C. S. Lewis and Scripture

My brother recently asked me about C. S. Lewis and his views on Scripture, specifically that he’d heard that Lewis didn’t believe in the Old Testament. Not having heard this particular charge before, I did a little looking around to see what I could fine (here, here, and here).To my surprise, I found that Lewis was not an inerrantist. He was comfortable saying that he didn’t think certain parts of the Bible were literal (I saw mention of the creation epic, Job, Esther, and Jonah). But even in saying that, he also wasn’t bothered to think the rest of the Bible was true. In his mind as a literary expert, if a story read like a myth or a fable, he assumed it was. And he was very unbothered by the idea. He still thought it was useful for us as Christians.
More, I also came across some little side comments he made about Paul’s meanderings and the pseudo-contradictions between the gospel accounts. Again, in all instances, he leaned heavily on the human element of authorship, focusing on the fallibility of the authors and their personal quirks or wrong recollections muddying the Scriptures for us.

To give my highly uninformed opinion, I would presume that this finds its source in how Lewis came to believe in the first place. It was through his own reasoning that he came to see that Christianity had to be true. And as such, he saw reason and rationality as the means by which truth could be assessed and respected. Basically, in his mind, it didn’t really matter if parts of the Bible rang true or not—truth was truth, rather or not the Bible got it exactly right.

All in all, that’s a bit foreign to our ears. But historically speaking, it’s not as odd as one might think. As Lewis points out in one of the sites I checked, Calvin questioned whether Job was a historical account or not. The fact is that our current stance on the inerrancy of Scripture is a relatively recent development in terms of the affirmation, “The Bible is without error in the original manuscripts in everything it claims to be true.” This was in response to the rise of liberalism, which took the rationalistic line of thought which was cousin to Lewis’s view and ran it off the Cliffs of Insanity: we can discount anything at all if our reason seems to make no sense of it! And in response to that, a need was felt to respond with an affirmation that the Bible can be trusted. And rightly so! In that affirmation, it was recognized that human reason is no good judge of what’s true and what’s not, because in our sinfulness, we can too easily reject truths that make us uncomfortable, even to the point of denying the resurrection or even the very existence of the Creator outright.

So, what do I think of Lewis’s view of Scripture? On the one hand, I’m not terribly bothered by it. Strict inerrant views were mainly beyond his time. And besides, the basic fundamentalist/inerrantist/Bible-thumper sometimes struggles mightily to understand the differences between hyperbole and poetry and prophecy (“the moon will turn to blood”) and we end up with messes like the Left Behind series. Even while believing in inerrancy, it’s not always easy to parse what’s literal and what’s not. But on the other hand, I really don’t think we can set our own reason as the main guide by which we assess the rightness or wrongness of the Scriptures. Lewis did it and wrote some darn good stuff because he never doubted the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus. But his view is pretty troublesome if you doubt that part. Because then you get the right to call into question anything else you want, including doctrines that are central to the faith.

But C. S. Lewis was just a man. And he wasn’t right about everything. I’ll still take the 95% of his incredibly insightful and Spirit-filled writing while putting up with the other 5% of squishy views.

From a Book: Bent Creatures Are Full of Fears

I’ve recently been re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and just finished the first book Out of the Silent Planet. In the book, the word used to describe sin to the inhabitants of Malacandra is “bent”, a word aptly describing how we take the good that God has given and bend it to something other than it’s use. Thus we on Earth (Thulcandra in the book) are all bent. One of the creatures was observing with bemusement how the human visitors had acted so incredibly strangely, full of fear and paranoia. The main character Ransom responded to the creatures who couldn’t understand the fears of their human visitors by saying:

Bent creatures are full of fears.

There’s so much I could say here. So much of my life that is filled with fear. The fear of looking the fool. The fear of getting hurt. The fear of being laughed at. The fear of the future. The fear of my failures. The fear of my successes. The fear of being wrong. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of being unloved. The fear of my own passions. And on and on and on.

There seems to be a proportional link between our “bentedness” and our fears. Or conversely, the greater our faith, the greater our fearlessness in the hands of a good and wise king. My bentedness is far worse than I lie to myself it is. And the same lies that hide it are also the ones I use to rename my fears as logic and wisdom and reason. But as circumstances have shown lately, I am “laden with guilt and full of fear”, but I hesitate to “fly to thee, my Lord.” Then the blacksmith would have to place me on the anvil and begin to hammer the bends out to straighten me into the image he created me for.

But that would hurt. And I’m afraid of pain.

