On Corruption and Conversion: The Great Divorce #11

Even though I have been behind schedule, I cannot help but write briefly on the second half of Chapter 11. In a story that, thus far, has provided heartache and conviction, I felt I had to comment, even if only for a moment, on that one story of great joy!

As the Writer and his teacher move away from Pam, the mother who struggled with bitterness over her son’s death, they have a bit of a conversation followed by a magnificent encounter.

 

“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is… it is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.” (MacDonald) 

 

The love of a mother for her child is far closer to godly than is the depravity of lust. Because of this, the love of a mother for her child can also more easily be mistaken for something godly than can the depravity of lust. Because of this, it is entirely possible that the love of a mother for her child could be a greater hindrance to faith than can the depravity of lust. That lust is sinful is without argument, even from a secular perspective. I have read articles recently, spoken without mention or mind towards God, condemning the danger of lust. To argue, though, that mother-love is dangerous, is to tread on far more brittle ground.

To further the comparison, the writer and MacDonald then encounter a man and his lust, portrayed as a red lizard fixed upon his shoulder. The man is speaking with an angel who is pleading for redemption. Redemption, though, will come with pain. The lizard must die. The process will hurt. But the result will be glorious.

 

“Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.” (MacDonald) 

 

Finally, a ghost who chooses redemption! A ghost who chooses freedom! A ghost who chooses Christ! It’s a moment to stand up and cheer. The country itself rejoices, a song rising from the rocks, hills, and trees.

So what about that lizard? How is it that the lizard became a mighty steed? And what about the mother and her love?

Sin is the corruption of something God intended for good. Idolatry is a corruption of true worship, substituting something created for the Creator. Murder (or even anger) is a corruption of the image of God. Lust is a corruption of real love. In Adam, every heart is sinful, which means that the seeds of goodness created and implanted by God have been corrupted and manifest in deadly ways. It stands to reason, then, that when sinners come to salvation in Christ, the corrupt seeds find life anew in him. Worship is rightly directed towards God again. The image of God is restored, changing views of self and others. Love itself is redeemed and expressed rightly with an eye towards God, who is love.

And so the lizard became a steed. The sinful corruption was buried, here crushed by the flaming hand of the angel, and then granted resurrection in purity. What had been distorted was now right again.

 

“Ye must ask, if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?” (MacDonald) 

 

By showing the steed rising from the lizard, we are not merely meant to marvel at the redemption of such a sin. Instead, by MacDonald’s words we are left to wonder what might be if Pam’s mother-love found conversion in Christ? How glorious would such love be if the stain of corruption is lifted and new life reigns? In my previous post, I quoted the words of the Lord, illustrating that our corrupt love must appear as hatred in comparison to our love of God in Christ Jesus. Many might protest such an instruction, but Lewis here illustrates the result of surrender to the supremacy of Christ.

Conversion.

Redemption.

Resurrection.

Love incorruptible.

Greater than a lizard becoming a steed.

Love fueled by God who is love.

Love moved by Christ who gave his life.

Love powered by the Holy Spirit.

Real love.

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.

 

 

 

On Project Love: The Great Divorce #9

smoke_from_a_candle___wallpaper_by_artyben-d6rg6u1Chapter 10 is rather short. Perhaps a better description would be that chapter 10 is rather fast. As I read of the Ghost’s encounter with the bright Woman, I envision the “conversation” passing quickly. The Ghost has much to say and a desire to speak rapidly and forcefully. Speaking as though the bright Woman (Hilda) aims to interrupt, Hilda is not permitted to squeeze in even a single word edgewise. The Ghost apparently fast talks her way into oblivion, snuffed out like a wick burned down into the puddle of wax below.

