Life Has Never Been Normal: Lewis on War

World War I devastated Europe and decimated the male populations of Britain and France. C. S. Lewis served in that war, even though, having grown up in Northern Ireland, he wasn’t required to do so. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he doesn’t spend a lot of time describing his wartime experience, but what he does relate is striking:

The war—the frights, the cold, . . . the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet—all this shows rarely and faintly in memory.

It is too cut off from the rest of my experience and often seems to have happened to someone else. It is even in a way unimportant.

How can anyone have seen what Lewis saw and yet say that it was, in a way, unimportant?

He published his autobiography in the mid-1950s; prior to that, he had laid out his philosophy of the significance of war in an essay called “Learning in War-Time,” spurred on by those who thought the intellectual activities of the universities should cease during such a harrowing time. Lewis disagreed and offered this perspective:

War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.

If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.”

Life has never been normal.

I remember the first time I read that. It struck a chord deep within me. I, along with probably most of humanity, yearn for the normal. Yet what is ever really normal? We have in our minds the concept of normal (always peaceful, never disturbed by trials and tribulations, unceasing happiness—or at the very least, the avoidance of any genuine pain). Yet how often is that the case?

Lewis continues in that essay with a thought that is so commonsensical that it shouldn’t shock us, but the way he states it does give a jolt:

What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent: 100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. . . .

Does it increase our chances of painful death? I doubt it. . . . Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstances would?

As we’re told in the book of Hebrews, we all have an appointment with death, it will happen only once, and afterward we face judgment before the Throne.

A few years after writing that essay, Lewis gave the world The Screwtape Letters and, in a different format, made the same argument. Screwtape scolds his trainee, Wormwood, for being so delighted that men have started another war. There is a danger to satanic plans in the midst of war, he warns him:

How disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In war-time not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

Screwtape, of course, is referring to living forever in this world. By God’s grace, though, we will live forever in the new heaven and new earth.

In the meantime, though, it would be best for us to take to heart that life has never been normal, is not now normal, and we will not awake tomorrow to the kind of normality our flesh seeks. Yet, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide and Helper, we can navigate this absence of normality (as we define it) and see God’s hand at work in all the abnormality we must face day by day.

Socialism/Limited Government Forum

In October I presented at a forum held at Southeastern University. The topic under debate was whether the Biblical worldview promotes a more limited government perspective or the socialist view. Incorporated into that was also the difference between socialism and free-market capitalism.

It was an opportunity for me to express my Biblical basis for what I believe about these issues.

Another SEU professor, Jason Old, took the viewpoint opposite to mine. I think we held a civil discussion even while disagreeing nearly 100% on everything. On how many college campuses does that happen anymore?

We called the forum “God, Man, and the State: Socialism or Limited Government?”

The video for that forum is now available, and you can go to it right here.

Prof. Old begins with a 20-minute presentation; I follow with my 20 minutes. After that, we both get another 5 minutes to respond to what the other presented, then it’s opened up to the audience for questions.

The room was packed—not only the 125 seats were filled, but people were standing in the back and sitting on the steps.

While I encourage you to watch it all (it’s just over an hour), if you would like to jump ahead to my comments, I begin at the 23:45 mark.

I hope this forum/discussion will be edifying for you.

A Line That Should Not Be Crossed

Because I take Scripture seriously and consider it God’s direct Word to me for my life, I cannot ignore what I find in 1 Timothy, chapter 2:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I have to acknowledge, though, that this instruction is not easy for me. It’s not that I don’t want to pray for those in authority; I certainly want a tranquil and quiet life; and I have the same desire mentioned here that all would come to the knowledge of the truth.

What I seem to be lacking, if I may be completely open, is a solid hope that some of those I’m supposed to pray for can be spiritually awakened.

Have you ever felt that way?

What if, I tell myself, the one I’m supposed to pray for is so old and set in his ways—ways that are manifestly and overwhelming self-centered—that it would be a miracle for him to change?

