Sunday, June 26, 2016

What temptation means

You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

From Mere Christianity, by C S Lewis

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why keep swimming

Why do the majority of Christians doubt the literal existence of the Devil? We’re affected by the pervasive skepticism and disenchantment of our “secular age,” but it’s not just that we’re passively affected by our culture. A lot of us are actively searching for an intellectually honest and respectable faith, a faith that prizes scientific knowledge and literacy. From cutting-edge cosmology to genetics to evolutionary theory to particle physics to neuroscience, Christians want to investigate and enjoy the findings of science and integrate them with faith. But this pursuit, one I heartily approve of as a social scientist, can create tensions and raise hard and difficult questions: How does evolution fit with the book of Genesis? Or neuroscience with the belief in an immortal soul? The pursuit of a scientifically literate faith can move you deeper into doubt and increase the pressures of disenchantment.
Many scientifically literate Christians find it hard to believe in ghosts, and this skepticism affects their beliefs in other supernatural beings— angels, demons, and the Devil. Even belief in God is affected. Across the board in this secular age, doubt haunts belief, which is why many believers are drifting toward agnosticism and atheism. The tide of disenchantment is simply too strong, and faith is swept away. 

Consequently, a large part of being a scientifically engaged and literate Christian is swimming against this tide of doubt and disenchantment, and that’s exhausting. Some days it seems like it would just be easier to stop struggling, to let the tide of disenchantment take you and drift into unbelief. 

So why keep swimming? 

Because the secular age isn’t wholly characterized by disenchantment. Here and there in the secular, we encounter the transcendent, the holy, and the sacred. We encounter beauty and ugliness, love and meaning. We are skeptics, but we are also haunted by the sense that there is something more. 

As [Charles] Taylor describes it, the secular age is characterized by two cross-pressures. On the one hand is the downward pressure of skepticism and disenchantment, where the enchanted world is emptied out and all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings. 

But here and there in this secular age we also experience updrafts of transcendence, a pull toward the heavens. We’re interrupted by wonder and awe. We’re surprised by joy. We experience a deep-seated ache and yearning, a feeling of restlessness, a longing for home. Even in an age of particle physics and brain scans, we still bump into the magic from time to time, still experience the enchantment of the world. We’re skeptical and scientific people, yes, but we’re also haunted by the suspicion that the universe is more than the sum of its subatomic parts. 

Doubting and disenchanted Christians live at the center of these cross-pressures. We are skeptics, but we are also haunted in ways that agnostics or atheists are not. And that haunting keeps us swimming against the tide of disenchantment, keeps us tethered to faith through a restlessness and dissatisfaction with a thoroughly disenchanted world, a world ruled by the iron and deterministic laws of cause-and-effect.

From Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, by Richard Beck. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

If God had willed it....

If God had willed it, each of us might have entered heaven at the moment of conversion. It was not absolutely necessary for our preparation for immortality that we should tarry here. It is possible for a man to be taken to heaven, and to be found meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light, though he has but just believed in Jesus.

It is true that our sanctification is a long and continued process, and we shall not be perfected till we lay aside our bodies and enter within the veil; but nevertheless, had the Lord so willed it, he might have changed us from imperfection to perfection, and have taken us to heaven at once. Why then are we here? Would God keep his children out of paradise a single moment longer than was necessary? Why is the army of the living God still on the battle-field when one charge might give them the victory? Why are his children still wandering hither and thither through a maze, when a solitary word from his lips would bring them into the centre of their hopes in heaven?

The answer is--they are here that they may "live unto the Lord," and may bring others to know his love. We remain on earth as sowers to scatter good seed; as ploughmen to break up the fallow ground; as heralds publishing salvation. We are here as the "salt of the earth," to be a blessing to the world. We are here to glorify Christ in our daily life. We are here as workers for him, and as "workers together with him." Let us see that our life answereth its end. Let us live earnest, useful, holy lives, to "the praise of the glory of his grace." Meanwhile we long to be with him, and daily sing--

"My heart is with him on his throne,
And ill can brook delay;
Each moment listening for the voice,
Rise up, and come away.'"

Charles Spurgeon in Morning and Evening, from the June 10th Morning entry

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Birthday cards from God

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Grief and fear

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called ‘resources.’ People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this ‘commonsense’ vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.

From A Grief Observed by C S Lewis