Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"The Sermon and the Lunch"

In this essay, Lewis talks about a friend of his, a pastor who preaches about living in harmony with your family. He talks about home being a sanctuary where you can kick back and “be yourself.” He makes life at home sound easy, relaxing, and almost heaven-like. However, when Lewis goes to eat lunch with the pastor and his family, he finds a very different story at home. He discovers that the pastor is very unpleasant, very prone to gossip and rude to his family. Lewis is disappointed that the pastor painted such an easy picture of “society” at home when his own at-home life is so different from the peaceful, safe, environment it should be.

Lewis proposes instead that life at home is not at all easy. He argues that because of the Fall, no place can be a little “heaven” away from the rest of the world. Our private life is just as tainted as any other facet of life. He says that family life is not easy. In a family, love cannot mean just the natural affection we have for one another because at times that affection is not present. Love is a decision – something we must make a conscious effort to do each moment of every day. Lewis also argues that not only should our homes have the same rules as the public does, they should have more rules about treating one another with respect. “There is nowhere this side of heaven where one can safely lay the reins on the horse’s neck. It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God.”

"The Inner Ring"

“Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

In this oration at the University of London, Lewis talks about our craving, our need, our desire to be included. He describes the phenomenon of “Inner Rings,” (or today we’d call them cliques), and how our want to be a part of a group will drive us to do awful things. While Inner Rings may start as a natural and innocent aspect of human sociology, according to Lewis, they are not the prettiest aspect of our culture. He says that the goal of Inner Rings has to do with building your public image. The main goal in getting into a certain Inner Ring or clique is not friendship, but to make sure that others around you see you at this social level and that certain people are excluded from the group so as to distinguish your own social status. We are driven both by an intense desire to be well-liked and an equally intense fear of being an outsider to become a member of one of these small, close-knit circles. Also, Lewis points out that because it is popularity and not friendship which drives us to become a part of a clique, we quickly become bored with our “friends” and want to move on to the next higher Inner Ring. In this process of climbing the social ladder, the desire to belong and the fear of not belonging are often so strong that we are willing to do almost anything to become a part of it. We are willing to stab a true friend in the back or to do something perfectly awful to an outsider just in order to retain the division between yourself, one of the included and the other, the excluded. This, according to Lewis, is what happens when we do not reign in and control our passion to become a part of an Inner Ring.

If, however, we are able to get over our fear of exclusion, we can stop worrying about how we look to others and start to care about them not because of where they stand socially, but because of who they are. It is when we focus only on our work here on earth and on knowing people for who they are as God’s image-bearers, that we obtain (almost by accident) that for which we are truly looking. God gives us what we have really desired all this time – a close and intimate relationship with a few other people, and a place where we really belong.

“…you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship.”

God desires for us to have a solid group of true friends. It is important to have close relationships with those around us and God has placed in our hearts a desire for intimacy. However, we often make the mistake of looking for the fulfillment of this desire through the wrong types of “friendships.” It is only after we learn to care less what others think, to become comfortable in our own skins, and to focus on God alone, that we will be blessed with true and intimate friendship.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"The Problem of Pain - Human Pain"

Lewis begins this essay by defining the type of pain to which he will be referring for the rest of the essay. He refers to pain not just in the physical sense, but also in the sense of anything which is unpleasant or brings discomfort to a person. Lewis sees pain as the most tangible evil. While we can fairly easily ignore other things such as sinful habits and stupidities, when we are in pain, it is something which cannot help but be addressed.

Lewis continues by hypothesizing about God’s reasons for allowing pain to exist in this world. He sees pain as a tool which God uses to awaken us from our sin and draw us closer to himself. He uses pain to take down the guard of the hard and calloused and remind them of their need for him. More often, however, God uses pain to correct those who seem to have their lives pulled together. Lewis says, “We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption.” Many, including myself, find it very easy to fall into an illusion of self-sufficiency when life is easy. We think we owe our success and ease of life to our own accomplishments and hard work. We forget that it is God who is the source of all good things. God often uses pain to remind his people that they are not to owe for the goodness in their lives. It is a method He has of building a stronger relationship with us.

I have seen this phenomenon in my own life. When I was in sixth grade, my grandfather died of colon cancer. In watching his health deteriorate to the point of death, I saw the courage and faith with which he faced every new development of the disease. God used my time of pain and my grandfather’s witness to develop my faith from being something my parents always told me to a real and personal relationship with God. Since that time, I have faced the sudden death of a 17-year-old friend, my grandmother’s stroke and open-heart surgery, a health scare of my own, roommate problems, and the death of my best friend’s mother. All of these experiences have strengthened my faith, and while I can’t say I’d ever want to repeat any of these experiences, I can say that God has used them to bring me into a closer relationship with himself.

Lewis develops this idea even further in saying that pain actually may even be a blessing: “Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed…” He says that it is often only through pain which we learn true obedience to God. After all, it is easy to obey God if our will agrees with his. It is much harder to obey God’s will when it may mean subjecting ourselves to pain and suffering.

