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The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: C.S. Lewis (page 1 of 2)

Christianity As Invasion

I first read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity back in 2008, and I really liked it. That has been over a decade ago now, and a lot of things have changed since then. In 2008, I was a fairly recent college graduate, was also still pretty new in youth ministry, and I hadn’t started grad school yet. I had been married for a couple of years, but was not yet a father.

So it had been a long time, and I have changed in significant ways, and I thought it would be good for me to read this classic again. I started it again last week,[1] and I am absolutely blown away with how much I am loving it this time around (I don’t remember liking it this much the first time I read it. Of the many parts that I have loved (maybe I’ll do a full review later), one has been Lewis’s description of Christianity as opposed to Dualism (emphasis added by me):

One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: this is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery.

Mere Christianity, 45-46

I think this is a really helpful and accurate image. Scripture is clear that we are at war—not against flesh and blood, but against evil spiritual forces. As Christians, we establish beachheads on hostile coastlines and expand into the territory of the Enemy, holding the banner of our King.

[1] This time, I am actually “reading” it as an audiobook, and it is read by a British guy. This is outstanding.

Book Review: A Grief Observed

I recently finished reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Basically the book comes from journaling done by Lewis following the death of his wife and the grief he experienced following that event.

One thing that is interesting about the book is that it was written late in Lewis’s own life. To me, that makes his questions and frustrations that much more real, because this is after Lewis was already well-known as a Christian apologist and theologian (i.e. even C.S. Lewis struggled with grief).

I enjoyed this little book because I found it to be very personal and honest in the way it dealt with grief. Lewis didn’t try to explain his grief away or wrap it up in a neat package. This isn’t Lewis’s only book on this topic: The Problem of Pain addresses the issue of suffering in a more general, scholarly, and intellectual way; A Grief Observed is a more specific, personal, and raw treatment of the issue.

Here are some quotations I found to be helpful or insightful:

I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. (10)

Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it? (33)

What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember. (36)

What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist? (43)

You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. (45)

We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on the grand scale, tragic heroes; not just ordinary privates in the huge army of the bereaved, slogging along and making the best of a bad job. (53)

Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. (59)

My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. (66)

I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them. (69-70)

When it comes to grief and grieving, I find that people are very different, and thus, some books “work” better for some people than others. On the whole, I’m not sure if A Grief Observed was a powerful book for me, but I think it would certainly be very beneficial for some who were coping with grief.

Book Review: George MacDonald

George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. I was aware of him primarily because he had a major influence on C.S. Lewis, and in fact, Lewis has said that MacDonald’s writings were instrumental in his acceptance of the Christian faith.

At one point, Lewis compiled an anthology of his favorite excerpts from MacDonald’s works, and that is what this volume is: 365 short readings taken from various books, sermons, and plays, and arranged and edited by Lewis himself.

Below are some of my favorite quotations [with my comments inserted in brackets]. I have included a lot of them because most are very short (and yes, I do realize that some irony is involved in me sharing my favorite quotations from a book which is essentially C.S. Lewis’s favorite quotations):

“For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be; not as they shall be merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them that they might grow to it.” (p.3)

“It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that, in our microcosm, kills the image, the idea of the hated.” (p.7) [This is a helpful perspective: refusing to forgive is truly a premeditated, cold-blooded act. It is soul-destroying.]

“Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.” (p.8) [I think this speaks strongly against the idea that, if we disagree with someone about something, we can’t cooperate with them in any sense, affirm anything they say, or applaud anything they do. I think truth belongs to God, and should be affirmed whenever we hear it, regardless of the source.]

“But it is not the rich man only who is under the dominion of things; they too are slaves who, having no money, are unhappy from the lack of it.” (p.38) [Materialism can crush the rich and poor alike.]

“However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.” (p.64)

“Of all things let us avoid the false refuge of a weary collapse, a hopeless yielding to things as they are. It is the life in us that is discontented: we need more of what is discontented, not more of the cause of its discontent.” (p.70) [I think N.T. Wright would be in full agreement with this!]

