It’s only been two years since I last read THS, and it was, perhaps, even better on my fifth time through? Our 7th annual fiction festival is coming up in March, and the theme is “Why Christians Shouldn’t Be NICE.” So it will have a Ransom trilogy focus, with special attention on the third of the three. I wanted a running start, so I started a plod read with Out of the Silent Planet last summer, got through Perelandra, and just finished THS. I had forgotten how (bloody) bloody the damage is at the end, and of course it couldn’t have happened to NICEr guys. THS couldn’t get any higher on my list of favorite fiction books, though it did root its position more securely.
Work with me here for just a second. I like the Burger King Whopper with cheese. I order it as is. Before I eat it, I wipe off almost all of the toppings: tomato and onions and pickles and lettuce and condiments. I carefully choose a couple pieces of the more greenish-looking lettuce to replace on the burger, and then dig in. I like the overall flavor, but still have some texture issues.
This book is way more filling if you can scrape off the parts about theistic evolution and man’s free will. This book is worth the work to do so, I’m just warning before you take a big bite.
Lewis identifies the “problem”:
‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.
He answers the question pretty well, not only in terms of what our sin deserves, but especially in terms of how God uses suffering/pain/troubles to not let us be satisfied with anything less than Himself. So:
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
This is not from a detached position. There’s no Lewisian Stoicism.
When I think of pain—of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased, of infuriating scorpion-stinging pains that startle into maniacal movement a man who seemed half dead with his previous tortures—it ‘quite o’ercrows my spirit’.
Lewis has chapters on Hell and Heaven which are also connected and good, and overall he accomplishes his goal to provide “a little courage” and “the least tincture of the love of God.”
I have grown older since the last time I read Perelandra, and reading it again has made me older still.
Of course I’m riffing off the Green Lady’s testimony; growing older is how she describes her learning, so does the King, as well as Piebald. We learn more and it makes us less young. Solomon once wrote that in much wisdom and knowledge there is much grief and sorrow. And there is much to maturing that is misery. It is a fight to keep the joy.
Ransom’s fight on Venus is a good fight.
I reread this second part of the Ransom trilogy because our next Fiction Festival is at least about That Hideous Strength and I wanted a fresh meditation through the whole series for sake of my preparation. I’m adding the fifth star to my previous four in 2014.
The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis is a worldview game-changer. Rather, it’s a book about how certain attempted changes to the game are bringing an end to humanity, and in the name of humanity. That’s bad.
Ward’s book is a commentary on Lewis’s book, with background material and line by line explanations of references and persons that Lewis assumed his 1943 academic audience would know.
As with many commentaries, After Humanity is three times the length of Abolition‘s original text. Yet Ward knows his stuff (Ward’s Planet Narnia is one of my all-time favorite books), and the extra pages will repay the effort of reading. Maybe read Lewis three or ten times, then read Ward, then go back to Lewis yet again.
This is a classic, relevant before it was even published as a book, and relevant ever since, with eternally relevant questions for non-Christians and immediately relevant reminders for believers. You should read it.
I’d known about the book for a long time but had never read it. Then, a few weeks ago when war started (again) between Russian and Ukraine, I saw on the tweetstream someone mention that he had started reading Mere Christianity, and I remembered that Lewis originally prepared most of the material for the book as he shared it over a radio broadcast series in England during WW II. Similar contexts, then and now, made now seem like the right time for me to pick it up.
I didn’t realize how many Lewis-ian ideas came from Mere Christianity. This is where the “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” apologetic comes from. It’s where he says, “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next” and “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” It’s where he quotes George MacDonald that as a Father “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” And it’s where he talks about how men who try to be original can’t be, but “if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before), you will, nine times out of the, become original without ever having noticed it.”
I don’t agree with Lewis (because I disagree with his reading of the Bible) on the degree of freedom in man’s will, and he is wrong (again, according to Scripture) about how some “people in other religions … [can] belong to Christ without knowing it.” While these false things can’t be ignored, they are, ironically, defeated by so many of the true things that Lewis says.
God is killing our need to be needed, and He is doing more than making us “nice,” He is making us new men. Mere Christianity will edify and fortify such men.