Lewis ends the essay with a challenge: we are not to become like puppies that have just had a bath – they run as quickly as possible away from their “suffering” and find the nearest possible dirt in which to role away their cleanliness. We cannot miss the lessons we should be learning from our suffering. When our relationship with God grows through a period of pain and agony, we must work to maintain this level of intimacy when the storm clouds have blown over.

Plantinga Ch 4: "Redemption"

I found that Plantinga’ s chapter on redemption relates very well to what Lewis is talking about in “Man or Rabbit.” For it is Christ’s gift of redemption to us which creates the life-transformation of which Lewis speaks – with redemption comes the ability to “fly.” Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation to our faith. Redemption is what gives our life meaning beyond simply trying to live ethically.

In this chapter, Plantinga walks the reader through many of the basic Reformed beliefs about redemption. He explains how God humbled himself to become human (he was incarnated). It is only through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Christ (God incarnate) that we are saved from our enslavement to Sin. Plantinga also talks about the double blessing of atonement. When we are redeemed, we are made “at one” with God. We are simultaneously justified and sanctified. Justification is somewhat like our legal standing with God. God sees us no longer as guilty, but as holy instead. He decides to credit us with Christ’s holiness and credit our sins to Christ himself. Sanctification is a life-long process which begins at the moment of justification. This is the transformation of which Lewis spoke in “Man or Rabbit.” It is our gradually becoming more and more holy as we grow in our relationship with God. Sanctification is fully realized when we die and live again in heaven. Plantinga describes this process of atonement as the death of our old and sinful selves and the resurrection of a new child of God; a person who has realized the potential with which he has been created. Plantinga closes the chapter by talking about the brokenness of all creation and our responsibility as stewards on this earth to restore all things to their original state of shalom. In giving us redemption, God has called us to care for this world which he has given to us.

As I mentioned in class, when I first read this chapter, I didn’t think very much of it. I was much more excited about reading the Lewis assignment for the day and I usually think of reading Plantinga as more of a chore. I quick skimmed through the chapter and ended it a little disappointed, feeling I hadn’t learned anything and that I had just wasted time reading it. The whole thing seemed routine, basic, and obvious to me. During class the yesterday, however, I started to really think about what I had read. I was humbled to think about the weight of what I had casually skimmed through the night before. Yeah, I had heard the story before, but shouldn’t I, no matter how many times I’ve heard the story of redemption, stand in awe, meekness, gratitude, and faith at the sheer magnitude of what Christ has done for me and for all of humanity?

But then this got me thinking. How often is this a fairly typical story for Christians, especially those who have grown up in the church as I have? I think that in America, the church in general has lost her enthusiasm for the Gospel. We have heard the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection so many times that we hardly give it a second thought anymore. As a result, we do not live as though we have been saved. We do not live in the awe, gratitude, and faith in which we need to live. The Christian life should be one which is exciting, involved, and joyful. Instead, we are bored. We need to fervently pray that God brings a revival to the North American church and do what we can in our own lives and church families to facilitate this change.

"Man or Rabbit"

“Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” Lewis opens “Man or Rabbit” by posing this question and then focuses the remaining pages on answering it. He starts off by arguing that any person who is asking this question is neither someone who has never heard of Christianity, nor someone who has found that they cannot believe the Gospel message upon thorough consideration of Christianity. It is the question of a person who wants to know whether they should even bother learning more about Christianity. He responds by asking why a person wouldn’t find out for themselves whether the Christian message is true or not. He points out the implications of what could happen were we to disregard the Christian faith if it turned out to be true. He asks, “Are we ready to run the risk of working in the dark all our lives and doing infinite harm, provided only someone will assure us that our own skins will be safe, that no one will punish us or blame us?”

Lewis states that this mentality of laziness – this unwillingness to look further into Christianity for fears it may be true – as being in a state of dishonest error. This dishonesty, according to Lewis will then spread throughout all of a person’s life, making him a worried and mentally-dulled person.

Next, Lewis argues that should Christianity turn out to be true, then one would have no choice but to serve its purpose. If, however, Christianity turned out to be false, then you would be obligated to tell the world about the fraud which so many people seem to be buying hook, line, and sinker. So in both situations, it is irresponsible and lazy to remain focused only on living a moral life as an individual. Lewis points out that it is important to realize that there is so much more to life than living with good moral standards. “Mere morality is not the end of life.” He talks about our calling to becoming a new creation. When we become truly human and we are no longer mere “rabbits,” morality is “swallowed up.” Our calling is to realize the full and radiant potential with which God has created us. It is when we have finally gotten over our pointless goal of living a decent moral life (for it is impossible to do of our own power) that we are able to fully experience the joy of living in the Lord.

I personally loved the imagery of the last paragraph:

“Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are ‘done away with’ and the rest is a matter of flying.”

