the camps.
During, and partly because of, his suffering in the concentration camps, Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy. His approach to life and to psychotherapy was summarized in his landmark book: Man's Search for Meaning.
In that book Frankl wrote: "Everything can be taken from a man but . . . the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way" (p. 104).
What a freeing thought: we cannot choose what happens to us, but we can always choose our response. I am not responsible for what happens to me--my nature given to me by genetics--or for my nurture received from parents, siblings, teachers and others. But I can choose my response to my nature, my nurture, and to all the innumerable things which happen to me every day. By God's grace through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit I can choose joy--or I can choose to succumb to my sinful nature and slink back into misery. By God's grace I can choose to obey Christ and to follow him every day . . . or not.
Father, I find this word to me today the most freeing thing in the world. Thank you that you will not judge me according to my nature or my nurture. Thank you that my life and my destiny are not determined by what happens to me, but by my response to your grace in Jesus Christ. Help me to choose life, to make the choice to rejoice, to follow you this day and every day, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tuesday, October 10 2006
"When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved. One is the act of choosing. The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psychological outfit presents him with, and which are the raw materials of his choice. Now this raw material may be of two kinds. Either it may be what we would call normal: it may consist of the sort of feelings that are common to all men. Or else it may consist of quite unnatural feelings due to things that have gone wrong in his subconsious. Thus fear of things that are really dangerous would be an example of the first kind: an irrational fear of cats or spiders would be an example of the second kind. The desire of a man for a woman would be of the first kind: the perverted desire of a man for a man would be the second. Now what psychoanalysis undertakes to do is to remove the abnormal feelings, that is, to give the man better raw material for his acts of choice; morality is concerned with the acts of choice themselves." Mere Christianity
Personally, I find what Lewis has to say about the relationship between morality and psychoanalysis to be very astute. To distinguish between the morality of our choices and the feelings presented by our "psychological outfit" is essential.
There are many people today who would not agree with Lewis's definition of normality--especially when it comes to sexuality. The increasingly widespread assumption today is that if certain desires, namely homosexual ones, appear very early in life, then those desires must be normal for that person, due to their "nature" more than their "nurture", in short, those desires must be God-given. However, this assumption does not take into account that there is something catastrophic which has taken place between God's original creation and the present moment--namely the Fall. According to traditional Christian theology the Fall of humanity into sin has affected the nature of all human beings ever since. With regard to homosexuality the clear teaching of Genesis 1 and 2 is that God originally created a man and a woman to have a sexual relationship with one another, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. However, since the Fall not all human beings have this normal, original, appropriate sexual desire for the opposite sex.
So where does this traditional Christian teaching leave the person who has homosexual desires? According to Lewis, and all Christian teaching up until very recently, the person with homosexual desires who wants to obey God has two options:
Whichever option is pursued it will require the help of the Holy Spirit and the Scripture clearly indicates that change is possible. The Apostle Paul says,
Does this mean that the person with homosexual desires who is sanctified will never have those desires again, or never give into homosexual temptation again? Not necessarily. But as Lewis says elsewhere, the important thing is not 100% success in this life, rather what is essential is the virtue of always trying again.
Monday, October 09 2006
"Charity--giving to the poor--is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there are no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." Mere Christianity
The truly amazing thing about C. S. Lewis is that he practiced what he preached about charity. He gave away two-thirds of the royalties from his non-academic book sales to many who were in need: students, widows and others. And this he did in spite of the fact that he had a life-long fear of ending up in the poor-house himself.
Once when Tolkien and Lewis met a beggar, Lewis gave the man some money. As they walked away Tolkien said to Lewis, "Jack, what did you do that for? You know the man is just going to go and waste that money on drink!" To which Lewis replied: "If I kept the money I would just waste it on drink myself. So what's the difference?"
Of course, C. S. Lewis is not the greatest example of charity. The Son of God was and is.
The Son of God gave up all the riches of heaven, was born into an impoverished human family and was laid in a feeding trough as his crib--just so that you and I might enjoy the riches of heaven.