What if the one in authority is so bound by an anti-Christian ideology that his policies aim to undermine Christian faith and practice, and that any change in that ideology is highly unlikely?

Those last two examples, in case you haven’t made the connection, relate to our current and previous president.

Yes, I know what God requires. Sometimes I do pray for them, but not as much as I should. I guess I lack faith that it will do any good.

What a horrible admission.

Yet the requirement remains nevertheless, and I will do my best to obey.

A distinction must be made, however. Sincerely praying for someone in authority who is not grounded in the truth and whose attitudes and actions are often contrary to godliness is not the same as becoming an apologist for that person no matter what he does.

There is a line that should not be crossed, but I’m seeing many of my Christian brothers and sisters crossing that line continually.

Whenever we excuse sin or whenever we torture Scripture to make ungodliness seem acceptable, we fail in our Christian witness to the world.

Whenever we shut our eyes and ears to facts, we align ourselves with dishonesty and falsehoods—and that is never the Christian thing to do.

He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. . . .

The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18: 13, 17

We need to check our hearts. Do we automatically assume innocence for our “side” in a controversy and immediately ascribe evil motives to others? Do we find it too easy to accept a vast conspiracy as an explanation for charges we don’t want to believe but cannot bring ourselves to investigate honestly whether certain accusations might be true?

God calls us to honesty and integrity. He will settle for nothing less because He is the very essence of honesty and integrity. It’s well past time that we align ourselves with Him.

Evangelicals, Morality, & Politics

I came across a new poll yesterday that I wish could have surprised me more than it did. It’s only one poll, but, sadly, it mirrors what I have been observing in recent years, especially since the last presidential campaign. It’s about people like me: white evangelicals. Here’s what it shows:

I can hear the response already: well, God can use people in public office who are not Christians. I agree. He can. But please show me any Scripture that encourages Christians to actively promote ungodly, immoral people as our political leaders.

My greatest concern is not for our national politics; rather, it’s for the witness we are supposed to be to the world. We are supposed to be the salt that preserves what is righteous and good. We are supposed to be lights that reveal the path God wants all to follow.

I’ll just let the apostle Paul end my blog today. Chapter 5 of Ephesians says what I think we need to hear:

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. . . .

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

But all things become visible when they are exposed to the light. . . .

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.

Communicating Truth: A Lewis Exhortation

“You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular,” exhorted C. S. Lewis in an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics.” He admitted this could be “very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential.”

Theologians, he believed, had a tendency to write in an obscure way. In the same vein, many pastors may try to impress their congregations with high-flown, little-understood phrases that leave the listeners spiritually cold.

Lewis therefore challenged those who are called to preach the gospel to put it in the language of everyday people. Not only would it communicate better with them, but “it is also of the greatest service to your own thought.”

I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.

Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination.

The driving force behind Lewis’s exhortation was that communication of God’s Good News is the most significant message imaginable; therefore, it requires clarity of expression.

Later in that same essay, he emphasizes the necessity of pressing upon an audience (whether of one or of many) that the Christian faith must be presented from the proper foundation:

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “True—or False.” . . .

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us who have been given the charge to be communicators of God’s Truth to do so in a way that people can really grasp its importance.

Virginia: A Trump Referendum?

There’s no way to sugarcoat for Republicans the results of Tuesday’s elections, especially in Virginia, where prognosticators thought the governor’s race would be close. It wasn’t. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie lost by 9 points to Democrat Ralph Northam.

It’s difficult to argue that the fault lies wholly with Gillespie when the results were the same down ballot also. The lieutenant governor and attorney general races were also Democrat victories. The most stunning outcome is that a House of Delegates, which Republicans controlled with a super-majority, is now likely to reverse course and be controlled by Democrats—a few races are still too close to call, but even if Republicans retain a majority, the margin will be slim.

New Jersey’s elections were also Democrat gains, as Gov. Chris Christie has become increasingly unpopular in the past few years.