Lewis so beautifully describes God’s purpose for us in life. While we may think we are making headway by living a “good life” on our own, we are mistaken. We are merely struggling over stones and rubble, tied to the ground by gravity. But if we lift our eyes, we can see a whole sky above us. A life of beauty, joy, and freedom awaits us if we learn to leave this life bound by gravity and answer the call of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"The Abolition of Man"

This is probably the most difficult C.S. Lewis piece I have ever read. I had a hard time understanding a lot of it the first time I read it through because the content is so thick with meaning and philosophical thought. Reading this really impressed me. As Professor Paulo Ribeiro suggested during class, I feel I could read this a hundred times over and still learn more from it.

The foundation on which Lewis builds this essay is the argument that in our mission of conquest of all of nature, humans are, in the process, ruining themselves. He explains this further by showing that as we learn to control more and more of nature, we also increase the domination of man over himself – we are dehumanizing ourselves. I thought that the analogy Lewis uses of the contraceptive was an especially good way to help us understand what he means. He says that on one hand, the discovery of contraceptives was a huge conquest of nature. We now understand a lot more about all of the science behind pregnancy and what causes and prevents it. On the other hand, however, we are faced with the fact that we can now almost selectively breed a new generation. We have a new dominance over people in the future by influencing who is born now. Also, when we discover more and more about how contraceptives and other things in nature function, we tend to see ourselves and others as less human and more as just glorified test tubes: nothing more than containers housing various chemical reactions.

Lewis argues that as we conquer nature further and further we are only digging humanity a hole. He says that as the general public (the conditioned) loses more and more of its humanity, the Conditioners (a select number of scientists, teachers, political leaders, etc.) will become more and more able to manipulate our natural moral law (the Tao). This means that the Conditioners will have increasing power over all of humanity until, “They are not men at all: they are artifacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the conquest of Man.”

I agree with Lewis when he says that our new discoveries in science and our new uses of nature are often dehumanizing and lead to our demise as thinking and independent beings. I was especially struck in class when we talked about some of the dehumanizing changes in language which have taken place as our scientific knowledge and conquest of nature has increased. One of these “euphemisms” which has always bothered me is calling an unborn baby a fetus. We make the practice of abortion (“pro-choice”) something seemingly more acceptable by denying the humanity of the new life which is growing inside a mother.

As I read this essay, I couldn't help but think about some of the conversations I've been a part of in some of my science courses over the past year and a half at Calvin. We've talked about our responsibilities as God’s image-bearers on earth towards the physical world around us. God created the physical world and it was good. When he called us to rule over the earth, he called us to care for his creation. While subduing nature includes using and studying nature, it also includes trying to preserve and restore some of the original goodness with which it was created. This is where I think I disagree with Lewis. I do not want to understate the problem of dehumanization which is a definite presence in society. But I believe that another part of our problem is that we not only are underestimating the value of man by “making” him into nature; we are also underestimating the value of the nature into which we are making him.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"The Four Loves: Eros"

As I read the “Eros” chapter of The Four Loves, a few things really stood out to me. First, I really liked how C.S. Lewis makes the distinction between Venus (sexual desire) and Eros (being in true love). On the first page of the chapter, he says, “I am inquiring not into the sexuality which is common to us and the beasts or even common to all men but into one uniquely human variation of it which develops within ‘love’ – what I call Eros.” He talks about Venus as simply an animal-like desire for another person. For men, it is "the want of a woman." It doesn’t matter who she is; it is simply the desire to satisfy the sexual urges of the body. According to Lewis, Venus fits inside of Eros and there is a time and place for Venus (within marriage), but any relationship started with a sexual desire on the part of one or both of the members of the relationship is bound to end. Lewis says that Eros is something stronger; it is to be “in love” with another person. Eros is "the want of the woman." It is not only a sexual desire, but a love for the other as a person and not a means of satisfying physical yearnings. Lewis states that most lasting relationships will start with simple Eros, an interest in someone as a person. After some time Venus for that person will start to develop, but overall it is the Eros which is lasting. Venus is coming and going, but Eros is something stronger and more enduring.

I really liked how Lewis described Eros on the third page of the chapter. He says,

Very often what comes first is a delighted pre-occupation with the Beloved – a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality. A man in this state really hasn’t leisure to think of sex. He is too busy thinking of a person. The fact that she is a woman is far less important than the fact that she is herself.

I love how beautifully Lewis says this. I also appreciated what was said in class about this being a standard for us to keep in our relationships. We are to see ourselves and others as valuable and indispensable sons and daughters of God. When we look at someone with mere sexual desire without a presence of Eros, we are not treating that person with the respect we are called to have for others. One cannot base a successful relationship simply off of Venus. It is important that in a relationship, one's focus remains on God and his will for their life. Both members of the relationship must keep their eyes focused on God and continually do their best to follow his guidance in that relationship. As soon as we lose sight of God, or as Lewis mentions at one point, as soon as we fall in love with the idea of "true love," and put this love before God; our relationships will suffer.

