Lewis: Redefining Happiness & Comfort

C. S. Lewis 3People are always striving to be happy. The problem is the definition of the term. It’s always self-centered and focused on how we feel. As a result, we drift toward the quick and easy, anything that makes us “feel” good. In just two sentences, C. S. Lewis lays bare the barrenness of that approach:

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

The key there is the phrase “while it lasts.” Scripture tells us that sin gives pleasure for a short time, but it ultimately leads to emptiness. The search for the “comfortable” is illusory; what we need is the truth that will challenge us and teach us the real source of happiness, in the process redefining the term. Lewis goes on to say,

As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

That’s because comfort and happiness, as understood by the unrenewed mind, are illusions, pale shadows of what we find in a relationship with God once we have put away our sin and received new eyes. There will be happiness, there will be comfort, far beyond anything we imagine while bound in sin. But it won’t be based on selfishness. We’ll finally comprehend that what the Lord offers us is the real definition of those terms.

Discovering Nelson Mandela

I want to make a few statements right up front today before delving into my topic. First, my intent in this post is not to be arbitrarily contrary or mean-spirited; I always want to write with grace toward a subject whenever possible. Second, as a Christian, I absolutely oppose any policy that divides people by race or that promotes racial superiority. Third, I rejoice whenever a regime built on racial inequality is dismantled.

Why did I think it necessary to make those statements at the start? Well, it’s because I’m not going to be jumping on the world’s bandwagon today in undiluted praise for the life of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson MandelaI understand the horrible circumstances into which Mandela was born in South Africa. Further, I “get it” that someone in those circumstances would find it easy to attach himself to a movement that sought to wreck the system that created apartheid. I also know, especially after my in-depth study of people like Whittaker Chambers, how communism would seem to be the salvation of people trapped in that system. However, I also know the false hope it offers and how it leads its followers into unspeakable atrocities no better than the oppression it wants to overthrow.

Nelson Mandela, in his youth, committed himself to the communist philosophy, but it wasn’t just an intellectual exercise. He actively carried out and/or approved brutal murders in the name of liberation. The African National Congress (ANC) was an effective tool of the Soviet Union to spread the communist vision into South Africa. Keep in mind that, in the name of communism, untold millions have been slaughtered. It has been a pure evil in this world.

Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years for those activities, and no matter how wrong the apartheid policies were, what he sought to replace them with was no better. As I understand it, he was offered release from prison many times if he would only renounce his terrorist actions; he refused.

I’ve tried to read as much about him in the past few days as I could, seeking to find some glimmer of light that would make me feel comfortable with his later life and accomplishments. I’ve particularly been drawn to Christian writers who have tried to provide a Biblical perspective on the man. Yet even those whom I respect seem to fall into line with the near-hero-worship attitude. One even tried to equate Mandela’s actions with George Washington, saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

It’s become fashionable to use Washington and the other Founders of America as examples of terrorists from the British point of view. As an American historian, I can say unconditionally that comparison is askew. There were no mass murders in the American Revolution; the colonists had been self-governing for decades, only to see that taken away; the fighting broke out as a matter of self-defense; there were rules of warfare acknowledged on both sides that kept atrocities to a minimum; the goal was simply the reestablishment of self-government; the inspiration for the majority was Christian faith.

In all my reading about Mandela, I sought to discover if he really changed and became a Christian. The writers all pointed to his lack of retribution toward others when he eventually was elected to lead the government. I certainly applaud that. They talk about his sweet temperament and lack of resentment after being released from prison. Those are usually good indicators of a heart change. I hope Mandela found peace with God through Christ, since that is the only way for peace with God to be achieved.

Yet none of those writers, some of whom strove mightily to claim he was a Christian, could point to any definitive salvation experience or any statement directly from him that revealed his Christian faith. It was all rather vague: if he could lay aside revenge, he must have become a Christian. That’s not enough for me.

Mandela never renounced his admiration for people like Fidel Castro. He never changed his mind about the United States being the most oppressive nation in the world. And as president of South Africa, I learned he signed into law the most permissive abortion policy the world has ever seen. Would a genuine Christian do that?

Mandela Abortions

My reading also uncovered the current state of South Africa post-Mandela: poverty still abounds; murder and rape are at an all-time high, statistics showing that country leading the world in those crimes. And then there’s the abortion policy already mentioned. Is this the utopia we’re supposed to be grateful for? Is this some kind of great improvement on the past?

So please forgive me if I’m not particularly thrilled to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela. I want to be open to further information about him that would put him in a better light, but what I’ve learned thus far has not convinced me that he is—as one commentator declared—the greatest man in history.

Remembering—and Rereading—C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis 5Fifty years ago yesterday, C. S. Lewis, just one week shy of his 65th birthday, slipped into eternity. At the ripe young age of twelve, I was unaware of his death. The whole world was watching the unfolding events surrounding the JFK assassination, so the passing of a university professor whose writings had awakened a generation to the vibrancy of Christianity, went virtually unnoticed.

