False Assurances of Eternity

I’ve never read George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold, Curate, but in the anthology C. S. Lewis put together of MacDonald’s writings, one selection from that book stood out to me this morning. I think the nugget in this excerpt is worth noting.

It begins with MacDonald quoting someone who says, “I cannot see what harm would come of letting us know a little—as much at least as might serve to assure us that there was more of something on the other side.”

Don’t we hear that quite often today? People just want some kind of assurance that death isn’t final, that there is something that awaits hereafter. The problem is that they almost don’t care what that something is as long as it isn’t too bad.

MacDonald explains that “their fears allayed, their hopes encouraged from any lower quarter, men would (as usual) turn away from the Fountain, to the cistern of life.”

Mankind will accept any explanation of the afterlife that provides some assurance, yet they stubbornly resist the only Source of knowledge of what actually transpires upon death; they don’t turn to the “Fountain” where eternal life is found.

He then hits home with this insight:

That there are thousands who would forget God if they could but be assured of such a tolerable state of things beyond the grave as even this wherein we now live, is plainly to be anticipated from the fact that the doubts of so many in respect of religion concentrate themselves nowadays upon the question whether there is any life beyond the grave; a question which . . . does not immediately belong to religion at all.

What does he mean? People don’t really want to know the God who offers life beyond the grave; they simply want to know there is something. God is an afterthought.

Satisfy such people, if you can, that they shall live, and what have they gained? A little comfort perhaps—but a comfort not from the highest source, and possibly gained too soon for their well-being.

Does it bring them any nearer to God than they were before? Is He filling one cranny more of their hearts in consequence?

Simply coming to some kind of assurance that life goes on after one dies is not only insufficient—it is a delusion by itself. It ignores the stark Scriptural reality that there are two destinations after death, and only one is a state of eternal joy. Further, there is only one path to that joy:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Hell is just as real as heaven, but most people don’t want to believe that. They want the assurance that all will go to the same blissful eternity. Yet, as Jesus warns,

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:14

That’s not a popular message. It refuses to agree with the culture that assumes all roads lead to the same place.

Unfortunately, the message is not popular in many churches either. How many pastors teach this truth? How many are providing false assurances?

If we truly love others, we will want them to know the truth and not be misled. Warnings are essential in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Good News must be preceded by the bad news. That’s what makes the Good News good.

The Antidote for Despair

We live in a culture spiraling down into depths of depravity that many of us never expected to witness. We have presidential candidates who are so corrupt that neither deserves a vote. We could, if we allowed it to happen, allow ourselves to spiral down into despair.

God, though, doesn’t want that to happen. We need to stay focused.

Message BibleMy daily Scripture reading this morning brought me to 2 Corinthians 5. I’ve been reading through the Scripture in the Message version just to get the flavor of it. Sometimes, it is a little silly in the wording used; other times, it hits just the right note to get one’s attention. Today is one of those days. It begins with this reminder for those of us who may get weary at times:

We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.

The reminder is that our time on this earth is short and a newness awaits that will last for eternity. We long for that day.

Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it!

We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

Mere Christianity 2C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity: “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.”

The Scripture chapter continues with this encouragement:

That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.

Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

So no matter how evil the world around us is, we can handle it. In fact, God has given us His courage to do what He has called us to do while we are still here:

But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.

Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.

That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God.

We are called to be faithful while we remain in this place of travail. Our mission, before we go “home,” is to take as many with us as we can. We are to stand for truth in the midst of an evil and perverted generation.

Let’s not let discouragement overtake us. God has given us His great and wonderful promises. Stand on them, stand for righteousness, and then stand back and see what He will do.

Lewis: Loving God, Loving Others–A Matter of Priority

The Great Divorce CoverWhat is the proper relationship between one’s love for God and love for others?

C. S. Lewis warns us that it’s very easy to want to see someone else as the focus of our love, but that we will always be disappointed. As he puts it in The Great Divorce,

Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. . . . You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. . . .

No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.