I also really liked Lewis’ garden analogy towards the end of the chapter. I think that many people, including myself, share a misconception that loving someone is going to be easy (or at least a lot easier than it actually is). This is far from true. Lewis tells us that in giving us the Eros kind of love for someone, God has given us an indescribably beautiful garden. However, in order to maintain their beauty, gardens require a lot of sweat, blood, and tears. Likewise, says Lewis, love requires work. We can’t expect that loving someone will always be something which happens effortlessly. Lewis tells us that to be married means to be constantly working and struggling in both our human relationship and also our relationship with God.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Plantinga Ch 5: "Vocation in the Kingdom of God"

This chapter of the Plantinga book related very well to “Learning in War-Time.” Plantinga covers many of the same points which Lewis covers in his essay. He also talks about serving God in all aspects of life and at whatever we are doing. There is to be no division between what is sacred and what is secular in our lives.

It was good for me to read what Plantinga says about the importance of which actual career we choose. He stated that while it is important to choose something for which God has fitted us well, our vocation and our career are not one and the same. What is most important is not that we have picked the perfect career for ourselves, but that we are serving the Lord in all aspects of whatever career we have. This especially spoke to me because I have often wondered if my choice to become a doctor is exactly what God wants me to do with my life. I feel that God is calling me into medicine now, but what if this changes later? I also wonder which field of medicine I will be called into. This can become a huge source of stress for me at times. Reading this helped me to realize once again that I need to continue in my studies for now while I feel this is where God wants me, and put the rest of my life in his hands. I need to remember that in whatever I end up doing as a career, I can glorify God and help to bring about his Kingdom.

"Learning in War-Time"

“’Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.’ All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest: and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not. Christianity does not simply replace our natural life and substitute a new one: it is rather a new organization which exploits, to its own supernatural ends, these natural materials.”

I really enjoyed reading this essay by Lewis. It was a very good reminder to me that whatever I do, it is to be done for the glory of God. It is often so easy for me to fall into the feeling that many parts of my life are trivial or mundane. I often have a hard time remembering to give God glory every time I go to the computer lab, do my laundry, or look in the mirror. Tasks like these become moments through which I am merely sleepwalking. I fail to perform my duty to give to God the glory and praise of which he is worthy. It is easy for me to remember to give God glory when I am in a class such as biology, religion, or DCM in which we are actively talking about how God works in our lives, through the lives of others, and in the physical world. It is also easy to remember to glorify God when I am in church or at chapel. It is often harder to find meaning in those moments in which we are taking out the trash, working a part-time job, or walking to class. This does not mean that these moments are not any less important to use to the glory of God. It is not just important for God’s sake, but for the sake of those around us. Whether we want to or not, we are constantly living as witnesses to people around us. It is important that we are bringing God glory at all times so as to show others what it means to live for Christ.

Another thing which I really liked about this article is that Lewis talks about any job, no matter how seemingly pointless it may seem, is an area of our lives in which we are called to put our whole selves in order to praise God. In our small group and in the class discussion, we talked about how often times in our churches, pastors, and especially missionaries are put on a pedestal as being somehow more holy than the rest of us or as having a more important job than others. As a niece of both a pastor and a missionary, I have heard the frustrations of my uncles when they talk about people looking to them in this manner. I think that many people often think about missionary and/or work as a minister as some of the only work through which you fully serve God in every moment. This is not true. Not only are we able, but we are called by God to serve and praise him in all that we do. At Calvin College, this means that it is our vocation as students to learn and to learn to the best of our ability, using the gifts we have been given to glorify God.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Plantinga Ch 3: "The Fall"

In this chapter, Plantinga addresses the problem of Sin in our world. He spends most of his time talking about how we are fully encompassed in Sin and we can see evil at every turn in this world. He talks about our total depravity; our inability to do anything good using only our own power. But he also talks about the goodness with which God created the world and that we can still see this goodness in everything around us. We are not completely lost. Plantinga also discusses the difference between “regenerating grace” and “common grace.” He describes regenerating grace as grace in which the Holy Spirit works in a person or situation to maintain the goodness which already exists and also to create new forms of goodness in that person or situation. Common grace, on the other hand, is “an array of God’s gifts that preserves and enhances human life even when not regenerating it.” God gives common grace to all people, believers or not.

While I was reading this writing, I thought of an analogy my theology professor once used to explain to my class the idea of total depravity which I have found helpful in thinking about this concept. He described the initial state of humanity (when Adam and Eve were created) as being on one side of a teeter-totter and perfectly balanced by the weight of Sin on the other side. In other words, humanity is equally able to Sin or to obey God. When Adam and Eve first sinned, it as if an extra weight was added to the humanity side of the teeter-totter, pushing the Sin side of the teeter-totter up above. This represents our dominance by Sin and our inability to do good in the world. It is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit that we are returned to the equilibrium (ability to sin and to obey God) in which we first existed. But this is starting to reach outside of the chapter on the Fall.

Finally, I really liked the quote by Madeleine L’Engle which Plantinga chooses to use:
It’s a sad commentary on our world that “integrity” has slowly been coming to mean self-centeredness. Most people who worry about their integrity are thinking about it in terms of themselves. It’s a great excuse for not doing something you really don’t want to do, or a friend to do: 'I can’t do that and keep my integrity.' Integrity, like humility, is a quality.
I think that this quote does a great job of explaining the corruption of good which we have seen in this world. It talks about the fallen idea of integrity which we have today – one in which we think of integrity as how we feel about ourselves and how others think of us. She then compares it to integrity as a quality – the way God intended integrity to be – integrity as honesty, steadfastness, honorability. Notice that this kind of integrity holds as its focus not ourselves, but those who live around us. I think that almost every aspect of fallenness involves this self-centeredness which L’Engle addresses in this quote.

