Lewis: God’s Claims on Our Lives

Why do I take time to write this daily commentary? As I contemplate the reasons, two come to the forefront: to show that God and our relationship to Him and His truth is paramount; to reveal, as much as possible, how, even though we ultimately live for another and better existence after this life, we nevertheless need to put His principles into practice in this one.

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis said much the same thing in a 1939 essay, “Learning in War-Time.” Here’s how he explained it:

[Religion] must occupy the whole of life. There is no question of a compromise between the claims of God and the claims of culture, or politics, or anything else. God’s claim is infinite and inexorable. You can refuse it: or you can begin to try to grant it. There is no middle way.

Yet in spite of this it is clear that Christianity does not exclude any of the ordinary human activities. St. Paul tells people to get on with their jobs.

Each one of us has a dual responsibility: to place God’s claims on our lives above all others, while simultaneously going about the business of life. The two are not to be exclusive realms, but should be combined into one. His claims, and His truths, permeate every part of our lives, even those things we may perceive as ordinary. In Him, nothing is ever simply ordinary; He gives profound meaning to everything we do.

Lewis: God–The Absolute Being

MiraclesSome people have a concept of God that is so vague as to be meaningless. They conceive of Him as an omnipresence of some kind, but not as a real Person. C. S. Lewis, in his Miracles, tackles this misconception:

If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an “ideal” or a “value,” but an utterly concrete fact.

We must beware . . . of paying God ill-judged “metaphysical compliments.” We say that God is “infinite.” In the sense that His knowledge and power extend not to some things but to all, this is true. But if by using the word “infinite” we encourage ourselves to think of Him as a formless “everything” about whom nothing in particular and everything in general is true, then it would be better to drop that word altogether.

Let us dare to say that God is a particular Thing. Once He was the only Thing; but He is creative, He made other things to be. He is not those other things. He is not “universal being”: if He were there would be no creatures, for a generality can make nothing.

He is “absolute being”—or rather the Absolute Being—in the sense that He alone exists in His own right.

People are comfortable with a vague generality they can call God. Vague generalities don’t demand anything of us. Yet God—the real God as portrayed in the Scriptures—does have demands. His top priority is not our comfort but our transformation into the image of Christ. If we truly understood the joy of that path and the glory that awaits, we wouldn’t want to cling to notions of a vague generality; we would relish the opportunity given us to be one with the Absolute Being.

Lewis, Space Travel, & the Existence of God

C. S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963, one week before his 65th birthday. Most people didn’t notice his death since that was also the day of the JFK assassination. Lewis probably would have liked the anonymity of his passing.

In those 65 years, which spanned from just before the beginning of the 20th century to the dawn of the space age, he saw society transformed. One of his final essays, written in the year of his death, showed he was keeping up with the times—in particular, the fascination with space travel.

The Seeing EyeHe’d always liked the subject. Back in the late 1930s-early 1940s, he had authored a space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I love those books, and they still sell well, as do all of Lewis’s writings. As he pondered the new age of actual space exploration, he noted that some people were wondering if man would find God out there somewhere. That led to these comments in the aforementioned article, “The Seeing Eye”:

Looking for God—or Heaven—by exploring space is like reading or seeing all Shakespeare’s plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters or Stratford as one of the places. Shakespeare is in one sense present at every moment in the same way as Falstaff or Lady Macbeth. . . .

If there were an idiot who thought plays existed on their own, without an author . . . our belief in Shakespeare would not be much affected by his saying, quite truly, that he had studied all the plays and never found Shakespeare in them. . . .

My point is that, if God does exist, He is related to the universe more as an author is related to a play than as one object in the universe is related to another.

If God created the universe, He created space-time, which is to the universe as the metre is to a poem, or the key is to music. To look for Him as one item within the framework which He Himself invented is nonsensical.

If God—such a God as any adult religion believes in—exists, mere movement in space will never bring you any nearer to Him or any farther from Him than you are at this very moment. You can neither reach Him nor avoid Him by travelling to Alpha Centauri or even to other galaxies. A fish is no more, and no less, in the sea after it has swum a thousand miles than it was when it set out.

One of the early Soviet cosmonauts, returning from orbiting the earth, said he didn’t see any God out there. Taken in the context of Lewis’s comments, it might be hard to find a more stupid statement. Man always wants to believe his rationale powers are the height of all understanding. Yet who gave man the ability to think? It would be nice if more of us used that ability as it was intended.

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.

Lewis: The Personhood of God

C. S. Lewis 3God is not the Force of the Star Wars saga. Neither is He some vague “idea” floating around out there. He’s not Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalist Oversoul. He is a Person; in fact, more of a person than either you or I. In one of his essays, “On Obstinacy in Belief,” C. S. Lewis shows how we need to come face to face with that reality:

To believe that God—at least this God—exists is to believe that you as a person now stand in the presence of God as a Person. What would, a moment before, have been variations in opinion, now become variations in your personal attitude to a Person. You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence.

Once we realize His personhood, and comprehend that this Person is the very One behind the creation of all things, and that we indeed are not our own little god, we are faced with the most monumental decision of our lives: what is my relationship to this Person? In The Four Loves, Lewis clarifies:

Our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.

In other words, only through God do all things find their proper place. Only through Him do we find our purpose for existing. He is the reason we even live, move, and have our being.

Lewis: God Is the Judge, Not Us

Man, in his sinfulness, will go to any length to excuse himself for what he has become. One of the favorite hobbies of modern man is to push the blame for the problems of the world onto God. In his essay, “God in the Dock,” C. S. Lewis describes this attitude:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge; God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.

This all stems, as I said, from the desire to ignore our sinfulness, or at least to downplay it. God is the one who must explain Himself to us, not the other way around. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis puts it this way:

When we merely say that we are bad, the “wrath” of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.

Gavel & ScaleOnce we come to grips with the fact that our sinfulness deserves divine punishment, we can see clearly for the first time that God is just in His judgments on sin. Moreover, once we realize the enormity of the consequences of sin on ourselves and those we affect by our utter selfishness, we come to understand that judgment is an outgrowth of His love. His wrath falls on sin because it is so destructive. We deserve His wrath.

That’s what makes the cross of Christ so essential. Even though we deserve nothing but judgment, we are offered the gift of a restored relationship with the Creator. We should be so humbled by that expression of love that we lay down our arms, cease to become rebels against His kingdom, and join with Him in helping others find that restored relationship. Gratitude should be the hallmark of our lives from that point on.

Lewis: God Is the End, Not the Means to an End

A Grief ObservedHere’s a very timely reminder from C. S. Lewis that God is not some convenient prop we can use to achieve whatever else we want in life or eternity. He, in fact, is the goal of life; knowing Him is what it’s all about. As Lewis states it in A Grief Observed, the most personal of all his books, as it deals with the loss of his wife,

He [God] can’t be used as a road. If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.

That’s what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions “on the further shore”; not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End.

Yes, knowing God leads to all kinds of blessings, but if we focus on the blessings rather than the One who gives everything else its meaning, we miss it all. He is the reason for life, both on this earth and in eternity.