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Entries in C.S. Lewis (5)


C.S. Lewis on what makes the enemy so nervous...

My good friend and ally, John, and I were noticing that just about everyone we know -- especially people on the front lines of Jesus' mission to rescue hearts -- was in deep pain or entrenched suffering of some sort.  It's almost uncanny that so many of our allies are suffering;  and it can't be explained away by, "Well, everyone goes through something now and then:  that's just the way it is."  [That sounds a bit naive to me.]

John brought up the following reference from The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.  Uncle Screwtape, the elder devil, is telling his nephew the very thing that makes evil itself nervous:

“Sooner or later he [God] withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives.  He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish…He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice.  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand…Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending,  to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” 

― Uncle Screwtape.  From C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

  •  "..to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish." 

  • "Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending,  to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

If you've ever read my blog or my book, you'll know that I've never been one to advocate robotic duty or heart-less obedience; and I'm not sure Lewis is either here.  At first blush, this may paint a rather unfavorable view of God, but note the following:

  • Lewis does not say that God has left the creature – but that in our “conscious experience” it seems that way. 
  • He also doesn’t say that he takes away his presence in these times, but only his hand – so that we can walk when we didn’t think we could; or at least in a strength and capacity we have not ‘till now walked. 
  • It also doesn’t say that we have been forsaken, only that the creature "asks why he has been forsaken,”  given the agony of his experience.

What makes the foul ones nervous?  When an ally of Jesus keeps getting back up, refusing darkness the opportunity to gloat, and continues in desire-less plodding to carry hope into the Babylonian lions' den.  Or to reach Mordor where the one ring will be swallowed in fire forever.  Only then can Frodo go home.  And for such a time as this, to face-down the king who has enslaved her people, exposing the plot, setting off a redemptive sequence in history that far outstrips Esthers diminuitive status.

"Take heart...for I have overcome the world."  And because you are his ally, you are overcoming the world as well."



Book recommendations

There are two books that I received as Christmas gifts that I want to recommend to you:

The first is The C.S. Lewis Bible.  [I never go after Bibles being marketed around a particular personality or demographic, but this one was worth it.]  This version, the NRSV, prized for its accuracy, is sprinkled throughout with quotes and snippets from a wide variety of Lewis' writings.  The editors must have spent months, if not years, culling through his work and painstakingly pairing various insights from C.S. Lewis' work with their appropriate counterparts throughout Scripture. 

For example, pared with a passage from I Timothy, there is a quote from C.S. Lewis' "Letter to Miss Breckenridge, April, 1951" which reads:

I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves.  Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.

Or, another nugget, paired with a passage in I Peter:

At present, we are on the outside of the world [the coming fully-restored Kingdom], the wrong side of the door.  We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendors we see.  But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that is will not always be so.  -- from The Weight of Glory


The other book I can recommend to you is, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus - How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Spangler and Tverberg.  What if the Jewishness of Jesus could help us who live on the edge of 2011 make sense of some of the things Jesus did and said? For example:

Do you know why Jesus came as a rabbi and not a shepherd or Essene or or Zealot?
Do you know why you smell good, like freshly annointed royalty?

Do you know that Jesus was not the first to use parables as transformational story-telling?

Do you know why Jesus' invitation, "Follow me" wasn't all that surprising for the role he took on in the Jewish culture of the time?

These two books should prove helpful for the hungry apprentice of the master Teacher.


What would Uncle Screwtape say about you?

C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, pulls back the curtain on another world, or more accurately, a concealed dimension of the world we now inhabit.  He gives us the eyes to see the invisible world that many would dismiss as the stuff of fairytales. However, in our Story, the darkness is real.  As I tell my children, "What you don't see is often more real than what you do see."

Uncle Screwtape, the elder and seasoned devil, is giving counsel to his young nephew, Wormwood, on how best to assault his 'patient' [ i.e. human victim].  Many of you have read this account.

But here's what I'm wondering: if you were young Wormwood's victim, how would Uncle Screwtape counsel young Wormwood to approach you?

Let's say Uncle Screwtape had a dossier - a briefing paper -  on you, which he shares with his young protege, complete with details about you, including where his young apprentice should exercise caution in approaching you.  Why should he fear you?  What would that dossier say?   [After all, he's been watching you for years; for you are his assignment.]

For example, the dossier might say: 

"Use caution when approaching Mr. Noble, for he has an uncanny ability to sniff out any shaming devices you might use against him.  Therefore, you will have to be more subtle and persistent if you are to unravel his confidence in his new identity."


"You will have to devote yourself to long-suffering as you vex and harass Ms. Noble, because she understands that you are after her beauty, and she is more than capable of deflecting the malicious barbs you might whisper in her ear.  Wear her down over time so that through sustained erosion, she will no longer believe she's lovely or loveable."

What unique strengths of heart, what confidence of identity do you possess that would thwart Uncle Screwtape's and his young apprentice's intentions for you?  What is so noble and firm within you that causes them to fear you, or at least re-evaluate their plan of attack towards you?


Changing our nature...what has already occurred within

Why does God insist on making us loveable, lovely, whole?  For certainly he has always loved us, even when we were unlovable; yet this wasn't enough for him, says C.S. Lewis:

"...it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less."  - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

"We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses - that he would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves:  but once again, we are asking not for more Love, but for less."  -- C.S.  Lewis, The Problem of Pain


I want to answer Lewis here (not knowing how he might respond)...   In order to fashion us into the supernaturally glorious creatures he desires and loves into wholeness, God indeed did change our natural selves, our natural impulses -- from unlovely to noble and good.  This he did at the level of the heart. 

We need not wait for heaven for this.  It has already happened.  It is the promise of Ezekiel 36:26 fulfilled (and in other places throughout Scripture).  We now grow out of that new and noble nature with its noble impulses.  We practice our new nature.  Discipleship is learning how to live from that good heart.


A Kingdom of nobles

“For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo.
Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity.”

C.S. Lewis

As ironic as it is, Christians (those who participate in a Kingdom) have largely lost the concept of  nobility.

Perhaps the notion of nobility got lost when the the last knights and ladies of the Middle Ages died off. Or perhaps we've lost the idea of nobility because we've lost a part of the Gospel itself.  What I mean is this:  In our attempts to be 'authentic' to each other, the world and to God, we've not only recognized the depths of our sin, we've decided that our selves are synonymous with those foul places.

Yet Scripture has stated otherwise:

"But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart."
-- Luke 8:15

Something better now defines us:  something stronger, regal and resplendent.  This transformation wasn't a mere brushing-up, nor a tinkering with the old in order to improve it.  It was something wholly different:  a bestowing of a fundamentally different nature -- supernatural supplanting natural.

Does the idea of Christian nobility sound too prideful for us? Are we so used to living in the mud of false humility that we cannot receive the more substantial redemption he is offering?

In C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, the children who become allies of the great Lion discover what they were meant for all along, as Aslan renames them in order to reveal their true natures:

And Aslan gave the children each a new name:

  • Peter will be known now as, "King Peter the Magnificent."
  • Susan will be called, "Queen Susan the Gentle."
  • Edmund will be known as, "King Edmund the Just."
  • Lucy will be called, "Queen Lucy the Valiant."
Whitney Young once said, "The truth is that there is nothing noble in being superior to somebody else. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self." Through the strong rescue of Jesus, you are no longer this "former self" -- no matter how things appear to you. As C.S. Lewis reminds us,
“For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity.”

That is to say, your new and noble glory surpasses the goodness and character of Adam and Eve -- before they fell.  Through his transforming rescue in you, our Lord has out-done himself again.