A few years ago I began to talk about #MEGA, Make Easter Great Again, not because it ever stopped being great, but in order to remind us of how great it really is.
It’s not the day per se, and it’s not limited to the doctrine. The resurrection itself declares that God received the sacrifice of His Son and vindicated all the Son’s claims. He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4, ESV). The resurrection, as objective and historical truth, did it.
If Jesus is resurrected, then God is pleased with you who believe in Jesus because you’ve been raised with Him. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then your account with God has been settled. It is finished.
And also He is not finished with us. He will be, and we can share Paul’s confidence. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). But at the present time God is willing and working in us (Philippians 2:13), and our perfect heavenly Father wants the same for His sons: perfection.
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. (Mere Christianity, Location 2504)
“You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3, ESV). The realities of Easter remind you that He is making you a new self and renewing you through the knowledge of the living Christ (Colossians 3:10).
I recently saw a guy I follow online post that he had started to read Mere Christianity. I remembered that that book began as a series of radio broadcasts by C. S. Lewis in England during WWII. Of all the Lewis lit I’ve read, that book isn’t one of them, so I thought, in light of what I see in the rest of my news feed, maybe there’s no time like the present.
It’s in that book that Lewis gives his Lord, Liar, or Lunatic argument. It’s fool’s work to claim that Jesus was merely a good teacher. Jesus said things that either were life giving truths or damnable lies. He was from heaven, or He was straight from the pit. He claimed to be the Son of God, and nice guys who aren’t God don’t say that sort thing. So Jesus was either crazy, or a conniver, or Lord of the cosmos.
It’s the immediately preceding context in Lewis’ book that struck me. The thing Lewis highlights is that Jesus forgave sin.
Remember the paralytic in Matthew 9. Jesus told him, in front of the scribes, that in order to know that the Son of Man had authority to forgive sin, the man could also rise up and walk. The healing by His word is a miracle. But the authority of His forgiveness is more awesome.
But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. (Loc. 792)
Jesus asked and asks no man’s permission to forgive. It’s said that to forgive is divine, and amen. He is Lord, and He is Lord of forgiveness.
I put a link to this in my convocation notes, but it needs its own call-out. For what it’s worth, I actually searched for an online reading of “Learning in Wartime” before my first college Greek class of the year, but wasn’t satisfied with what I found so I read the whole thing myself. Glenn posted this the next day. I’ll be sharing this link with others in the future.
Here are the notes from my Convocation address at ECS yesterday.
The word perspective derives from two Latin words, the preposition per meaning “through” and the verb speciō meaning “I look.” We might think of a person with perspective like a bird, high enough to see a broader landscape, or as one using a telescope, far enough away to see how things relate. But at its root, someone with perspective is someone who is able to look through. Someone who can look through is someone who can see clearly as if having found a window in the wall.
From a calendar perspective, we are only on the first day of an entire school year, and so we have a long way to go. From an institutional perspective, we are on the first day of year ten, and so we have come a long way. From even another perspective, not just looking at time, we can see through the fog and know that what we have here is something special.
Follow me here. Perspective enables us to see that what we have is special, and I’d say that what’s really special is that we have perspective. My evidence for that is all the laughter. Bona fide laughter requires perspective.
Both our mission statement and our motto talk about laughter. Here’s our mission:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
Our motto is: Risus est bellum, or Laughter is war.
We talk about laughter, and in the nine finished years of ECS, there has been nothing more difficult, and nothing more important, than laughter. This kind of laughing is not mostly due to a specific personality type, though it’s certainly true that laughing comes easier to some than the melancholy. I feel as if I have a good view of what this laughter looks like, like a drowning man looks up at the water’s surface with desperate attention and desire to reach it. Laughter is that important.
Of course not all laughter is the same. Solomon had some unflattering things to say about chuckling fatheads.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; (Ecclesiastes 7:6)
Thorns in fire heat up fast, but don’t last. They burn out before providing any real benefit. The laughter of fools is as useless as it is noisy.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. (Proverbs 29:9)
Fools laugh because they can’t see the bigger picture and because they don’t want to look at the immediate problems. A fool’s cackle is mere defense mechanism, making a racket against the reasonable.
Weaponized laughter, the kind we’re after at ECS, is laughter from faith for faith. It is able to see through the current troubles to what God is accomplishing in them. We have some historical examples surrounding us in a great cloud of witnesses.
