On God, Family, and Grief: The Great Divorce #10

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 ESV) 

When stripped of all context and understanding of the gospel, this verse is quite challenging. Through the eyes of sin and self-centeredness, this verse is downright offensive. And yet this is the call of Christ upon the life of any would-be disciple. At the start of Chapter 11, Lewis plays out the consequences of this particular verse and passage in the form of a conversation between Pam, a Ghost, and Reginald, her Bright-Spirit brother.

 

“the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for his own sake.” (Reginald) 

Each and every Ghost seems to come to this country with a particular agenda. Each is looking for something from God, and none seem to be looking for God. Each comes with a complaint or an issue, some grudge against God for the events of their earthly lives. And in a fit of fantastic irony, they now want something from the God with whom they stand at odds. This is the case with Pam, whose son was taken from her sooner than she would have designed.

In self-centeredness, Pam is only able to see her own suffering & loss, and she completely fails to grasp the fact that God, too, has suffered. God suffered as humanity, the pinnacle of his creative work, chose sin and death over his glorious presence. God then suffered even further as his own son paid the ultimate price in order to bring redemption. Pam’s vision of God’s suffering, though, is blinded by her own. And that is the point of these conversations – each Bright Spirit is tasked with lifting the gaze of a sinner (even a suffering sinner) from the despair of humanity to the glory of 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.” (Reginald) 

 

It’s amazing how a gaze fixed upon God through the cross of Christ can comfort grief, enhance joy, and provide eternal perspective. This is not to say that grief is not real and substantial. But feelings wrapped up in the flesh are but a trap if God’s hands are not on the reins. Pam was consumed by her grief without a focal point to define suffering. Christians will suffer, as will all until the curse of sin is completely removed. The encouragement of the Lord, though, is that suffering need not consume and define our existence if we have a buoy to grasp in the midst of tragedy.

 

“[the past] was all you chose to have. It was the wrong way to deal with sorrow. It was Egyptian – like embalming a dead body.” (Reginald) 

 

The beauty of the cross is the grace-enabled ability to reorient the viewpoint of the broken heart from the past to the future. Embalming is a strange practice when you think about it. Preserving death to make it seem alive. Or, by definition, to forestall decomposition. It is the art of keeping something which has died from looking as though it has died. It is the choice to live in the past. Our Ghost had chosen a future that was entirely oriented around the past. Again, and I can’t say this enough, I do not wish to minimize very real pain, but rather to say that there is a hope and a future which lifts our souls from the suffering of the world. To view the past from the present with a heart for our future – in Christ – is to have an eternal perspective. To be satisfied in such a view is to want God for his own sake, trusting his goodness with the details.

 

“I don’t say ‘more than Michael,’ not as a beginning. That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process.” (Reginald) 

 

Looking back on Luke 14:26, I think of this quote. Loving God in Christ is not a matter of more or less. In other words, to love God over family is not simply to love God more than family. It is entirely possible to chase God in such a way as to abandon family, all the while claiming to love him more. This is backwards, for the Scriptures are also clear that adoration of God will enhance love for family.

To have a properly oriented view of the love of God is to love him first. As Lewis reveals in this chapter, such love is to want God for his own sake. From the love of God, then, every other love is strengthened as God takes hold of the reins. This does not mean the complete removal of pain, or even the complete perfection of love – not so long as the corruption and curse of sin remain. But it does mean a gaze heavenward to the cross of Christ, beholding his glory, his suffering, his redemption, and his promise. And it is a gospel-soaked, grace-infused fixation of the heart upon Jesus which will, all at once, reduce what we thought was real love on earth until it seems as hatred, and elevate that same love to a place of glory in the hands of God.

All we need is a little germ of desire to start the process.

Praise God that his grace is such a germ.

May it be so for you today.

 

 

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