Remembering C. S. Lewis

 

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Remembering some of his words, on the anniversary of his death.

“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’ –or else not.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with out friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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Handel’s Messiah, No. 4 Chorus

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
     And all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
I’ve sung and heard this so many times that I know it by heart.  But today I saw it with new eyes through two of the phrases.  “All flesh shall see it [God’s glory] together.”  Not just believers will see God’s glory, but all flesh together.  I can hardly imagine what that will be like.  And that last phrase, “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it”  reminded me of God’s majestic sovereignty, power, and steadfastness.  He speaks things into being and what he says He will do He will do.

Hope and Renewal

 

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king

The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

My Broken, Contrite Heart You’ll not Despise

I found a new (to me) hymn this morning in Hymns of Grace.  Titled “I Plead For Grace,” it is an adaptation of Psalm 51 by Joseph Tyrpak, and is paired with a familiar hymn tune, Morecambe.  If you would like to sing it Mr. Fleischer’s piano rendition is a nice accompaniment.

The text:

I Plead For Grace
I plead for grace,O God of steadfast love;
By Your great mercy, all my sin remove.
Deeply ashamed for spurning You alone,
I stand condemned before your holy throne.
 
Though you want truth and purity within,
I am unclean, conceived with inborn sin.
Purge me with blood, and wash me white as snow.
Hide my transgressions; heal my broken soul.
 
Create in me a spotless heart, I pray.
Take not Your Spirit! Cast me not away!
Restore to me salvation’s joy anew,
Then I will teach the lost to turn to You.
 
Save me, O God with blood my hands are stained!
Open my lips to praise Your righteous name.
Though You reject a thoughtless sacrifice,
My broken, contrite heart You’ll not despise.
 
Lord, in Your goodness, build up Zion’s walls.
Let not my sin tear down Your glorious cause.
May You delight in ev’ry sacrifice,
Offered by sinners You have purified.
 
God can be just and sinners justify
For Jesus bled God’s wrath to satisfy.
My sins the spikes that nailed Christ to the tree—
God’s love and justice there for all to see.

Glad Tidings

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.
Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.
For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.
To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.
All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.

Compassion and Politics

For a long time I have had a suspicion that one of the reasons we demand more social service programs is because we can feel we are “helping” without doing anything ourselves.  I’ve wondered, too, why the most vocal supporters of welfare programs seem to have no interest in actual outcomes and efficiency of the systems.

William Voegeli, a political scientist, in an article for Imprimis says that his book Never Enough:  America’s Limitless Welfare State,

…offered an answer to two of the journalist’s standard questions: What is the liberal disposition regarding the growth of the welfare state? And How does that outlook affect politics and policy? But it did not answer another question: Why do liberals feel that no matter how much we’re doing through government programs to alleviate and prevent poverty, whatever we are doing is shamefully inadequate?

On closer study this is what he concluded in answer to the Why question:

The whole point of compassion is for empathizers to feel better when awareness of another’s suffering provokes unease. But this ultimate purpose does not guarantee that empathizees will fare better. Barbara Oakley, co-editor of the volume Pathological Altruism, defines its subject as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” Surprises and accidents happen, of course. The pathology of pathological altruism is not the failure to salve every wound. It is, rather, the indifference—blithe, heedless, smug, or solipsistic—to the fact and consequences of those failures, just as long as the empathizer is accruing compassion points that he and others will admire.

….Even where there are no material benefits to addressing, without ever reducing, other people’s suffering, there are vital psychic benefits for those who regard their own compassion as the central virtue that makes them good, decent, and admirable people—people whose sensitivity readily distinguishes them from mean-spirited conservatives.  “Pity is about how deeply I can feel,” wrote the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain. “And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

It follows, then, that the answer to the question of how liberals who profess to be anguished about other people’s suffering can be so weirdly complacent regarding wasteful, misdirected, and above all ineffective government programs created to relieve that suffering—is that liberals care about helping much less than they care about caring. Because compassion gives me a self-regarding reason to care about your suffering, it’s more important for me to do something than to accomplish something. Once I’ve voted for, given a speech about, written an editorial endorsing, or held forth at a dinner party on the salutary generosity of some program to “address” your problem, my work is done, and I can feel the rush of my own pious reaction. There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made me feel better, just by being established and praised, has actually alleviated your suffering.

    Read the rest here.

    Speaking the Truth in Worship

    In 1674 Jodocus Van Lodenstein, a Dutch Reformed Pietist, first used the term “always reforming” in reference to the church.  He said “The church is reformed and always (in need of) being reformed according to the Word of God.”  Because of our wily and corrupt human nature it is still true today.  Those first reformers were concerned to return to what the Church was meant to be according to scripture, correcting false and corrupt doctrine and traditions.  We too need to guard against the siren call to adapt to the culture or indulge personal preferences.  We must remember “Sola Scriptura.”

    In that spirit Jonathan Aigner suggests 95 more theses for the modern church door.  A few of them:

    • How to do worship is not fundamentally a question of preference, but meaning.
    • Theology, not taste, should determine how we worship.
    • Worship isn’t about declaring our attraction and affection for God, but declaring the character of God, and God’s creative and redemptive acts in human history.
    • Being a Christian should scare the hell out of us. If it doesn’t, we aren’t doing it right. Worship brings us together in our vulnerability.
    • The world around us is ugly, and mimicking the ugliness to make church relevant ends up making the church sad and irrelevant.
    • The church’s relevance is found in its divine Alternative to the ugliness of a fallen cosmos.

    I had to read this next one a couple of times, but I agree with him.  My reading some of the Psalms in which the writer declares his innocence and righteousness come to mind:

    • Speaking the truth of the gospel will sometimes be a lie. Liturgy calls us to speak, sing, read, and pray words that we don’t believe. The discipline of choosing to speak the Truth over what is true in our lives at any given point will unquestionably make the truth we live closer to the Truth we speak.

    Of course I agree with his comments on entertainment style music and singing in church worship.  For instance:

    • Music in worship isn’t supposed to be a vehicle for emotional manipulation or sensory gratification.
    • Music itself carries expressive potential, and it can support theological meaning well or poorly.
    • Music in worship should always serve the liturgy, instead of being either the main attraction or the “warm-up” act.
    • Singing in worship is a sacred discipline.
    • Through word and sacrament, worship should mold and shape the community of faith into the likeness of its Savior.