5 Purposes of Pain in the Works of C.S. Lewis

1354895_97706322There are few things more common to the human experience than pain and suffering. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) their universality, there are also few things that seem more incompatible with the human experience. This is why a period of suffering, and especially a prolonged one, causes us to ask God why–to question the purpose behind our pain.

C.S. Lewis, the famed atheist-turned-apologist, was himself intimately acquainted with suffering–essentially orphaned at the age of 9 when his mother died and his father shipped him off to a strict boarding school, physically and mentally wounded while serving in the trenches in World War I, and tragically widowed when he finally married following a long bachelorhood. Unsurprisingly, considering his experience, his literary works are filled with references to, meditations on, and explanations of the problem of pain. How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the existence of pain and suffering? What possible purpose can pain have?

What’s interesting is that while Lewis agrees that pain is undoubtedly evil, he insists that it is sometimes a necessary evil (God in the Dock, 224-25). He goes even further in The Great Divorce, an allegory about the afterlife, when George MacDonald, his guide through the purgatory-like state in which the story takes place, tells him “that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory” (The Great Divorce, 69). He doesn’t actually explain how one’s pain results in glory, beyond saying that “the good man’s past begins to change so that his … remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven (The Great Divorce, 69), but based on the rest of the Lewis canon, there are at least 5 ways that this “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17): Continue reading 5 Purposes of Pain in the Works of C.S. Lewis

The Reality of the Incarnation

incarnationtheodoret“For if the incarnation was a fantasy, then our salvation is a delusion. The Christ was at the same time visible man and invisible God.”

(Theodoret of Cyr, Dialogues [quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture])

The Journey of Our Lives

J. I. Packer on the importance of cultivating the inward disciplines of the Christian faith and not focusing solely on outward performance (from his book, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God):

The journey of our lives is a double journey. There is an outward journey into external confrontations, discoveries, and relationships, and there is an inner journey into self-knowledge and the discovery of what for me as an individual constitutes self-expression, self-fulfillment, freedom, and contentment within. For the Christian, the outward journey takes the form of learning to relate positively and purposefully to the world and other people–that is, to all God’s creatures–for God the Creator’s sake, and the inward journey takes the form of gaining and deepening our acquaintance with God the Father and with Jesus the Son, through the mighty agency of the Holy Spirit.

Now in the hustling, bustling West today, life has become radically unbalanced, with education, business interests, the media, the knowledge explosion, and our go-getting community ethos all uniting to send folk off on the outward journey as fast as they can go and with that to distract them from ever bothering about its inward counterpart. In Western Christianity the story is the same, so that most of us without realizing it are nowadays unbalanced activists, conforming most unhappily in this respect to the world around us. Like the Pharisees, who were also great activists (see Matt. 23:15!), we are found to be harsh and legalistic, living busy, complacent lives of conforming to convention and caring much more, as it seems, for programs than for people. When we accuse businessmen of selling their souls to their firms and sacrificing their integrity on the altars of their organizations, it is the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps there are no truths about the Spirit that Christian people urgently need to learn today than those that relate to the inner life of fellowship with God, that life which I call the inward journey. (You could also call it the upward journey–that adjective would fit equally well.)

Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament CoverIn his book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Christopher J. H. Wright, director of international ministries for the Langham Partnership International, attempts to correct a deficiency he has noticed within the Church: the tendency to “cut [Jesus] off from the historical Jewish context of his own day, and from his deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures.”[1] Believing that the Old Testament is vital to understanding Jesus, Wright has penned a book that examines how Jesus read, understood, and applied them. Although it is not a perfect book, containing several concerning weaknesses, Wright provides an interesting examination of how Jesus viewed himself, his mission, and the Old Testament and a compelling reason for Christians to embrace the Old Testament as part of their own Scriptural heritage.