Certainly God wants us to have deep, lasting, and loving relationships with others, but it’s a matter of priority. How can we really know how to love someone else unless we first grasp God’s love for us and have the proper love response to Him?

Lewis Letters Volume 3Writing to Mrs. Johnson (that’s all we know about this American correspondent) in 1952, Lewis expounds further on this same theme:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.

In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all.

When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

Have you ever heard someone say they want to go to heaven so they can be reunited with a person or persons they loved here on earth? If that’s their main preoccupation with going to heaven, might I suggest they may be disappointed with their eternal destination?

Unless we love God above all else and are more excited about seeing Him face to face than anyone else we have lost, our hearts are not truly His. In Him we live and move and have our being, not only now, but in eternity.

Lewis, Learning, & War (Part 3)

C.S. Lewis 9C. S. Lewis’s essay “Learning in War-Time” concludes with some sobering thoughts on the subject of death. We all know death comes to each of us, but we don’t often face up to that reality.

Those who are without Christ are without hope in eternity, and they tend to ignore the fact that they will have to answer to the One who is the Ultimate Judge.

Christians have hope, yet don’t always think seriously about the moment they will enter eternity because they are too focused on the things of this world.

Lewis’s observations, written in his inimitable style, awaken us to the reality of our approaching death:

CemeteryBut there is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or that—of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later.

What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased.

Written during WWII, this essay had that backdrop to make readers more alert to his message. Today, we have the threat of terrorism and a terrorist state developing nuclear weapons. While we may attempt to make a distinction and say we are not “at war,” we close our eyes to the truth. War is a constant in the human experience. What can it teach us? Lewis continues:

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.

War gets in our face and lets us know that life on this earth is only temporary. It gets our attention.

All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centred in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realise it. Now the stupidest of us knows.

We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered.

If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.

This life is a pilgrimage. As the old gospel song says, “This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.” Permanence is not the nature of this world. Rather, we await the eternal city where the pilgrimage will be over and real life will begin.

That is the reality we need to embrace.

Eternity Begins Now

I’m so glad that, as a Christian, I don’t perceive this world as all there is to life. Frankly, if I thought there were nothing more, and this is the best it would ever get, I would be in constant depression. I certainly wouldn’t get up early enough each morning to write a blog in the hope that it would make a difference, however slight, in shaping people’s beliefs and worldviews. Instead, I would see my “activity” as rather worthless and a waste of time.

There’s also the chance that I would decide I don’t really care what happens and, quite selfishly, abandon all concern for others, focusing solely on personal pleasure. I would argue that since nothing really changes for the better anyway, why not live it up?

But when Christ enters a life, one can’t give in to that type of thinking.

First, we are told by Him that the world needs His life, and we are the hands, feet, and voices entrusted with the sacred task of letting everyone know He sees and He cares. He seeks to draw each broken, sinful person to Himself and provide a new life.

Salt & LightSecond, He wants us to take that new life into the world and affect the way it operates. Salvation is not just personal, it’s societal. There should be a ripple effect as His new life in individuals begins to infect—I use that word in a positive sense—everything it touches. We are salt; we are light—through Him.

And finally, He shows us that the current state of this world—fallen, bitter, vicious—is not the ultimate reality. There is an existence awaiting us that is free from the ravages of corruption. We will be in His presence forever.

That’s what it all comes down to—His presence. He is what life is all about; there is no life without Him. Eternity begins now.

Lord, help us today to see beyond the daily grind; give us Your eyes to view every person with whom we come into contact as someone made in Your image; show us how to be Your hands, feet, and voice in every situation we encounter.

Go with His blessing today—and make a difference.

Lewis: The Good Infection

Mere Christianity 2C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is full of pithy statements that catch the essence of truth so well. He has a way of expressing eternal maxims that help us remember them. For instance, when writing of our destiny in relationship with God, he uses this memorable approach:

Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to or even into, the thing that has them.

They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

Life is found only in Him. There is no substitute. As Jesus instructed His disciples, we must be branches of the true Vine. There is no fruit without that connection.

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.