“When sometimes I sit alone, and have a settled assurance of the state of my soul, and know that God is my God, I can laugh at all troubles, and nothing can daunt me.”
Latimer was the same English Reformer burned at the stake in 1555 with Nicholas Ridley, when Latimer is reported to have said:
“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
That is the kind of thing you can only say with perspective. A man with the perspective of faith in God can “laugh at all troubles” even to the point of greatest sacrifice.
John Bunyan, who lived less than a hundred years after Latimer, also in England, was the sort of man who had perspective enough to laugh, and his counsel for those being persecuted:
“Has thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God’s hands.”
Godly laughter is God-trusting laughter.
It’s why David wrote, “The righteous shall see and fear, and laugh” (Psalm 52:5). Not only did David have perspective, while on the run from King Saul and from Doeg the Edomite, he was laughing at the man who didn’t have perspective. Doeg seemed to have the upper hand, and he had the King favor, but he wouldn’t make God his refuge. The righteous see right through that.
We will be tempted not to laugh for a number of reasons, especially because of our work. This is true of students, new and old, true of parents, and true for teachers, a thing I know by personal testimony. Temptations come because:
The work is unknown, and we don’t know what we’re doing. There’s a certain level of discomfort, and fearfulness is an easier default than trying while laughing.
The work is unenjoyable, and we don’t like what we’ve been assigned. It’s easier to do the job with more whining than laughing.
The work doesn’t have enough time (from our perspective) to get finished. It’s easier to be flustered than to be laughing.
The work (we got finished) isn’t perfect. It’s easier to to be proudly irritated than to humbly laugh.
The work is tiring. It’s easier to belly ache rather than belly laugh.
The work is unappreciated, at least not praised as immediately as we’d like. It’s easier to fuss than to laugh.
Are you doing your work from faith and for faith? Are you doing your work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)? Then trust the Creator of time with the use and fruit of the time He gives you. The woman who fears the Lord has such an approach.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. (Proverbs 31:25)
There is a potent sort of laughing, and it’s the sign of a virtuous man.
You’ve got to be able to not get sucked in by the complainers, to keep your cool when everyone is freaking out about the assignment, to be patient even when the deadline is looming. Laugh in faith because your life is bigger than your grade, and then laugh in thanks when you got a better grade than you probably deserved.
“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.”
Choose this day which character you will be, Distracted, Fearful, Grumpy, or Dopey. How about instead we aim to be those who are laughing in wartime?
I also said the following on the first day of ECS, 3290 days ago:
“We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.”
As we present ourselves as living sacrifices to Him, and as He blesses the fruit of our hands and homework, we will sing with the psalmist:
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. (Psalm 126:2-3)
May the Lord give us His perspective on 2021-22 and fill our mouths with laughter.
God created us with abilities and appetites and affections. One of the abilities He gave us is to be able to consider our abilities and appetites and affections. Even though we do not always act rationally, we can, and should, grow in applying our understanding to our wanting. God enables this sort of higher attention when He gives us new spiritual life, and He increases it as He sanctifies us.
Certain of our appetites seem to be not only short-term, but urgent. That’s not necessarily or always bad, but it’s usually better to have a bigger context than whatever our body is telling us at the moment. This is, as just one example, a reason that people “sleep on” a big decision. They may see the possibility of an immediate good, but something in them wants to pull back and survey the bigger picture.
We are wired for context. Everyone has a framework through which they measure and prioritize what they choose and how they respond to the choices of others. Not only in our consciences but in the story part of our minds we know that a final reckoning will occur.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
There is an angle of this that applies to evangelism. Everyone has done evil, and no one can do enough good to outdo the consequences of the evil;. So God’s law shows that we need salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 3:23-24).
For those who already believe, we should make sure to keep our frameworks updated that because we believe we obey, and we obey with a desire for His approval. While there is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1), there is also no good reason to hold back from doing good (Romans 8:4). We are created, and we are saved, for good works (Ephesians 2:10). What glory it will be when, after doing those good works, we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Our motivation is more than avoiding brute force punishment, but pleasing our heavenly Father. Our appetite for that can’t be too strong.
To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.