Jesus & Anxiety: A Lewis Primer

Letters to MalcolmAnother C. S. Lewis book that I read recently—for the first time—is Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. One section speaks directly to me with respect to a hard time I’m going through at the moment.

We would like the world to be predictable, something we can manage according to our expectations. Lewis says we have to lay that expectation aside:

But is it not plain that this predictable world . . . is not the world we live in? This is a world of bets and insurance policies, of hopes and anxieties, where “nothing is certain but the unexpected” and prudence lies in “the masterly administration of the unforeseen.”

Nearly all the things people pray about are unpredictable: the result of a battle or an operation, the losing or getting of a job, the reciprocation of a love. We don’t pray about eclipses.

Therefore, despite our faith, we can’t avoid the potential anxieties life throws at us. Lewis seeks, though, to distinguish between anxiety and sin:

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.

Jesus in GethsemaneJesus, Lewis reminds us, had to suffer anxiety in order to be fully human. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the crucifixion, held the hope, however slim, that He might not have to go through with it:

Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope—of suspense, anxiety—were at the last moment loosed upon Him—the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror.

If Jesus hadn’t sweat blood in the Garden, “perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.”

Lewis concludes these thoughts with this:

We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God’s will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect Man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.

Who am I to think that I should be allowed a lifetime full of completely manageable, totally predictable moments? That expectation would place me above my Master.

I like Lewis’s final sentence very much. The Stoics attempted to glide through life unaffected by anything bad that happened. They sought to so completely control their emotions that nothing bothered them. That is unrealistic.

Christians should not expect to be unaffected by the sin and misery that are the common lot of us all, redeemed and unredeemed alike. What we have that the unredeemed do not is a Savior we can look to who knows what it is like to experience similar anxieties. He was fully human, even as He was fully God. He can come to our aid in our darkest hours.

Jesus My Refuge, My Peace, My Overcomer

Did you ever have one of those days? You know the one I mean, when you wonder why you even try? When the best of intentions and the desire to make a difference doesn’t seem to make a difference at all? I had one of those days yesterday, and it might continue today. Evil abounds. What about God’s grace, which means the strength to withstand the evil?

I don’t want to give in to the temptation not to care anymore. I want to be infused with God’s grace today. A few scriptures have come to mind, given, I trust, by God, as I am struggling within my heart.

Let’s start with select verses from Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!”

A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you.

“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

Then I go to the New Testament and find these words of Jesus at the Last Supper:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Truly, the Lord is my only refuge today. I want to look past, or through, the tribulation in my life and recognize I can have peace through Him. I want to see that last line come to pass: He has overcome the world.

Faith

Trump’s Biblical Insights

It’s a dangerous things for some politicians to talk about the Bible in public. In the book of Exodus, we’re told, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

The impetus behind this command is to ensure that whenever someone has committed a wrong, the penalty will not be greater than the wrong that was committed. In our day, we refer to the principle as making sure the punishment fits the crime.

Donald TrumpThat scripture came into play yesterday—sort of—in a mangled way when Donald Trump was asked if he had a favorite Bible verse that had helped shape his character and life. His response, if you can follow the flow of his thought, was,

When we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. Look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing.

If you look at what’s happening to our country, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us and how they scoff at us and laugh at us and laugh at our face. They’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. We have to be very firm and we have to be very strong, and we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.

Okay. Tell me again, how does that scripture passage fit here? What I see is someone who is focused on how others treat us badly and the implication is to get back at them for doing so. Well, while that does incorporate some kind of “justice,” it’s not the context of the passage, and certainly not the spirit of it.

Keep in mind, this is the candidate who says he reads the Bible more than anyone. If I were you, though, I wouldn’t trust his insights into Scripture.

Trojan Head

During Jesus’ time, there were people who understood this passage from Exodus in a Trump-like manner also. Jesus wisely redirected their thoughts by saying,

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

Jesus made a personal application here as a corrective. Too many people were using that Old Testament call for proper justice as an excuse for getting back at others who they felt had wronged them. Jesus focused on the heart attitude.

