what i’m reading: the great divorce

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Category : CS Lewis, God, book review, feeding my brain, sharing faith, sin

   

“When is this book going to get good?”

To be honest, I thought CS Lewis was more brilliant than this.  “Am I going to get something that changes the way I think?”

Those were the thoughts running through my head as I read The Great Divorce by CS Lewis.  I kept waiting to find something that would make the effort of reading the book worthwhile.  And the more pages I read the more I began to wonder if I’d ever find anything.

It seemed like the more meaning I struggled to get out of the book, the less I actually found.  But I wasn’t about to be disappointed.  Because a few pages later I found myself shocked and a little bit shamed.  You see The Great Divorce is a story of people who have died and now have one last chance to seek God.  Yet we find almost all of them choosing to hold onto their old lives at the expense of building a relationship with God

Little did I realize that CS Lewis was describing my own condition.

But the more I read, the more I realized that over the last few months I’ve been looking at God more as work and less as my savior.  As much as I love writing, as much as I love reading about him – when you do it full time, it can become work and not joy.  No matter how pure something starts in this world, sin always has the chance to corrupt it.

It’s this theme we see time and again in The Great Divorce.  One exchange involving the Ghost of a mother who had lost her son showed us just how far something pure (like love) can fall.  She was furious that she couldn’t immediately see her son.  And in her fury she couldn’t see that it was her own rage that separated them.  Or as one Angel put it, ”You’re treating God as only a means to [your son]“.

Ouch.

How long have I been using God as a means to my writing?  Do I spend more time writing because I love to write?  Or because I love God?

Of course those are questions that apply to us all.  Do we volunteer because we really want to serve?  Or because we like how it looks on our resume?  Do we help the homeless because we love like God?  Or because we feel guilty?  Do we tell people we don’t believe in God because we really think God doesn’t exist?  Or because it’s easier than saying we love to sin?

When I first became a Christian I couldn’t get enough information about God.  I read my Bible constantly, I surfed blogs, read books, listened to podcasts.  Even my conversations with friend would turn to God.  No matter how much I learned, I wanted to know more.

Somewhere along the way that enthusiasm started to fade, however.

I started to look at learning about God as “studying about God,” a subtle but important shift.  I found myself being less excited and feeling more obligated.  That’s not to say my passion disappeared.  I still spend hours reading and learning about God, but I wasn’t bringing the same excitement to it all.

It’s that contrast that seemed so stark as I was reading The Great Divorce.

I don’t think I am special, unique, odd, or even unusual.  We would all rather be kings in Hell than servants in Heaven.  We are all like the Ghosts in The Great Divorce.  It’s hard to let go of the things that we think make us who we are.  And if we’re not careful, everything we love can be perverted and twisted into something evil.  Just like the mother Ghost.

CS Lewis puts it this way, “every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they have to say about him.”

As you become familiar with the stories of each of the Ghosts you realize that we all have another chance.  No matter what arguments we have, for or against God, we can always ask for another chance.  There is never a moment that lacks hope.  We just have to be willing to give up our throne in Hell.

That’s the cool thing about God.  There’s always a chance to start over.


what i’m reading: Orthodoxy

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Category : barbarian, book review, different, feeding my brain

  

Orthodoxy.

What a strange title for a book.

I mean, it doesn’t sound very revolutionary.  It doesn’t sound very radical.  I’ll admit, it does sound different.  But probably not in a good way.  So what made GK Chesterton call his “autobiography” of faith “Orthodoxy“?

The answer is the same as why R3 focuses on God’s revolutionary, radical, and different nature.  In short, orthodoxy is the most radical thing we can experience – if it’s from God.  Or as Chesterton says, “the orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.” (Orthodoxy, p. 93)

I bet you didn’t expect that when you saw the word “orthodoxy”!  That’s okay.  Neither did I.

But that’s how God works.  He does the unexpected.  Sometimes he works in ways that at first don’t seem oblivious.  And yet when we look back we realize everything made perfect sense.  That’s where I found myself when reading Orthodoxy.  There were just certain things that didn’t make sense about Christianity.

On the one hand the Bible says that we should love our neighbors and be willing to give up our lives for them.  But at the same time we’re told that the world is broken and defective.  That it’s not how it should be.  So why, as Christians, should we work so hard to fix something which can never be fixed?  Wouldn’t it be better to just pick one philosophy and hold to it?

Life would be so much easier if we could just love people without working to fix problems.  And it would be easier still if we could just give up on the world and say, “I don’t care.”  But that’s not where God asks us to be.

So how do you find a balance?

The world’s answer is that we need to find a balance between the two.  That the solution is somewhere in the middle.  That we should love some people, but not everyone.  And that while the world isn’t perfect, it’s not really that bad.

Let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea.  Isn’t compromise a good thing?

But compromise is not the answer Christianity offers.  It says the tension itself is what’s important.  That when you try to create balance what you’re really doing is losing something important.     

That’s why Christianity can say radical things like “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  On the surface it sounds crazy.  How can you separate the two?  Shouldn’t we have some sins that are “bad, but acceptable” (e.g., stealing food because you’re starving), and other sins that are “beyond redemption” (e.g., murder, rape)?

“Christianity came in here as before.  It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another.  It divided the crime from the criminal.” (Orthodoxy, p. 87)

Orthodoxy, when it’s about God, is startlingly revolutionary. 

“The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven.  The crime we must not forgive at all…We must be more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before.”  (Orthodoxy, p. 87)  It’s out of this answer that we find how we’re supposed to live our lives.  And it’s out of this answer I began to understand how Christians can say things that seem so obviously contradictory.

Now when I look back at my questions, I see they aren’t contradictory at all.  I see that we really can hate the sin, but love the sinner because I don’t need to somehow balance them.  Instead they are two things that are fundamentally separate.  And it’s in that “separateness” that we find our answers. 

This is an idea that applies across Christianity and applies to courage, sacrifice, life.  It’s no wonder that an orthodox church doesn’t take a tame course. 

Sometimes we need to know “not only that the earth is round, but [know] exactly where it is flat.” (Orthodoxy, p. 90)