Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

Lewis: Hell’s Operating Principles

Screwtape LettersFor many, their first encounter with C. S. Lewis’s marvelous works is The Screwtape Letters. This witty little book, which consists of letters from a superior devil, Screwtape, to a junior devil, Wormwood, continues to be a bestseller. Why? I think it’s because it captures so well the essence of the sinful heart as it displays not only Screwtape’s advice on how to lead a person into hell, but also the manner in which the inhabitants of hell treat one another—the fact that it is a place where all the deviousness and self-centeredness of sin is in full play.

Lewis explains in his introduction the nature of the hellish operation:

[Hell is] an official society held together entirely by fear and greed. On the surface, manners are normally suave. Rudeness to one’s superiors would obviously be suicidal; rudeness to one’s equals might put them on their guard before you were ready to spring your mine. For of course “Dog eat dog” is the principle of the whole organisation.

Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential report, the pretended alliance, the stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their “tributes” to one another’s invaluable services form a thin crust. Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out.

In other words, hell is merely the logical extension of the evil one sees in men every day, except infinitely worse.

If you haven’t yet read The Screwtape Letters, you should. And if you happen to see yourself in any of Lewis’s depictions, you can thank God you’re still on this side of eternity, and that there’s still time walk away from the deceptions of sin and enter into His righteousness.

Finney: The Ultimate Intention of Our Choices

I’ve often heard people say—and ministers of the Gospel teach—that the motives for our actions can be mixed; that is to say, when we choose to do something, we might do so both for God and for us simultaneously. In other words, our actions are partly holy in intention and partly selfish. Charles Finney disagreed with this formulation. In his Systematic Theology, he explained why:

Finney's Systematic TheologyWhenever a moral being prefers or chooses his own gratification, or his own interest, in preference to a higher good, because it is his own, he chooses it as an end, for its own sake, and as an ultimate end, not designing it as a means of promoting any other and higher end, nor because it is a part of universal good.

Every sin, then, consists in an act of will. It consists in preferring self-gratification, or self-interest, to the authority of God, the glory of God, and the good of the universe. It is, therefore, and must be, a supreme choice, or intention.

Sin and holiness, then, both consist in supreme, ultimate, and opposite choices, or intentions, and cannot by any possibility, coexist. . . .

Now, whatever complexity there may have been in the considerations that led the way to this choice or intention, it is self-evident that the intention must be one, simple, and indivisible. . . .

Holiness, then, must always consist in singleness of eye or intention.

Examine MotivesI think we sometimes fool ourselves into believing we have done something “good enough” because at least “part” of our motive was for God’s glory, when, in fact, we can never have a truly mixed motive. As Finney said, we confuse the concept of mixed motive with all the considerations that ran through our mind before making our decision. But when that decision is made, it is either for God or for ourselves.

There’s nothing wrong with a regular examination of our motives. It is a requirement for the Christian life.

Lewis: The Self-Centeredness of Hell

C. S. Lewis 4Modern man doesn’t like to talk much about hell, unless it’s in some fanciful movie creation where one doesn’t have to worry about its reality. The reason we avoid thinking about the possibility of hell can be traced back to our similar reluctance to consider seriously our sinfulness. And what bothers us the most, I believe, about the idea of sin is that we know the root of it is our self-centeredness. We like being self-focused; we feel justified in rationalizing our selfishness. So hell, sin, and selfishness are a package. C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, deals with this package:

Though our Lord often speaks of Hell as a sentence inflicted by a tribunal, He also says elsewhere that the judgment consists in the very fact that men prefer darkness to light, and that not He, but His “word,” judges men.

We are therefore at liberty—since the two conceptions, in the long run, mean the same thing—to think of this bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is. The characteristic of lost souls is “their rejection of everything that is not simply themselves.”

HellWhatever we are in this life—our character, reactions, etc.—won’t be magically changed in the next. If we are unreconstructed sinners, devoted to our selfish ambitions, that trait will only be magnified once we are forever separated from any hope of the Divine. Lewis, in his preface to The Screwtape Letters, tells us how he perceives it:

We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.

Perhaps hell is only a constantly burning fire, but Lewis’s description captures what will accompany that eternal fire. There will be no repentance, no tears of remorse, but only a deeper degree of the selfishness that never was dealt with in this life. That, in itself, would truly be a hell.

Lewis: Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

The Great DivorceOne of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthy choice will go with us into eternity.

Lewis: Made for Another World

Mere ChristianityWe are earthbound creatures. We are transfixed on what we see around us. C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, reminds us that we are meant for a fuller existence, and that there is a reality we cannot see fully now, but if submitted to God and His will, forgiven of our sins and living righteously, we will see it. He also deals with a common misconception:

Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven”  means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.

Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. . . .

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

I’ll just simply add “amen.”

Snyderian Truism #12

The word “compromise” can give off both positive and negative vibes. Is it a good word or one to avoid? Well, the answer is “yes.” What do I mean? It depends on the particular compromise. Here’s how I try to encapsulate it in one pithy statement:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

Constituitonal ConventionThis comes up when I teach about the Constitutional Convention. At one point, the Convention was locked in a disagreement that threatened to bring an end to the attempt to write a new constitution. Large states said that since they had more people, representation in the new government should be based on population. Smaller states responded that if population were the basis for representation, they would always be outvoted and their interests never taken into consideration.

Which position was more correct? Which one was more valid?

I ask my students those questions and then have them vote for which position they support. The vote is always divided. Why? Because both positions make valid points. Yes, states with more population should have a greater say in lawmaking. Yet it would be unfair for smaller states to always be in the minority and lose every vote. That kind of domination would lead to constant friction and resentment.

It was at this juncture at the Convention where a compromise was reached: the delegates decided to have a two-chamber legislature—the House of Representatives based on population and the Senate with an equal vote for each state.

This was a principled compromise. Both sides had good reasons for their positions, and the compromise allowed both to be achieved, providing a balance of the two.

If a compromise, however, throws out a principle, then it should be rejected. For instance, Obamacare’s supposed accommodation for religious liberty doesn’t recognize the basic principle that government cannot override religious beliefs and force people to abandon their beliefs to achieve the government’s objectives. All such “compromises” need to be opposed.

CompromiseThere are some Christians who don’t grasp the essential nature of a principled compromise. Take abortion, for instance. I believe it should be banned totally. Some who agree with me on that have stated they can never support any law that doesn’t go the entire distance and ban all abortions. They say to settle for anything less would be unrighteous. I disagree. If a law reduces the number of abortions, it’s a law trending in the right direction. More lives will be saved with such a law; we will be closer to the ideal of our principle. We will have made progress. Therefore, I would support any law that lessens abortion’s hold on our nation.

The line is not always as easy to find, and there are instances when honest and conscientious people may come to different conclusions as to what they can support. Yet I believe it is a truism that we can achieve principled compromises, and we should seek them actively.

Lewis: The Nature of Heaven

There have been many attempts to describe heaven. All undoubtedly fall short of the reality. We also have some misconceptions about the nature of the afterlife—although that term “afterlife” is a misconception in itself because that’s when life truly begins. C. S. Lewis addresses this in Mere Christianity:

I Cor. 2-9There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.”

The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. . . .

People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Heaven will not disappoint. Of that I am certain. How can the very presence of the One who gives life meaning be a disappointment? Lewis also notes that it’s just fine to desire heaven. As he explains in The Problem of Pain,

We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested [i.e., unselfish]. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.

Those who have never humbled themselves before God would find heaven to be hell because it admits no one who lives for self. It’s made only for those who seek God’s face and rejoice to be with Him.