Can anyone reading these words today say that Donald Trump has ever exhibited, in this long campaign season, any inclination to manifest this spirit of setting aside perceived wrongs? Can anyone point to a pattern of behavior that shows he has the willingness to go the extra mile for others, even if they have caused him harm—“harm” interpreted loosely?

Or have we instead been inundated with one insult and tantrum after another?

Raw Deal

It’s well past the time to bring this sad spectacle to an end. But that’s up to the voters in the Republican party. Pray that they will be wise from this point on.

God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

I love learning. I’d better love it, seeing as how I live in an academic environment. Reading, studying, going deeper into a knowledge of history and government naturally draws me. Yet that plunge into knowledge can never be divorced from the proper heart motive—love of God and His ways.

The temptation for people like me is to think that we have become experts, which can then border on arrogance, which is decidedly opposed to God’s will for our lives.

Apostle PaulIt’s always good to come back to a certain passage in I Corinthians, where the apostle Paul offers this timely reminder:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

If we ever begin to think that God’s way—the way of the cross—is just too simplistic or beneath us, we are straying from the path. Paul continues with this stark message:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Wait a minute. Am I not to strive for wisdom? Am I not to be a dedicated student/scribe? Shouldn’t I sharpen my skills of debate? I don’t think this passage means we are to put away those aims. What it does do, though, is remind us to keep our priorities straight. He concludes,

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has called me to be one of His in the academic world. I will fulfill that calling only if I put first things first. I intend to continue doing that.

In this blog, I comment constantly on the ways of the world, whether in politics, education, morality, or the culture in general. As long as I do so with the proper perspective, recognizing the highest message of all—Christ crucified for sinners—I will be carrying out His will for my life.

I just thought that was a reminder worth sharing today, no matter what your calling may be. Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love for sinful men is the cornerstone for everything we say or do.

Proverbs 9

Lewis: Jesus as the Original Origin

As avid a reader of C. S. Lewis as I have been throughout my life, some of his lesser-known works escaped me until recently. For instance, after seeing the video Planet Narnia, I was fascinated by the way Lewis incorporated the medieval worldview into the series. I also discovered that he had explained it in The Discarded Image, so I readily obtained that book and burrowed through it (not one to recommend to a new reader since it is one of his most scholarly).

Then I decided to delve into a few others I’d never read. The first was Reflections on the Psalms. I admit I have always been reluctant to read that one because I’m not in complete agreement with his view of how to understand the Old Testament as part of God’s Word, but I finally realized that since this was Lewis, I had no need to doubt his genuineness or his high view of Scripture.

I’m glad I jumped over that mini-obstacle. Reflections on the Psalms is like all of Lewis’s works—brimming with insight and unique ways of expressing the faith.

Reflections on the Psalms

Reviewing it once again, I was struck by a passage that compared the Old Testament with the words of Jesus. Lewis begins,

This is one of the rewards of reading the Old Testament regularly. You keep on discovering more and more what a tissue of quotations from it the New Testament is; how constantly Our Lord repeated, reinforced, continued, refined, and sublimated, the Judaic ethics, how very seldom He introduced a novelty.

While some critics might see the lack of novelty in Jesus’ words a reason to discount His significance, Lewis exposes the faulty reasoning behind that criticism:

This of course was perfectly well-known—was indeed axiomatic—to millions of unlearned Christians as long as Bible-reading was habitual. Nowadays it seems to be so forgotten that people think they have somehow discredited Our Lord if they can show that some pre-Christian document (or what they take to be pre-Christian) such as the Dead Sea Scrolls has “anticipated” Him. As if we supposed Him to be a cheapjack like Nietzsche inventing a new ethics!

Lewis then brings the reader to the main point:

Every good teacher, within Judaism as without, has anticipated Him. The whole religious history of the pre-Christian world, on its better side, anticipates Him. It could not be otherwise. The Light which has lightened every man from the beginning may shine more clearly but cannot change. The Origin cannot suddenly start being, in the popular sense of the word “original.”

You simply cannot make “The Origin” more original. Everything flows from Him already. He is the “original Origin,” and we don’t really add anything to what He already is.