Lewis himself felt his influence had waned in his later years. Most observers agreed, and they predicted his works would slip into obscurity with him. Both Lewis and those cultural observers were wrong.

I never read any of Lewis’s works until after I was in college. If I remember correctly, the first time I heard him mentioned was in one of my classes, when I inadvertently overheard a conversation between a couple of students sitting in front of me. One girl seemed quite taken with a book of Lewis’s—either The Screwtape Letters or That Hideous Strength [my memory on that point is fuzzy]—and it piqued my interest. Over the next several years, he became one of my favorite writers, as my own faith grew. He obviously has remained so, since I use Saturdays in this daily commentary to draw attention to some of his most poignant quotes and valuable insights.

Lewis is difficult to classify; he was a Christian writer, to be sure, but he was far more. His first writings were anything but Christian, as he emerged from his early education and his WWI experience a convinced atheist. The transformation to orthodox Christianity was not easy, as he struggled with many intellectual objections. Yet with the help of friends like J. R. R. Tolkien—later famous as author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings—he found his way “home.”

He began his academic tenure at Oxford as a philosopher and an aspiring poet. His focus later shifted to English literature, where he earned praise as an original thinker and critic. He used all of that background and training as the basis for his specifically Christian writings. His first foray into that realm was philosophical and apologetic. His very first book as a Christian was titled The Pilgrim’s Regress, a reformulated Pilgrim’s Progress that tackled the many philosophical traps modern man falls into.

C. S. Lewis on TimeFrom there, he ventured into science fiction, with the “Ransom Trilogy”: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Even before completing that series, he gave a series of radio broadcasts on the BBC during WWII that catapulted him into national prominence. Those talks later were edited and bound together as the bestseller Mere Christianity. Simultaneously, his fanciful side more fully emerged with the popular Screwtape Letters, consisting of supposed letters of advice from a senior devil to his junior, instructing him how to lead a man into hell. It has remained one of Lewis’s most admired works, not only for its imaginative approach but also for its practicality as we seek to live the Christian life and avoid the pitfalls Satan places in our path.

One of my personal favorites is a slim volume, The Great Divorce, which explores what it might be like if a busload of hell-dwellers had the opportunity to go to heaven for one day. How might they respond? I’ve never read a more insightful peek into the utter selfishness of man than what I find in this book. Try it; you might like it.

His The Abolition of Man is a magnificent treatise on the absurdity of moral relativism and nihilism. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read that one; I need to get back to it soon. That’s one way to know the value of an author. If you feel compelled to reread, you know you have found a treasure.

One of my favorite Lewis pieces is a sermon he gave called “The Weight of Glory.” His description of how common everyday people should be viewed instead as potential heavenly creatures or potential horrors one would meet only in a nightmare is striking. It makes you see everyone in a distinct, eternal light.

Lewis’s breadth of scope in his works is highlighted of course by The Chronicles of Narnia. They are ostensibly children’s books—and they are—but their appeal extends to adults who want to ensure their own children are immersed in them. The lessons within those books are for all ages, and although the writing style is superb for children, it doesn’t insult the intelligence of their elders. One comes away from those books, particularly, for me, The Last Battle, with a clearer understanding of the temporal nature of our current world and an anticipation for the arrival of the next one, which will be better by far.

I’ve hardly exhausted what could be said about Lewis’s works, both the ones noted above and others. His influence continues. His home nation of Great Britain has been slow to recognize his worth; America seems to have understood and appreciated him more over the decades. Oxford never fully grasped his genius, never promoted him, and many of his supposed colleagues despised him because of his popularity and his disdain for academic politics. Yesterday, though, he finally received his due, in part. He is now honored at Westminster Cathedral with a special tribute in its famed Poets Corner.

C. S. Lewis Memorial

If you haven’t delved into the writings of C. S. Lewis yet, I urge you to do so. If you’re an afficianado of his labors as I am, perhaps it’s time to reread something you haven’t read for some time. He was a man used by God during his life, and even more so since his death. Of course, he lives on still. Read The Last Battle and “The Weight of Glory” to help grasp that truth more clearly than ever.

Lewis: The Dusty vs. the Clean Mirror

Mere ChristianityGod does take the initiative to reach out to us, yet His impact on our lives depends on our willingness to reach back. C. S. Lewis touches on this in his Mere Christianity:

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as a clean one.

Our goal is to be as clean a mirror as possible. Let the Sonlight shine.

Lewis: Look Out! It’s Alive!

In the BeginningThere’s just no getting around the existence of God. The apostle Paul says people have to actively suppress the truth of His presence, and they do so to avoid the idea they are accountable for their actions. One of the psalms says a person has to be a fool to believe there is no God. C. S. Lewis has his own unique way of expressing these Biblical truths. In his book Miracles he declares,

God is basic Fact or Actuality, the source of all other facthood. At all costs therefore He must not be thought of as a featureless generality. If He exists at all, He is the most concrete thing there is, the most individual, “organised and minutely articulated.” He is unspeakable not by being indefinite but by being too definite for the unavoidable vagueness of language.

I like that. He goes further in the same book:

It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity.

An “impersonal God”—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all.