 

“The ingratitude! It was I who made a man of him! Sacrificed my whole life to him!” (female Ghost)

 

I’m not sure of the relationship between Robert and the She-Spirit, Hilda. I am guessing her to be his mother, but I cannot say for sure. Ultimately, it is of little consequence as the Ghost wife’s complaint quickly consumes the chapter. I find myself uncomfortable in the midst of the Ghost’s speech – for two reasons. One because her argument appears to be so absurd that it is laughable. She is a caricature who elicits heartbroken laughter. No one could be so oblivious?!? But at the same time, I am uncomfortable because I know that her situation is not so absurd after all. In fact, it is downright common.

The situation to which I am referring, I shall call Project Love. The concept is quite simple. Project love is “love” that views the other person as a project. Consider most of my household projects. At the root of the project is an even blend of dissatisfaction with the current state and perceived potential. From this evaluation, it is important to determine if the project is feasible – do I possess the skills, the materials, the resources to make this a reality? If the answer is yes, the project begins.

Only after the project begins does the real crisis arise. During demolition, very real and unexpected problems inevitably surface. During reconstruction, costly changes are typically required. By the time the project comes to a close, there is a severe lack of energy and a shortage of resources. Motivation dwindles and often expectations are lowered. The timetable has been long-blown and the finished product has rotated 90 degrees from my original drawing.

I can only hope that your project history is more consistent and successful than mine. (It would be difficult for your history to be less consistent and successful than mine! But don’t worry, I always finish the project before we sell the house.)

Sadly, I am pretty sure people treat people in the same way. Sadly, I see echoes of this reality in the testimony of the female Ghost.

Let’s try to break this down.

Love is inherently other-focused. Love is not about receiving. Love is about giving.

When love focuses on feelings, it is entirely self-centered. By this definition, you are in love when you a) feel the feel-goods about the other person (self-centered); and/or b) you feel loved by the other person (also self-centered). Sure, you have to at least glance at the other person in order to assess this kind of love, but the core is purely selfish. Selfishness is not at all other-focused, it is entirely about receiving, and not remotely about giving.

When love focuses on sacrifice, it is possibly other-centered. By this definition, you are in love when you think less of yourself, think more of the needs of another and meet those needs without thought of what you will receive in return. You give regardless of the current measurement of feel-goods, and regardless of the expression of love offered by the other person.

I would consider project love to be a corrupt and sinful distortion of sacrificial love. You constantly think of the other person, but only because you want to mold them into kind of person who would give you the feel-goods. You think constantly of their needs, but only because meeting their needs is necessary for your happiness. You meet needs because you want the satisfaction of knowing you’ve been the agent of change. Project love is poisoned by self-centeredness, and is entirely void of real love.

If you thought household projects carried surprises, trying molding and shaping another human.

Our Ghost friend gave it all… but for all the wrong reasons. Even in eternity, she simply wanted another person to manipulate.

Have you given it all to another?

Was it for their good?

Or your own?

Hmmm…

 

“I’m so miserable. I must have someone to – to do things to.” (female Ghost)

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.

 

 

 

For his steadfast love endures forever

Excerpt from a recent sermon on the 136th psalm:

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
And brought Israel out from among them
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm
To him who divided the Red Sea in two
And made Israel pass through the midst of it
But shook off Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea
To him who led his people through the wilderness
For his steadfast love endures forever. (from Psalm 136)

What is ironic in these verses and the verses that follow is that the very instances that Israel would remember in order to bolster their faith, in order to spark their affection for God, these are the verses that our Western culture turns away from, apologizes for, or otherwise avoids.

The verses Israel would recall in order to rekindle their relationship are the ones many read today and say, “well I guess the honeymoon is over.”

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt. We don’t sing about this today.

This verse would bring to mind the plagues that served to lead Israel from bondage in Egypt. Skeptics love to toss the plagues at Christians as a means of discrediting the love of God, and yet here Israel sings them as a means of proclaiming his steadfast love!

There is a cultural bridge to cross here.

