Lewis & the Public Square (Part 4)

CSL FoundationHere’s the final excerpt from my paper (which I presented yesterday) at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference. Lewis argues for standing on absolute truth in our interactions with the society around us. He also notes that we are to be faithful regardless of whether we are ultimately successful in our efforts to keep a society from self-destruction.

Lewis’s prescription for direct political involvement was the practical side of his approach, but it wasn’t pure pragmatism. All attempts to influence the public square had to be based on God’s absolute moral requirements.

In response to the hypothetical question as to whether some kind of permanent moral standard would stand in the way of progress, Lewis replied that without such a standard, no one would be able to measure progress. “If good is a fixed point,” he argued, “it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede.” Absolute moral standards for society are society’s only hope, he concluded.

TruthUnless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. . . . If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion.

While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill.

“Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

Just how optimistic was Lewis that Christians taking up the challenge of the public square would make any real difference? In an address given at his own Magdalen College during World War II, Lewis dealt with the question of the futility of human endeavor. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that we, as Christians, do our duty, regardless of the success or failure of our efforts.

“I am not for one moment trying to suggest that this long-term futility provides any ground for diminishing our efforts to make human life, while it lasts, less painful and less unfair than it has been up to date,” he insisted.

FaithfulnessThen drawing on an illustration, he continued, “The fact that the ship is sinking is no reason for allowing her to be a floating hell while she still floats. Indeed, there is a certain fine irony in the idea of keeping the ship very punctiliously in good order up to the very moment at which she goes down.” If we are living in a world that is sinking, we nevertheless have an obligation to make it less of a hell than it would be without our influence.

He concluded, “If the universe is shameless and idiotic, that is no reason why we should imitate it. Well brought up people have always regarded the tumbril and the scaffold as places for one’s best clothes and best manners.”

As long as a public square exists and Christians are not banned from it, the responsibility to speak out for truth remains. If the Christian worldview and the morality that naturally emanates from it is rejected by the society at large, Christians must remain faithful to God’s command to be His voice, even if the world attempts to drown out that voice.

Christians & Politics: Cynicism or Faithfulness?

For years I have been trying to encourage political participation—or at least political awareness—among Christians. While there are many who have seen the light on this, some still remain on the sidelines, allowing what once was a drift in the wrong direction to turn into a tsunami.

Sometimes, I hear the refrain that it makes no difference, all politicians are the same, so there’s no point in trying. I must admit, when one surveys the political field, it can be discouraging.

For instance, we have a president who has one solution for everything, an idea he has had since his tutelage by a communist mentor as a young man:

Young Obama

The one who wants to replace him on the Democrat side has, shall we say, a problem with honesty and integrity (along with truly wrongheaded policies):

Trouble Believing

The bureaucracy at the federal level often makes bewildering decisions:

Water on Mars

And the other party, the one that’s supposed to be the counterweight to those who seek to subvert the Constitution and the rule of law, is infested with far too many members more concerned with their public image than principle:

A Little Pushy

So, yes, I understand why people can become cynical and think nothing they do can make a difference. The only problem with that thinking, though, as a Christian, is that it is a faithless position to take.

If you want to guarantee that things get worse, stay on the sidelines and do nothing. But the Gospel I believe in, and the God of that Gospel, tells us to make disciples of all nations. He also tells us to be light and salt in a society. If we give in to a kind of fatalism for our future, we act against the very commands we have been given.

God doesn’t promise that we will win every battle, but He does want to see warriors on the field, doing their best as they take their orders from Him. The question in our minds ought to be the one asked by Jesus Himself when He queried, “When the Son of Man comes [back], will He find faith on the earth”?

I want to be found faithful. How about you?

There Are Days

There are days when I don’t want to write a blog.

There are days when I wonder why any of us care to try to make a difference in this world.

There are days when I am so sick of the hypocrisy in our culture that I have to fight cynicism in my own heart.

There are days when racial wranglings and the bitterness and resentments that flow from them make me ill.

There are days when I despair that the utter selfishness/sin that creates all our problems will run rampant.

There are days when I am so upset over the unwillingness of people to take personal responsibility for their actions that I fear we are staring into the abyss.

There are days when I am frustrated to the point of wanting to scream at Christians who fall for unbiblical positions on the crucial issues before us: abortion, sexuality, loss of religious liberty, the overreach of government.

There are days when I want to just walk away from it all and let the world go up in flames without my saying another word.

Then I remember these words: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

There are days, more than the ones I’ve just catalogued—thankfully—when I choose to continue with God’s calling on my life.

He has called me to be faithful. I will obey, out of love for Him and out of gratitude for lifting me out of my own personal pit. Now I must help others out of their pits as well, no matter how thankless or unfruitful my efforts may sometimes seem to be.

May you also remain faithful to His calling for you.

Lewis: Faithful Correspondent

Collected Letter of LewisIt’s been both a revelation and a joy to be able to sit in my study and systematically go through C. S. Lewis’s collected letters, concentrating on the correspondence he had with Americans. He became quite personal with a good number of regular correspondents, sharing tidbits of his life and offering whatever advice he could when they asked questions regarding the Christian life.

One of those letters, from January 1954, may provide a perfect example of how he combined the personal with the wisdom God gave him. He had a correspondent simply known as Mrs. D. Jessup, on whom there is apparently little information. All I can say about her is that she lived in a town called Rye, New York, and in this particular response to her, Lewis was guiding her through a time of suffering. Here’s what he wrote to her:

C. S. Lewis 2I don’t know whether anything an outsider can say is much use; and you know already the things we have been taught—that suffering can (but oh!, with what difficulty) be offered to God as our part in the whole redemptive suffering of the world beginning with Christ’s own suffering: that suffering by itself does not fester or poison, but resentment does; that sufferings which (heaven knows) fell on us without and against our will can be so taken that they are as saving and purifying as the voluntary sufferings of martyrs & ascetics.

And it is all true, and it is so hard to go on believing it. Especially as the dark time in which you are now entering (I’ve tried it; my own life really begins with my Mother’s illness & death from cancer when I was about 9) is split up into so many minor horrors and fears and upsets, some of them trivial & prosaic.

May God support you. Keep a firm hold of the Cross. And try to keep clear of the modern fancy that all this is abnormal & that you have been singled out for something outrageous. For no one escapes. We are all driven into the front line to be sorted sooner or later.

To me, it’s nearly unbelievable that Lewis would take so much time out of each day to write these letters. He sometimes complained of the need for so many responses, yet he felt the urging from God to be faithful; it was a vital part of his ministry. Reading them now, I am grateful that he chose faithfulness. He has given us a model to follow. May we exhibit such faithfulness, so those who follow us will have models as well.