A Personal Perspective on Evangelical Support for Trump

This is going to be a calmer post than I originally intended. My emotions ran high Saturday night with the results of the South Carolina primary. Make no mistake, I am deeply disturbed by political developments in the Republican party, but I will attempt to offer a reasonable commentary to explain my deep concern.

While Trump’s victory, in itself, is disturbing, it’s the way he won that bothers me more—with the apparent backing of a plurality of evangelicals.

Donald Trump 4According to the exit polls, Trump took about 34% of evangelical voters, while Cruz got around 25% and Rubio slightly fewer. One can always say that at least the combined tally for Cruz and Rubio was greater than Trump’s number, but just the fact that 34% self-identified evangelical Christians would vote for this man defies logic.

Perhaps logic is in short supply. Perhaps real evangelicalism is in short supply also. Perhaps the term “evangelical” has come to have so many different meanings that it is now a worthless word.

To me, an evangelical is a true disciple of Jesus Christ, committed to reflect the righteousness of God in one’s own life. A real disciple of Christ would want to see His ways permeate society, and a real evangelical Christian would never vote for a person whose lifestyle and policy positions were in direct opposition to the Biblical message of salvation and moral behavior.

Yet that is precisely what 34% of evangelical South Carolinians did.

First, let me say that I don’t necessarily accept the notion that all self-identified evangelicals are really Christians. Many are probably “cultural Christians” in the sense that they grew up in the church and still attend but have never had a face-to-face encounter with the Living Christ followed by a genuine heart change and desire to serve Him gladly.

God & GovernmentThen there are those who may be genuine Christians but who either don’t have a good grasp of how Biblical principles apply to government or who are operating out of emotion—angry over the trends they see in the nation and allying with Trump simply because he expresses their anger well.

Voting on emotion, and particularly the emotion of anger, is not the Christian way. We need to stay focused on principles and vote according to which candidates are most consistent with those Biblical principles.

I’ve said the following things previously, but the time is ripe for a reminder. If you vote for Trump, here is the man you are voting for:

  • Donald Trump has publicly stated that he can’t think of anything for which he has had to ask God for forgiveness. That’s because he claims to be a good man. This means he has no understanding of sin in his life and no desire to get rid of it. Neither does he have a clue as to why Christ laid down his life for sinners, since Trump doesn’t consider himself to be one of them.
  • Trump dumped two wives at his own personal whim when another woman appealed more to him.
  • He has boasted of having had sex with many married women. He also calls his sexual dalliances his own personal Vietnam (where he was able to avoid serving) because he dodged his own bullets of sexual transmitted diseases.
  • He built a casino with a strip club. How is that in any way acceptable to a Christian?
  • Up until recently, he was aggressively in favor of abortion, even the partial-birth variety. He says he is now pro-life, yet continues to claim that Planned Parenthood does many good things for women. He even touted his sister, a pro-abortion judge, as a possible candidate for the Supreme Court. That sister, by the way, decided a case that rejected a partial-birth abortion ban.
  • Just last week, he said he endorsed Obama’s healthcare mandate while simultaneously saying he would get rid of Obamacare, as if the mandate has nothing to do with that monstrosity. Does he even know what he’s talking about?
  • His entire campaign has been built equally on vague generalities, personal insults toward other candidates and anyone else who crosses him (e.g., Megyn Kelly), profanity-laced harangues, and phony threats of lawsuits (even a threat against Cruz using a video of Trump in his own words displaying his abortion views).
  • Increasingly, he has become an embarrassment by his over-the-top behavior at debates and rallies. He never really answers criticisms of his positions with reasoned responses. Rather, he starts yelling that the accuser is a liar, constantly interrupting and losing his temper. Is that what we should want in a president?

No one in the Republican field of candidates is more inherently contrary to a Biblical worldview than Donald Trump.

Yet he gets 34% of the evangelical vote.

This is a travesty. Those who claim to be the representatives of Jesus Christ in this woeful world need to match their words with their actions, and one of those actions is to vote according to the Biblical worldview they profess to believe in.

To vote for a man like Donald Trump is to violate one’s confession of Christian faith.

I’ve said it rather bluntly, but I will not back down despite the criticisms that may come for being so blunt. It’s time to be serious about how our faith ought to be expressed in the political realm.

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?