Wednesday, August 30 2006
"We all know what it feels like to be prompted by instinct--by mother love, or sexual instinct, or the instinct for food. It means that you feel a strong want or desire to act in a certain way. And, of course, we sometimes do feel just that sort of desire to help another person: and no doubt that desire is due to the herd instinct. But feeling a desire to help is quite different from feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not." Mere Christianity
There are certain things which come naturally to me. Lewis mentions three of them: protecting my children, having sex and eating!
First of all, there is my parental instinct. It is amazing how my life changed once I became a father. The moment my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child I began to re-orient my life around providing for that child. I had this overwhelming, gut-level sense of responsibility. If anything or anyone threatened my children at any time I'm sure I would do my very best to defend my children and ward off any threat.
But my parental instinct doesn't keep me from being selfish. For instance, while I was writing this blog one of my sons came in the room and started talking to me. I told him that I was working and needed to be left alone. I had MY thing to do--and that thing came first!
Then there is my sexual instinct. This instinct has led to certain good things . . . three of them currently live in my house, and they are ages 13, 11 and 7. But if I gave this instinct its head I could probably populate whole villages . . . or become totally absorbed in myself . . . or become obsessed with the sexual aspects of the human body. Obviously this is an instinct which must be reigned in, hemmed around on all sides, channeled in the right direction.
Thirdly there is my instinct to eat. Like the other two instincts this one can lead to good; it has preserved my life for one thing. But my problem is eating in moderation. I have struggled with this my whole life, sometimes winning, often times desperately losing.
The interesting thing about the Moral Law, which I know I should obey, is that its goals are so far beyond what any of these instincts would lead me to do. Channeled in the right way, held in check at times, these instincts can help me to achieve some of the Law. But more often than not these instincts lead me to live in conflict with the Law. And there are some things my instincts would never lead me to do . . . like loving God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.
The situation is as the Lord says in Isaiah 55:8-9,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
The only way I can think God's thoughts and fully follow God's ways is to have the One who is the way, the truth and the life thinking and acting and living in and through me. And so my prayer is that of the hymn writer Kate Wilkinson:
Tuesday, August 29 2006
"These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in." Mere Christianity
The Apostle Paul summed up Lewis's point almost 2000 years ago: "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7:15
New Testament scholars have debated ever since: Is Paul talking about his life before he met Christ? After he met Christ? Is Romans 7 even autobiographical at all?
However we answer these questions the basic truth is still the same, for Christians and non-Christians. We all have this "curious idea", as Lewis calls it, that we should behave in a certain way, but we don't obey the law we know in our own hearts. Even when we try hard to obey that law, we fail, at least some of the time, if not most of the time.
It's frustrating isn't it? The seeming impossibility of reaching moral perfection makes us want to give up trying to attain it. And we wonder: is there any way out of this overwhelming sense of defeat? We confess with Paul: What wretched people we are! And we ask: Who will rescue us from this dead-end life, this no-win situation?
Jesus is the way out. He is the only one who can rescue us. As Lewis points out later on in Mere Christianity: Jesus is the only perfectly repentant human being. Jesus alone can work that repentance in us. Our sin is, in fact, nailed to the cross, and Jesus' righteousness is available in return -- if we will simply receive it.
And receive it we must, every day. For we do continue to fail--even as Christians. But over the long haul with Christ--we can make forward progress . . . one step at a time.
In a letter to a friend written on 20 January 1942 C. S. Lewis wrote:
"I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence."
Have you fallen lately? Noticed the dirt all over you when getting up? Never mind. Just keep on keeping on . . . with Christ . . . in Christ. By his grace you will reach home one day.