"The Poison of Subjectivism"

In this piece, Lewis discusses the problem of Subjectivism which was sweeping the world at the time he was writing (Subjectivism continues to be a huge part of culture today). He starts by giving the reader a better idea of what he means by the term “Subjectivism.” He says,

It does not believe that value judgments are really judgments at all. They are sentiments, or complexes, or attitudes, produced in a community by the pressure of its environment and its traditions, and differing from one community to another.

He goes on to explain that this idea leads to the dangerous belief that people can create their own moral values, their own right and wrong. He then argues against Subjectivism, showing logically that our idea of new or innovative morals is really just an incomplete version of the “stagnant” (permanent) moral standards we’ve always had, and that general moral standards do not truly vary from one culture to another. Lewis then discusses how Subjectivism is not just a “secular” problem, but that it has also started to spread through the church. He explains that this kind of thinking can only lead us away from God and into ruin.

I found reading this article to be very thought-provoking. It is incredible how relevant what Lewis is saying in this piece still is today. We have become used to the general attitude that we cannot tell another person that what they are doing is wrong and to do so is to be “intolerant” or “judgmental.” I have grown up learning two different messages: one is that of the Christian faith and the other is that of Subjectivism (or Postmodernism). I have seen in TV shows, movies, and other facets of culture, the idea that everyone has their own set of morals which they see as truth. But there is no objective, universal truth; truth is something a person decides on for themselves. We are not to point out a flaw in another person because who are we to say that our sense of right or wrong is any better than the next person’s. As long as we are “good people” and we live the “best” we can, we are alright. Lewis’ argument can be used here to counter the message of Postmodernism. “The Poison of Subjectivism” argues that if no absolute standard of truth actually exists, than who are we to say that a person is “good” or “bad” or living up to their own moral standards? How can we deliver justice in our individual lives and as a nation, when there is no objective definition of justice? And where does our innate sense of justice come from and why does it seem so similar from one person to the next?

Subjectivism is a line of thought which will not disappear from our society any time soon. I’m sure that for the rest of my life, I will be faced with questions and challenges posed by Postmodern thinkers and I will be called upon to explain my own opinion and my own belief in God and objective truth. Reading this piece was helpful in that it logically articulates an argument against this line of thought which I can use to support my opinion in the future.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Mere Christianity"

In the first four chapters of Mere Christianity, Lewis talks about how the existence of universal moral law of the human race shows strong evidence of God’s existence. He talks about how even those who claim to have no universal code of conduct and behavior, will protest about something being unfair; everyone, whether they like it or not, has some type of “code of justice.” Lewis says that any discrepancies in morals between different cultures do not indicate a lack of universality, but of a progression in morality as the human race changes and grows. He says that the fact that we can look at different cultures throughout the history of humankind and see which ones are better than others, shows that there is still some universal standard of goodness which we have not obtained.

Lewis then draws the distinction between the law of morality and a scientific law. He says that we cannot call moral law a law of nature because laws of nature merely describe the behavior of matter in the natural world. For example, the scientific law of gravity describes that all objects are attracted to one another and the larger an object, the larger the force of attraction will be towards it. Notice that this law is not a rule – your pencil does not fall to the ground when you drop it because we wrote a scientific law stating it should. Natural laws are only descriptions of how we expect processes in the natural world to occur. Moral law is not like this. Moral law is actually quite often disobeyed. People do not always act as we should. It is not the description of our actions, but the sense of what makes something right or wrong which is considered moral law.

Further, Lewis points out that “…there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior, and yet quite definitely real – a real law, which none of us has made, but which we find pressing on us.” This moral law comes from something greater, better, and beyond us. Unlike the laws of the physical universe, our universal moral standards come from a higher authority – this higher authority, Lewis concludes is “a Power behind the facts, a Director, a Guide.” This authority is God himself.

I really liked Lewis’ perspective that the sense of universal morality each of us has is in itself evidence that there is some Good which guides us. We would not and could not have this sense of right and wrong if we were just some chance result of biochemical reactions, simply organized and functional masses of matter. There is something more to us – we have been designed by Someone. Not only have we been designed, but we have had a sense of how to do the will of God instilled in us. Relating back to “The Weight of Glory”, we have been created to yearn, to long for the God who created us.