From a Book: More Than I Ever Did Before

Quite a while back, I alluded to how Aslan in the Narnia books has helped me to see Jesus more clearly. I still hope to expand on that more once I finish my current rereading of the series. Until then, I thought I’d share an example of a little boy named Laurence who felt the same and had similar struggles to my own, wondering if affection for Aslan outweighed affection for Jesus. His mother wrote to Lewis about it and here’s his response:

1/Even if he was loving Aslan more than Jesus (I’ll explain in a moment why he can’t really be doing this) he would not be an idol-worshipper. If he was an idol-worshipper he’d be doing it on purpose, whereas he’s now doing it because he can’t help doing it, and trying hard not to do it. But God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won’t be angry with us as long as we are trying. And He will help us.
2/But Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.

-from Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3, pages 602-603

From a Book: The Cure Had Begun

It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.

-from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Book 3 of the Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis, Page 110

From a Book: Enchanted as Sin

For [the white witch] knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.

-from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Book 1 of the Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis, Loc 363

From a Book: No Other Stream

stream-1351841092KWiA little long and maybe slightly confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the world of Narnia. But it still slays me to read it and so I invite you to as well. I’ve always loved Aslan because of how he made Jesus more real to me (more on this in the near future). He’s gracious and loving and king and mighty and magnificent and scary and perfect–all at the same time. And there’s no other place, no other stream, from which to find living water–water that truly quenches and takes away any more thirst.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion—no one who had seen his stern face could do that—and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia) (pp. 21-23). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Slightly edited)

In the Name of Love

mirror-with-ornate-frameGet ready for Bill’s duh statement of the day: I can’t see myself. Well, I can see parts of me. But not all of me. And looking in mirrors doesn’t help that much because I still see a backwards version of me. That’s why seeing a picture of yourself (or hearing your own voice, for that matter) is such a shocking thing: we don’t look (to ourselves) the way we actually look (to everyone else).

My soul isn’t any different. I know what I think I’m like on the inside. But I don’t “see” myself clearly. Not at all. Thus trying to diagnose and mend my own soul is a dangerous endeavor–a lot like how it goes when I try to cut my own hair by looking in a mirror.

Well, something happens to me from time to time. It would probably happen more often if I asked Dad for it. But I don’t. I’m usually content in my blissful ignorance of my own failings and sins and temptations. Yet Dad doesn’t always wait around for me to ask for his help–sometimes he sees me headed toward the precipice and he steps in because he loves me.

How this time? A prophecy from my wife. And when she prophesies, it’s really just the Spirit kicking me in the spiritual teeth with words of truth that smart like hell all while she doesn’t even know she’s prophesying. (Yes, prophecy from the Spirit still exists. No, it’s not full of bangs and whistles and fireworks–it’s words from one Spirit-filled Christian to another.) It’s a lot like Eustace having his dragon skin removed by Aslan:

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy—oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

So, what’s my sin? Idolatry. What idol? Get this: her.

Suck.

wooden-heart-2But I love her. Like, I way love her. I would do anything for her. I would sacrifice myself for her. I would go to the end of the world and back for her.

Ah. Yeah. Now I see it. If you subbed in Jesus for all of the “hers” in the last paragraph, all would be hunky dory. That’s the way it’s supposed to be for the King. But not for my wife. At least, not over and above allegiance to and love for the King.

To be honest, I struggled hard in my heart. The way I loved her was good and right. Wasn’t it? How could my love for her and my devotion to her be bad?

Enter another story (I’m apparently in a CS Lewis mood today) called Till We Have Faces. To give a horribly simplistic and overly generalized summary, it tells the story of how one sister loved her sister in such a way as to nearly destroy her. It’s an astounding book and both times I’ve read it, I was caught off-guard with the turn it took near the end and the overlaying complexity of the protagonist (really, just read it for yourself–I’m explaining it horribly).

But to give the necessary background, most of the book is devoted to the older sister citing her case against the gods for how they have brought misery upon her and upon her sister. And interestingly, I still find this part of the book somewhat bland to read ( I say it’s interesting because her self-blindness–like mine–is lame and kinda boring). But then the turn happens. In the very last part of the book, the older sister finally understands that her case against the gods was really a case against herself; that in the name of love she had displayed, to quote an essay I found, “a tyrannically selfish possessiveness.” What she thought was love for her sister was really deep-seated selfishness. It was self-love. And it turned into hate toward the object of her “love”. (Again, I plead with you, read the book. It’s truly worth the time.)

And so, in a book written decades ago, I find myself. I love my wife so fiercely because I love myself.  I want so badly to believe that I love her selflessly, but I love her for myself. And I expect from her the impossible–to be my hope and my joy and my salvation. There’s no other word for that than “idol”.

And so, I’m laid bare. My skin has been stripped by the Lion. I have no turn left but to turn–to repent.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
(from Psalm 51)