In Christ, this shadow of Israel’s deliverance from bondage comes to fulfillment. The promise of eternal deliverance has come. Abraham’s promised seed, carried for centuries through the people of Israel, has arrived in Christ Jesus as a blessing to all nations and people groups. In Christ, the unified people of God are now gentile and Jew, independent of physical identity, physical borders, civil & national practices. Instead, these shadows of the Old come to life in the new by the power of the Spirit.

God’s people in Christ are not limited by proximity. The presence of God is carried by his children to every corner of the earth as was his plan from the very beginning.

Just as God physically delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, bringing plagues, slaying the firstborn, shaking of Pharaoh and his army in the Sea – just as God physically delivered Israel in every physical, visible, tangible way – he has now delivered us Spiritually in Christ. In Christ, God has sent his physical, visible, tangible Son along with his cross to slay the enemies of sin, death, and Satan to deliver us from bondage and lead us towards our promised home.

Not only has God delivered us in Christ, but he has done so through the same violent, offensive, vulgar means. Have you pondered the offense of the cross lately?

We view all of these events from this side of salvation. Of course, any who stand opposed to God and his salvation will view his actions as cruel. Only those who have been delivered by such sacrificial love will kneel humbly before the true offense of it all. How wonderful to be in the loving hands of God who fights so fully on behalf of his children.

It is all too easy to get stuck in passages like these by failing to look at both sides of salvation. In other words, there is the side of salvation which we enjoy – the side where people get saved. This is the love and mercy of God that we want to see, and rightly so, for we want our own experience with the Lord, and the experience of others, to be one of joy and peace.

But there is another side to the full picture of salvation, and that is the side upon which people receive the due penalty for their sin. This is the justice of God which requires that all who sin against him, who live in continual rejection of him must one day face him in his righteousness. This is the reality that those who come to the Lord APART from Christ, APART from the cross, APART from the gift of salvation in his body broken and his blood poured, APART from the hopeful expectation of the resurrection, this is the heart breaking truth that those who do not know Jesus will find no comfort in the presence of the Lord at judgment. We do not want to see this, in our own lives or in the lives of others.

We know both sides of this situation to be true – they must be true. And because both sides are true, we should not shy away from them, either in the OT or in the New. Passages of judgment do not discredit our God – they vindicate him as both a God of love and a God of justice. They vindicate God as being exactly who he revealed himself to be when he spoke to Moses, the LORD the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in chesed and faithfulness, keeping chesed for thousands. Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, BUT who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. Some ask how both can be true… it is more proper to ask how we can trust a god for whom both is not true?

Yet our hearts pause in the discussion of these passages. Whether it is a desire on our part to see God’s mercy, or a failure on our part to grasp the depth of sin, our hearts pause when we hear of righteous judgment.

Perhaps I’m a little odd. Perhaps I am odd, but I am encouraged by our heart’s pause at hearing of the judgment of the OT. The cross of Christ enables us to look upon even our enemies with compassion, our hearts breaking along with the Lord, as we desire not that any would perish but that all would turn to God in repentance. Christ went to the cross for his enemies that they may experience life and life abundant. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us, the very life of Christ shining through us, that we too should embrace such love for our enemies. It is in this sense that our heart’s pause can be a good thing.

But our heart’s pause must then also meet with God’s and our own desire for the fullness of justice. As children of God, we cannot shy away from God’s judgment as though it were not just, for it is but another aspect of the perfection of God that he should be holy and just.

I believe the passages of the OT that deal explicitly with judgment can elicit within us a tension that is healthy. A tension that wants God to be glorified through his true justice while at the same time feels empathy and pain at the eternal state of those who stand opposed to the saving power of God. Without this tension, we would either delight in the death of the wicked, or we would turn our backs on God’s righteous judgment. To engage in the tension is evidence that the mind and the heart of God are at work in us his children.

I believe we can join Israel in rejoicing, not only at the salvation at Calvary, but in every act of salvation that he has enjoined on behalf of sinners throughout history. God’s salvation is his glory on display, and we should rejoice, we should worship, embracing the tension and trusting the Lord in his goodness.