"The Screwtape Letters (XII)"

In chapter XII of The Screwtape Letters, I was most struck by how the devil uses the formation of small, seemingly insignificant habits to worsen our relationship with God. As I read this letter, something my track coach once told me came to mind. It was towards the beginning of the season and my coach stopped me for a few minutes and asked me about some of the goals I was setting for myself that season. He explained that in order to reach my goals, I would have to make a habit of working hard each and every day. In order to be in shape and improve as a runner, it is important that you work hard every day in practice, during races, in the weight room. It is necessary to eat healthy, sleep enough, and exercise daily. He emphasized that as soon as a person started to skip practice or stay out too late the night before a meet, not only would it hurt them for the short amount of time surrounding their “bad behavior," but it made it much easier the next time they were considering similar behavior, to go ahead and do it. As we were leaving the track and walking back to the school building, my coach told me that this principle applies to our faith life as well as our exercise regimes. When I asked him what he meant, he explained that just as in the process of conditioning for a sport, we need to set aside time every day in order to work on our relationship with God. Time for prayer and devotions should be a daily habit. Also, just as in the “athletic world,” once we skip one day of prayer, devotions, or church attendance, it is that much easier to skip again the next time the opportunity comes along again.

Lewis expresses this idea when Screwtape congratulates his nephew on his success on leading a “patient” away from the Lord.

"As the condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do."

Reading this piece and remembering my coach’s words to me served as a good reminder to be on my guard against the formation of bad habits. This is something which struck close to home because I have seen it in my own life. I struggle very much with feeling too busy to really give a significant amount of time to my devotions during the day. I have this overwhelming feeling that if I take just an hour or even a half an hour to read my Bible, pray, and listen for God’s voice, I will get behind on homework or miss a movie I was really hoping to see. Another struggle for me is that when I do get spare time, I’d rather sit and do something which requires very little thought or effort such as watch a TV show or go on Facebook, than spend time with God. I have already formed a bad habit of at times skipping my devotions for less important things such as the internet, TV, reading, or homework. This reading helped me realize that these are not harmless errors, but an important and destructive habit of which I am called to rid myself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Plantinga Ch 2 "Creation"

“John Calvin notes [that] ‘wherever we cast our gaze’ we can spot signs of God’s glory, disclosed in the ‘whole workmanship of the universe.’ God gives off a ‘general’ or universal revelation through creation and providence, and unless we dull our perception of it by sloth or self-interest, the vast system of the universe becomes for us ‘a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is otherwise invisible.’”
~Plantinga (27)

In this chapter, I found that I most easily connected with Plantinga’s discussion of God’s general revelation through his creation and also how special revelation relates to general revelation. I think this is because in my own life, general revelation has played a very strong role in helping to strengthen my faith in God. As a young child, I was always fascinated by science. I was a little bit of a tomboy and rather than playing with dolls or painting my nails with the girls in my neighborhood, I would spend many summer afternoons with the boys, collecting insects and building “homes” for them in empty glass jars. I remember even then being fascinated by the intricacy and diversity found in such small creatures as insects. As I have grown up, I’ve found that my fascination with God’s creation has continued to grow. One morning last fall in a cell biology lecture, we were learning about the processes of mitosis, meiosis, DNA replication, and all of the various specific enzymes and events which must take place in a tiny cell in exact sequence in order for the whole process of cell division to take place. I was taken aback; I had to take a moment to stop taking notes and just try and comprehend the amazing complexity with which God created our bodies down to even the smallest cell. I could not help but think of Psalm 139:14 which says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Experiences such as these have had a large effect on my faith. The more I see the wonder and intricacy with which all of nature has been made, the more convinced I become of God’s existence and involvement in the physical world. There is no way in my mind that all of this could have happened by chance.

I also appreciated the point Plantinga makes for the necessity of special as well as general revelation. I agree with what he says. It doesn’t matter how much I learn about the complexity of a plant body or a cell; because of the Fall which has affected all of creation, biology in itself cannot lead me to a faith in Jesus Christ or belief in His death and resurrection. As Calvin described it, I have used scripture, God’s special revelation, as a “lens” through which I can view the physical world, or God’s general revelation.

Finally, I really liked the Gerard Manely Hopkins quote Plantinga uses towards the end of the chapter. This quote states that it is not just through prayer, but also through our work that we bring glory to God. I think that it is very important to remember that our entire lives should be an act of worship. Many Christians today (including me) have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives into religious and secular sections. We need to know at all times that we are called to glorify God in all facets of life whether we are singing a praise song, writing a paper for school, or getting up early on a Saturday morning to work at a job which we don't particularly enjoy.

"The Weight of Glory"

This is my favorite piece by C.S. Lewis that we’ve read so far. It reminded me of one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with my friends. It was an afternoon in the early spring and we were walking from the bakery to school. The clouds in the sky were big and billowy and white. At the beginning of our walk, they were blocking all the sun’s rays, leaving everything gray, dreary and soggy-looking under the melting snow. Then, all at once, there was a break in the cloud cover and the sun shown down in distinct beams down through the clouds, giving everything an almost golden hue. Suddenly, we couldn’t help but notice the new life everywhere – the trees were covered with buds, grass and small purple flowers were peeping out from under the blanket of snow everywhere. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think of heaven and God’s light showing down on the earth. As we walked along, we talked for a long time about what we think heaven may be like, about death and how frightening it is to think about dying, but at the same time how exciting the prospect of eternal life with God is.