But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps, approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall?

There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God!”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

I’m eternally grateful that God found me. He wasn’t the one who was missing or lost—I was. His existence, His presence, His personalness are not to be avoided but eagerly grabbed onto for dear life. He is life; without Him there is nothing.

The Remedy for Racial Discord

Someday, we may be able to leave the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case behind us. I know I’m tired of it. Yet it depends on whether others are willing to let it go or whether they are more invested in promoting racial disharmony. We are supposed to be citizens of the United States; we should all be identified as Americans. But what do we see? There is a concerted effort to divide us by ethnicity, gender, age, and whatever new category the culture masters deem appropriate. Just look at a typical focus group or discussion panel on television:

Our Panel

It’s becoming nothing short of ridiculous. People are people. Yes, there are cultural differences, but the basic makeup of each person is the same. God created us all in His image: we all have an intellect, emotions, free will, and a conscience. Further, we all have identical needs: love, security, etc. Yet we insist on harping on the differences. For some people, it’s like an industry. That’s why I’ve criticized Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who probably wouldn’t have much of an income without their talent for fomenting discord and promoting grievances. Unfortunately, we’ve now seen that rise to the very top of our government:

 Perhaps One Day

Wake up. We are no longer living in a segregated society. Although pockets of discrimination will always exist, simply because of man’s sinfulness, one of the few improvements since the 1960s has been in the area of race relations and opportunity for all. At least, that was the trend until this administration decided to turn up the heat on racial discord through its statements and the actions of the DOJ.

Let’s keep this in mind: we will never achieve a perfect society; problems between individuals and groups will always be present. Those barriers come down in the proper way only by first acknowledging our common Creator. Real love for others will be manifested only by mirroring the love of God as demonstrated through His Son. Yet with all the new attacks on Biblical Christianity—which should be a redundant description—our future as a nation is uncertain. And any disintegration of Biblical foundations will lead to even worse race relations.

The remedy is simple, but the resistance to it is massive: acknowledge and be ashamed of sin in one’s life, repent of it, and turn to the One who laid down His life to bring reconciliation across the board—with God first, and then with others.

The Christian Response to Zimmerman-Martin

I’ve made pretty clear in my last two posts that I don’t think race had anything to do with the events on the night Trayvon Martin was killed. Yet we are now mired once again in racial tension over the verdict in that trial. America doesn’t need this. We’re already a severely divided nation; this only increases that divide.

Black & White

Unfortunately, there are some who want to foment unrest over the trial’s outcome. One of the premier agitators is the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is calling for massive protests in one hundred cities. He’s also calling for a boycott of Florida, as if all of Florida is responsible for what happened. Does he not realize it was Florida’s government that went forward with the Zimmerman prosecution? He also insists this was a racial thing, despite all the evidence to the contrary—or more correctly, the complete absence of any evidence that points to racism.

Stand My Ground

I’ve watched the Rev. Al for many years. He has been responsible for foisting fraud upon the American people—anyone remember Tawana Brawley? Look it up. His inflammatory rhetoric also incited a mob to riot, leading to one death in the Jewish community in New York City. Now here he is again. Frankly, I don’t mind if Al Sharpton decides to boycott my state of Florida. I would rather he not grace us with his presence.

What has disturbed me most about Sharpton is his title: Rev. I find nothing in his spirit that is consistent with the Holy Spirit. Many use the name of Christian, but their actions belie their words.

How should a genuine Christian—one who seeks to honor the Lord in everything he/she does—respond to what has transpired in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin incident?

First, we need to recognize that God has created only one race, and it’s called “human.” Within that one race is diversity. God likes diversity. He also wants us to judge one another, not on outward features such as skin color, but on inward character. Isn’t that what Martin Luther King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech? This means that all prejudice based on what our society deems as “race,” must be banished from a Christian’s heart.

Second, we all live under, and are responsible to, God’s eternal law. He is always just in his judgments, so we, as His hands, feet, and voice on this earth, must also be just. Any white person who names the name of Christ, yet assumed Zimmerman’s innocence before having any evidence, would be violating God’s standards. Conversely, any black person who claims a Christian testimony, yet assumed Martin was innocent prior to hearing both sides of the story, would also be in violation of God’s justice.

Third, anyone who furthers attitudes of bitterness and resentment—whether white, black, or any shade in between—does not have God’s heart. We are called to do all we can to bring reconciliation, which requires repentance for any wrong attitude. No one can incite others to violence and have any credibility as a Christian.

What we have before us now is an opportunity to show the world that Christians of all colors can unite as one in Christ. I’m a member of a church that is multiracial; everyone is welcome regardless of ethnicity. Why? Because we recognize that we are all sons and daughters of the Most High. We will spend an eternity together, so we might as well get used to one another now. I teach classes comprised of white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students. While I know we all have different backgrounds and cultures, I also know that for those who are true Christians, there is no real divide.

Now is the time for those who have taken up the Cross and committed themselves to discipleship to stand out and be noticed for their love and unity. That’s God’s call to us in these troubled times. We need to be faithful to that call.