Back to Virginia. Polling shows that of those who voted, 17% were voting because they ardently supported Donald Trump, but nearly double the number, 33%, voted for exactly the opposite reason: they ardently opposed Trump.

You can’t have that kind of disparity and expect a good outcome for Republicans. Most commentators I’ve read see what happened in Virginia not only as a referendum on President Trump but a harbinger of what might await Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.

It’s conceivable that they could lose control of both houses of Congress in 2018. The more vulnerable house is the Senate, and if that goes Democrat, all who were hoping for a reworking of the Supreme Court will see their hopes dashed. No Democrat Senate is going to confirm a solid conservative constitutionalist to the Court.

Trump will continue to nominate should vacancies occur, but I predict that, because he will want to be perceived as a winner, he will abandon the quest to find good conservatives and will instead promote nominees acceptable to Democrats. That’s what happens when someone without principles is awarded the authority of the presidency.

I do believe this last election was a referendum on Trump, and it is a warning. Personally, I wish Republicans had heeded all the warnings many of us gave during the Republican primaries in 2016, but nothing can be done about that now.

Trump’s character, more than his policies, is what turns many people off. Consider his response to Gillespie’s defeat. Immediately he jumped on Twitter to make it clear that it wasn’t his [Trump’s] fault. Gillespie lost, proclaimed Trump, because he didn’t tie himself closely enough to the president.

Massive ego can never admit fault.

All indicators are that Gillespie would have come much closer, perhaps might have won, without the albatross of the Trump presidency around his political neck.

Some angry Trump supporters are saying that Republicans who are not enamored of Trump are happy with the Virginia results. Well, I know that’s not true for me. I can never be happy with a turn of events that allows the Democrat agenda to advance.

My sincere hope is that Republicans can regroup and offer real solutions so that the electorate sees the folly of following the Democrat vision. The next two years will determine whether they are up to the task.

A Tale of Evil, Incompetence, & Heroism

Few people who go to church on Sunday expect to encounter mass murder. We think we are in a safe place. Yet sin abounds, and there is no place that is 100% safe. Last Sunday, a presumably safe place in a small Texas church turned into a scene of terror.

Details are now emerging about that killing spree. We see a combination of evil, incompetence, and, as we more recently found out, heroism.

The evil was in the heart of the perpetrator, Devin Kelley. We now know that he was a wife and child abuser, more than once. While in the Air Force, his actions of domestic abuse landed him in confinement for a year and he received a bad conduct discharge.

The incompetence focuses on the Air Force, which somehow forgot to enter his name into the National Criminal Information Center database, which would have disallowed him from purchasing guns.

Kelley was also an outspoken atheist, ranting against God and Christians on Facebook.

In a press conference yesterday, it was revealed that Kelley had a dispute with his mother-in-law who goes to that church, so the official claimed Kelley’s actions had nothing to do with religion; it was simply a domestic issue.

If that’s all this was, why try to kill everyone in the church?

No, this is deeper. This is rebellion against God and everything the Christian faith stands for. Kelley hated Christians, with his mother-in-law representing an outlet for his hatred.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper recorded in John 15 come to mind:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. . . . All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

Christians have been and are persecuted and attacked worldwide. We’re only now coming to grips with what might happen in America in the future. We’ve felt “safe,” but that safe feeling may be ending.

I mentioned heroism. It turns out that a neighbor heard the gunshots, grabbed his gun, and engaged Kelley, wounding him. He then followed Kelley all the way to the place where he apparently committed suicide by ramming his vehicle and overturning it.

The man who confronted Kelley, Stephen Willeford, is a former NRA instructor. Contrary to what some might think, that means he trained people to use guns wisely and carefully. He followed his own advice. And because of that Second Amendment right, more lives probably were saved.

Willeford says he’s no hero: “I think my God … protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done.”

That kind of humility and dependence on God is actually a mark of genuine heroism, the kind God rewards.