Reading “The Weight of Glory” had the same feeling for me as this conversation a few years ago did. I really liked Lewis’ insights on what it means for us to stand in God’s glory. He talks about how one aspect of this will be God knowing us and the splendor of having his favor and being a source of pleasure to him. Lewis describes this experience on page five. He says, “…no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child – not in a conceited child, but in a good child – as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised.” We were created to want to please God. The greatest joy we are given in life and in death is that we are pleasing to God. Lewis points out that any and every longing experienced in life is at its root, a longing for this joy, even when our longings seem to be for the very opposite of God’s favor.

I really liked the imagery of God making us to shine like the sun. We will leave the fallen and distorted state in which we exist now and pass into shalom; into the existence which God intended for us. He will make us to realize the full potential with which he created us.

I thought another important point in this essay was that we are not to become prideful or arrogant in thinking about what we will be like in God’s glory. Lewis says that it is important for us to keep in mind the image of how glorious or frightening those around us may be after death. When we keep this image in mind, it is much easier to see other individuals as image-bearers of God and to see our place as equals and not superiors to those around us. It is important that we treat those around us with the full respect of bearers of God’s image and that we at all times keep their value to God in mind.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Our English Syllabus"

This piece was quite different from anything we have yet read in this class. It did not seem to be quite as blatantly philosophical as any of the pieces we’ve read before, but I still liked it. I really liked the distinction Lewis makes between education and learning. He sees education as something which gives us the chance to participate in activities and think about things which are not directly related to our careers or our survival. According to Lewis, it “actualizes the potentiality for leisure.” Lewis says that education is also something which takes place in a specific time frame. He sees learning, on the other hand, as a life-long process. It is not something which is forced upon us or something we do in order to better ourselves or reach some explicit goal. Rather, learning is something we do simply out of a desire for knowledge about something which particularly interests us. He points out that the original purpose of Oxford (and colleges like it) is not to teach people or to give them an education, but to give the professors and others a place where they can pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

I also liked the distinction Lewis makes between training and education. Education is something which is broad and overarching of several disciplines and it does not always directly make us more able to do a job or directly prepare us for a career. He defines training as something with direct use – obtaining only those skills which will be used directly in the workplace. Lewis states,
Our danger is that equality may mean training for all and education for none – that everyone will learn commercial French instead of Latin, book-keeping instead of geometry, and ‘knowledge of the world we live in’ instead of great literature.
This is something I myself have seen at Calvin College and in my own life. It is often so easy to stay focused on a future career and forget the value of the other things we are learning. In my own life, I have often said to myself of various classes, “when am I ever going to use this as a doctor?” I often see my time here at Calvin only as a means of getting me into medical school and I forget that there is value in having a well-rounded knowledge about various subjects; that in order to be a good steward in God’s world it is not only necessary to know a lot about one thing, but to know about many different things which I may encounter later. This reading motivated me to see more in those subjects which may not naturally hold much interest for me. It is possible to see God at work in all disciplines and having a well-rounded knowledge of creation allows us to appreciate even more what God is doing in all areas of the world and all aspects of culture. I really appreciated what Professor Adrianna Ribeiro had to say in class about taking those subjects which we may not be very interested in and making them fit our interests by relating them back to things which we know more about. This is not necessarily an easy thing to do, but hard work is required in order to truly learn something. I agree with Lewis at the end of this essay when he says that we can no longer be spoon-fed in our classes. “You are too old for that.”

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Plantinga Ch 1: "Longing and Hope"

I found that the first chapter of Engaging God’s World related very well to our reading from C.S. Lewis today. In his essay, Lewis points out that people are often willing to go against their own sense of morality in order to obtain some promise of happiness, security, and love. Plantinga expands on this idea in talking about the longing which causes us to do unexpected things in pursuit of a goal. He uses the German word sehnsucht, meaning searching or yearning to describe this type of longing. According to Plantinga, all longing – be it for a long hike in the wilderness, love and romance, wealth, or acceptance in a particular social group – is at its root, for the God who made us. He says,

God has made us for himself. Our sense of God runs in us like a stream, even though we divert it toward other objects. We human beings want God even when we think that what we really want is a green valley, or a good time from the past, or a loved one.

Plantinga addresses what I think C.S. Lewis is alluding to towards the end of his essay, “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness.’” Lewis is suggesting that while sexual happiness promises to provide us with lifelong happiness and worth, this promise is empty. Plantinga directly states that we will never find what we are truly seeking by worldly means. He tells us that we will only find our joy, strength, and security in God our Creator. Plantinga also points out that this intense longing, this sehnsucht, is the root of all hope. Our longing for God brings about our hope for a renewed world. We desperately and simply hope for the bringing about of shalom in our own lives and in all of Creation surrounding us. We aspire to see things made right and to see them in the way God intended for them to be.