Not only that--but the Son of God can invade our hearts and lives by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to show the same charity toward others which he demonstrated. In fact, it is only by such an invasion that we can have any real charity at all.
Sunday, October 08 2006
"The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live for ever: and we are asking them to do a quite different job for which they have not been trained." Mere Christianity
I find Lewis's remark about the job of the clergy rather refreshing in the midst of a church and society which pulls the clergy in so many different directions. In some segments of the church the pastor is encouraged to be a political activist. In other branches of the church he or she is pushed to be the C. E. O., building and maintaining a great organization. Yet other parishioners look to the pastor to provide marriage and family counseling. And the list goes on. . . .
Now certainly pastors may engage profitably in any or all of these endeavors. But if any of these activities become the overwhelming focus of pastoral ministry then to that extent the pastor is giving up the one thing he or she can do best--and that is to prepare others to live for eternity.
Jesus' apostles knew this temptation as much as any modern-day member of the clergy. And the apostles show us as clergy how to respond to such temptation:
Perhaps if we clergy would return to a focus on the word of God and prayer, while also raising up other leaders to take on the other important tasks of the church, then we would see the same results as the first church in Jerusalem:
Friday, October 06 2006
"The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right." Mere Christianity
It is true, in a sense, that Jesus did not preach any new morality. There has never been any new morality in the history of humanity. From the beginning of human existence God has created, redeemed and called us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The new things about Jesus are that:
Jesus did not come to give us a new morality. He came to give us new life.
"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
Tuesday, October 03 2006
"Justice means much more than the sort of thing that goes on in law courts. It is the old name for everything we should now call 'fairness'; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life. And Fortitude includes both kinds of courage--the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that 'sticks it' under pain. 'Guts' is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practise any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play." Mere Christianity
I see here another balance I need in my life. I need to have the fortitude to fight for justice for others. I need to pursue a ruthless honesty, keep my promises, always seek to do what is right for other people and put them first. But at the same time, when someone does me wrong or, more likely, when I think they have done me wrong, when I haven't gotten a fair shake, when someone hasn't been honest with me, or kept their promise to me--it is then that I need the fortitude to forgive.
Sunday, October 01 2006
"Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened 'Temperance', it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further." Mere Christianity
Balance . . . it's my wife's favorite word. I have trouble keeping certain things in balance, or practicing temperance in certain areas of my life. Take, for example, eating. I love food, of all kinds! Consequently I often eat too much--more than I need. And eventually I gain weight. I have certainly been overweight, even obese according to the standards of the medical profession.
The real question is: why? Why do I eat too much? I probably use food to make up for other things, or even relationships which I think are lacking in my life. Most of this works at a subconscious level most of the time. But I can actually remember the first time I used food as this sort of psychological comfort. I was, perhaps, five years old. I was on the outs with other kids in the neighborhood, for some reason I do not now remember. I came home in tears. My mother offered me an ice cream sundae. That seemed to fill the gap. I have used the same method of compensation many times since, both consciously and unconsciously.
So how do I get back in balance and live with greater temperance when it comes to eating? Certainly I must start by reducing my food intake. I also need to exercise every day. I have done these things fairly well over the past year and lost fifty pounds--bringing my weight into the proper range for my height. I'm grateful to the Lord for helping me accomplish this. But I know it is only a beginning. Eating right and exercising daily must become a lifelong lifestyle.
I also need to maintain health in other areas of my life--in my human relationships for example--so that I won't be so tempted to use food to fill a relational gap. Most of all, I need to feed daily on Jesus, who said:
I have long loved the following holy sonnet from the pen of John Donne (1572-1631). It may be said as a prayer. And if one changes the last line to read: "Nor ever temperate, except You feed me." then the sonnet ties in directly to today's meditation. Of course, the sexual dimension of life, to which Donne refers, is yet another area where we may be intemperate, unless Christ ravishes us.