Monday, July 24, 2017

Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

How much of myself must I give?
The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as a starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else – call it “morality” or “decent behaviour,” or “the good of society” – has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by “being good” is giving in to these claims. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call “wrong:” well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call “right:” well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point.

Giving up or becoming unhappy
As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, “live for others” but always in a discontented, grumbling way – always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that, you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish.

Harder and easier
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

Both harder and easier than what we are all trying to do. You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, “Take up your Cross”—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, "My yoke is easy and my burden light." He means both. And one can just see why both are true.

The almost impossible thing
…The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centred on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. 

And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As he said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

From C S Lewis's Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 8, first published in Great Britain by Geoffrey Bles 1952, © C.S. Lewis Pre Ltd 1942

Friday, July 21, 2017

The old rattle-trap

C S Lewis to MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE: On the resurrection of the body and of all creation; and on the goodness of the bodies we now have.26 November 1962

My stuff about animals came long ago in The Problem of Pain. I ventured the supposal—it could be nothing more—that as we are raised in Christ, so at least some animals are raised in us. Who knows, indeed, but that a great deal even of the inanimate creation is raised in the redeemed souls who have, during this life, taken its beauty into themselves? That may be the way in which the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ are formed. Of course we can only guess and wonder.

But these particular guesses arise in me, I trust, from taking seriously the resurrection of the body: a doctrine which now-a- days is very soft pedalled by nearly all the faithful—to our great impoverishment. Not that you and I have now much reason to rejoice in having bodies! Like old automobiles, aren’t they? where all sorts of apparently different things keep going wrong, but what they add up to is the plain fact that the machine is wearing out. Well, it was not meant to last forever.

Still, I have a kindly feeling for the old rattle-trap. Through it God showed me that whole side of His beauty which is embodied in colour, sound, smell and size. No doubt it has often led me astray: but not half so often, I suspect, as my soul has led it astray. For the spiritual evils which we share with the devils (pride, spite) are far worse than what we share with the beasts: and sensuality really arises more from the imagination than from the appetites: which, if left merely to their own animal strength, and not elaborated by our imagination, would be fairly easily managed. But this is turning into a sermon!

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Over the power of death

The power to discern God’s presence in common life is imparted when one becomes a Christian, an event in which the power of the Word of God in one’s own personal history is manifest over and over against the power of death. Then and thereafter the Christian lives in any and all events in reliance upon the presence of the Word of God. Then and thereafter the Christian lives to confront others, whatever their afflictions, with the news of God’s care for the world. Then and thereafter the threat of our own eventual historic death holds no fear for us, for there is nothing which we will on that day experience which we have not already foretasted in the event of becoming a Christian, in the event of our surrender to the power of death and of our being saved from that power by the presence of God. Then and thereafter we are free from the most elementary and universal bondage of humanity: the struggle to maintain and preserve, whatever the cost, our own existence against that of all others. Then and thereafter are we free to give our present life away, since our life is secure in the life of God.

William Stringfellow: A Private and Public Faith, pg 66, quoted in The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Couple of quotes from Gilead

A couple of quotes from Marilynne Robinson's wonderful book, Gilead, as noted by Mark O'Connell, in an article in The New Yorker

The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.


In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Poetry says more...

‘… the Kingdom of God, which is not solely of this world, is slowly coming closer to being more clearly figured in this world … we who are not saints are caught up, not by God but by the logic of our choosing to delay sainthood, in a combat we keep thinking is new (or even Modern) because of the novel shapes and pressures it keeps presenting, a physiognomic struggle between those who somehow accept grace and those who bear the distorting strain of trying to block it off, to act without it or against it. This, I think, rather than the usual superficial divisions between Right and Left, Black and White, religious and irreligious etc, is where the real lines are drawn … But when I come to meditate on topics such as grace, I don’t finally trust myself to talk about them in prose. For the important stuff, I need the help of my own medium of poetry, which can say more things’. 

Les A. Murray in A Working Forest: Selected Prose
(Sydney: Duffy & Snellgrove, 1997), 146–7.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

All callings are precious to God

Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.  1 Corinthians 7:20
Charles H. Spurgeon

Some persons have the foolish notion that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, or Bible women. Alas! how many would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God.

God is most surely glorified in that cobbler's stall, where the godly worker, as he plies the awl, sings of the Saviour's love, aye, glorified far more than in many a prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by the poor unlearned carter as he drives his horse, and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow labourer by the roadside, as much as by the popular divine who, throughout the country, like Boanerges, is thundering out the gospel.

God is glorified by our serving him in our proper vocations. Take care, dear reader, that you do not forsake the path of duty by leaving your occupation, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it. Think little of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings.

Every lawful trade may be sanctified by the gospel to noblest ends. Turn to the Bible, and you will find the most menial forms of labour connected either with most daring deeds of faith, or with persons whose lives have been illustrious for holiness. Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that he calls you to something else.

Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to his praise, and if he needs you in another he will show it you. This evening lay aside vexatious ambition, and embrace peaceful content.

From Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional, for the 27th June