"We have no 'Right to Happiness'"

As I read this short piece, I found myself in shock that so little has changed in our culture since Lewis wrote it. I feel that this piece could just as well have been written yesterday as forty some years ago. In fact, I personally believe that if anything, the problem Lewis describes in this essay has become greater today than it was at the time Lewis was writing. To me, it seems that everywhere you look in the media lately, romantic relationships seem to be based only on what a person can get out of them physically. Happiness has been reduced simply to sexual pleasure and as soon as a person no longer makes us “happy” we are free to dispose of them and move on with no regrets. And as C.S. Lewis argues, this whole concept stems from the fact that we feel we are entitled to sexual happiness. The same person who sees it as unacceptable for people to commit immoral or illegal acts in pursuit of “monetary happiness” won’t even blink at a person committing the same act in pursuit of sexual pleasure.

On the third page of the essay, Lewis states, “It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion – as distinct from a transient fit of appetite – that makes more towering promises than any other emotion.” I think this is a very good point. It seems that sexual pleasure and physical “love” carry with them many more hopes and expectations than any other type of pleasure. We expect that love and marriage will carry with it a “happily ever after” story in which two people remain completely and easily enamored with one another for the rest of their lives. Further, in listening to a lot of the popular music today or in watching any of the latest chick flicks it seems that the greatest happiness is only found through a romantic relationship with someone else. I believe that these general beliefs and expectations have led to the point at which we have arrived now – we are constantly seeking happiness through romantic relationships and when we cease to find happiness in a significant other, we find it acceptable to simply move on to another person.

As an unmarried college student who is constantly bombarded with these types of messages, it is very easy to fall into the pool of thought that all you really need to do to be happy is to find the love of your life and marry him or her.
This essay served as a good reminder that no earthly pleasure will completely satisfy and no human relationship, no matter how good it is, can provide us with true joy. Lewis says that relationships work only through struggle, hard work, discomfort, and compromise.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


In his short essay “Bulverism”, C.S. Lewis discusses a phenomenon which results from our own arrogance and self righteousness. Lewis describes bulverism as the tendency we often have in modern society to disregard reason and logic in arguments and to assume that any opinion apart from our own is wrong. We then proceed to explain why a person is wrong without considering the possibility of their argument having any validity.

Lewis counters that you must examine a concept or idea logically and objectively (he uses the example of the balance of a bank account) to determine whether it is correct before you begin to point fingers showing what is wrong with a person to cause their idea to be incorrect. He says, “…you must show that a person is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong.” He explains that it is only after we eliminate “bulverism” that we can use reason to determine the correctness or incorrectness of a belief, such as theism or more specifically, the Christian faith.

According to Lewis, “All our knowledge of the universe beyond our immediate experiences depends on inferences from these experiences. If our inferences do not give a genuine insight into reality, then we can know nothing.” He explains that our thoughts can have one of two possible sources: ordinary mindless causes, in which case no real insight can be drawn from the thought; or “reasons," in which case the thought holds some valuable meaning. In other words, only those theories which are reasonable are valid. Lewis states that our own thought and will are not a product of nature – they are not a result of some meaningless cause. They are the creation of some greater “self-existent Will or Reason outside ourselves, in fact, a Supernatural.”

I found this essay to be very insightful. I agree that theories and ideas need to be broken down and processed reasonably in order to determine their "trueness" or "falseness". I also agree that the source of the reason or will by which we discern has to be some greater Reason (God). I also think that the phenomenon of bulverism is one which is very prevalent in society. We tend to be a very sinful and self-centered people. We have a general inability to see things from the perspective of others. Our arrogance prevents us from seeing value in the insights and thoughts of others and the error in our own thoughts. This is not to say that every thought or opinion any person has is necessarily correct. But I do think there is a need for an increased humility among people in general. We need to look at theories and beliefs in a more objective manner rather than immediately moving to judge the person who produced that thought or theory.

"Meditation in a Toolshed"

In this piece, C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of a beam of light in an otherwise dark toolshed to explain two different ways of viewing objects, concepts, and events in life. He says that one way of seeing something is to look at the “beam of light.” This is the more scientific, objective way of looking at something. According to Lewis, it is seeing the beam of light from the outside, seeing its shape, angle, and brightness. He also uses the example of love. When we look at love from a physiological point of view, we see it as a combination of hormones, neurons firing, and other biological events. He also points out that we can view things by looking along the “beam of light.” This is a more experiential way of viewing and defining things. It is standing in the beam of light and seeing the tree growing outside the toolshed. Or it is experiencing the feeling of love for another person or the physical sensation of pain.

Lewis argues that we often place far too much emphasis on viewing the world by looking at it. We are too concerned with the scientific explanation for things and we too readily define things based completely on an on-looking perspective. He says that we do not place enough value on the definition of things derived from an experiential perspective. He points out that both views are equally valid and necessary in understanding what something is.

I agree with Lewis. As a biology major, I am often very focused on the scientific explanation for things and I am very used to the mentality to discredit the experiential aspect of different concepts and events. While there is a definite need for looking at things, it is just as important to look along things. I especially appreciated what was said in class about the fact that neither of these views can give us a complete view or understanding of anything. Even using these two views in combination, we can still not see the sun as the ultimate source of the beam of light. We can, however, deduce that something preexists which causes this beam of light to exist. Likewise, in life, while we cannot see God directly, we can see His creation and works which allow us to conclude that He is the source of these things.