“If the Lord were to appear this day in England as once in Palestine, He would not come in the halo of the painters of with that wintry shine of effeminate beauty, of sweet weakness, in which it is their helpless custom to represent Him.” (p.91)

“…Dare I give quarter to what I see to be a lie because my brother believes it?” (p.105)

“While a satisfied justice is an unavoidable eternal event, a satisfied revenge is an eternal impossibility.” (p.121)

“It is not by driving away our brother that we can be alone with God.” (p.127)

“Our human life is often, at best, but an oscillation between the extremes which together make the truth.” (p.134) [So many problems and so many false teachings come about as a form of extremism. Balance is important.]

“Dissociate immortality from the living Immortality, and it is not a thing to be desired.” (p.141) [I think too many people see the primary benefit of eternal salvation as getting to live forever. But I think the Bible is clear that the primary benefit is getting to be with God forever. Without the latter, the former would be a punishment, not a reward.]

“There are those who in their very first seeking of it are nearer to the Kingdom of Heaven than many who have for years believed themselves of it. In the former there is more of the mind of Jesus, and when He calls them they recognize Him at once and go after Him; while the others examine Him from head to foot, and finding Him not sufficiently like the Jesus of their conception, turn their backs and go to church or chapel or chamber to kneel before a vague form mingled of tradition and fancy.” (p.144-45) [Ouch.]

“By obeying one learns how to obey.” (p.154)

“With every morn my life afresh must break the crust of self, gathered about me fresh.” (p.158) [Christianity is about dying to self. Every. Single. Day.]

“A beast does not know that he is a beast, an the nearer a man gets to being a beast the less he knows it.” (p.160)

“We are often unable to tell people what they need to know, because they want to know something else.” (p.168)

On the whole, I enjoyed reading George MacDonald, though the nature of the book meant that the quotations were, necessarily, removed from their fuller context and made for choppy reading if you read it as a regular book (which I did) rather than reading one excerpt per day. I do think it would be a helpful devotional book to read on a daily basis. The readings are short (5-6 words to a page) but powerful, and could do much to properly orient your perspective before you plunge into the world (say, right before you get out of the car when you are at work).

C.S. Lewis on Giving

“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. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them.
–C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity

Does this step on anyone else’s toes a bit? I am convinced that the greatest sin of American Christianity is the way we spend our money.

The Problem of Pain

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, and rather than wait six months to write about a book like I normally do, I thought I’d go ahead and post some brief thoughts.

Compared to some of his other works (Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters), The Problem of Pain really wasn’t my favorite—parts of it are somewhat hard to follow, there’s a semi-weird chapter on animals, to an extent, he seems to undermine the doctrine of the Fall, and he also suggests a Christology that is lower than I am comfortable with.

Nevertheless, it’s still C.S. Lewis, which means that there is a lot of good stuff in The Problem of Pain. Below are some quotations that I particularly enjoyed…

Free will necessitates suffering:

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

(Lewis, p. 25)

On what we wish God was like:

“What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see the young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.”

(p. 31)

One of the more famous C.S. Lewis quotes that I had heard and like before but never knew where it came from is found in The Problem of Pain:

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

(p. 46)

Lewis suggests and then explains what he calls “the humility of God”:

“…It is a poor thing to strike out colors to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had…It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts.”

(pp. 95-96)

Is it suffering of good people the hardest thing to explain? For Lewis, the answer is “no”:

“The sacrifice of Christ is repeated, or re-echoed, among His followers in very varying degrees, from the cruellest martyrdom down to a self-submission of intention whose outward signs have nothing to distinguish them from the ordinary fruits of temperance and ‘sweet reasonableness’. The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”

(p. 104)

On the Christian’s submission of his own will:

“Christian renunciation does not mean stoic ‘Apathy’, but a readiness to prefer God to inferior ends which are in themselves lawful. Hence the Perfect Man brought to Gethsemane a will, and a strong will, to escape suffering and death if such escape were compatible with the Father’s will, combined with a perfect readiness for obedience if it were not.”

(p. 113)

An allusion to the “least of these” passage in Matthew 25 and the ethical implications of following Jesus:

“In the fullest parabolic picture which He gave of the Judgement, Our Lord seems to reduce all virtue to active beneficence: and though it would be misleading to take that one picture in isolation from the Gospel as a whole, it is sufficient to place beyond doubt the basic principles of the social ethics of Christianity.”

(p. 114)

And in reference to the flak that Christians often take for their hope of heaven (I love this quote):

“We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric.”

(p. 149)

Of course, there are other good parts to the book, but the excerpts above at least give a taste of the book’s contents.

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