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, as a title, is something of a misnomer. The book does not deal with finding Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament so much as how Jesus interpreted the Old Testament, and how he interpreted his own ministry in light of it. Wright desires Christians to see the New Testament as the continuation of the Old Testament rather than the replacement of it, and each of his five chapters uses a different topic to demonstrate that Jesus was in agreement with this thesis. Continue reading Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Philippians 4:13: A Statement of Empowerment or Dependence?

I don’t have a lot of memories of my parents embarrassing me when I was a kid, but one in particular stands out. I was probably about 10-years-old (give or take a year or so) and playing baseball for the local little league. My team was in a big game, and it had gone into extra innings. I was standing in right-field, waiting for the next pitch, when all of a sudden I heard my mom’s voice screaming, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!”

I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I was mortified. Being an introvert, I don’t particularly like the spotlight under normal circumstances. But when all eyes are on you because of a crazy lady shouting Bible verses, it’s a special kind of misery. Suffice it to say that I never again gave her trouble about not paying attention at one of my sporting events. In fact, from then on, I was happy to look over in her direction and see her reading a book instead of watching the game.

But while I was embarrassed that my mom was attaching that verse to my performance on the baseball field for me, applying Philippians 4:13 to a sporting event or other accomplishment or aspiration is hardly a novel concept. Somehow Paul’s declaration that he could do all things through Him who gave him strength has been transformed into a personal missions statement promoting self-empowerment and a “can do” attitude that belies Paul’s original meaning. Continue reading Philippians 4:13: A Statement of Empowerment or Dependence?

We Are All Witnesses

my sermon from last Sunday:

We Are All Witnesses
Acts 1:1-11

  1. What We Witness
    1. Witness = martys-> martyr
      1. Testifies to facts
      2. Offers the truth
      3. Gives an evangelistic confession
    2. Christians testify to the facts and truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection and give a confession of the salvation we have through them.
  2. Why We Witness
    1. The Resurrection is Real (1:3)
    2. God Is Working Through Us (1:1, 8)
    3. The Gospel Is Our Only Hope for Change (1:6-8)
    4. Time Is Short (1:11)
  3. Where We Witness
    1. Jerusalem
    2. Judea and Samaria
    3. The End of the Earth
  4. How We Witness
    1. Through the Empowerment of the Holy Spirit
    2. Each According to His Gifts and Calling
    3. Both Individually and as a Church

The Motivation to Serve

10      But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.
11      “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.
12      “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.
13      “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
(Matthew 26:10-13)

A few things stand out at me from this passage: Continue reading The Motivation to Serve

Woe to You

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
17 “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?
18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’
19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering?
20 “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it.
21 “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.
22 “And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
(Matthew 23:13-22)

I have mixed feelings about this chapter. On the one hand, I love it because it obliterates the image of Jesus as a dull, boring, serious guy with no sense of humor. There are exclamation points everywhere (at least there are in translations other than the NASB, which I quoted here). He calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and blind guides. He uses hyperbole and sarcasm to drive his points home. I can just imagine spectators with their mouths agape or snickering into their hands as Jesus verbally undressed these men who took themselves entirely too seriously. On the other hand, I hate it because it exposes my own Pharisaical heart. It’s hard to laugh too much at Jesus’ exaggerations and insults without wondering if they are aimed at me as well.

In verse 13, Jesus begins pronouncing 7 (or 8, depending on your translation) “woes” upon the scribes and Pharisees for actions that motivated his use of the word “hypocrite” to point out that they were appearing one way while acting another. Their very attempts to give the appearance of righteousness showed their lack of righteousness, and today Jesus goes beyond their appearance to expose their hearts. This entire section reminds me of James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The Pharisees failed to correctly teach and lead the people God had entrusted to them, and Jesus judges them harshly. Let’s look at why. Continue reading Woe to You

Producing Fruit

The parable of the tenants reminds me a little bit of Nathan confronting David over the Bathsheba incident. Nathan got David to condemn himself by condemning an anonymous person for a similar crime. Jesus does the same thing to the religious leaders with the parable of the tenants. After telling them the parable, he asked them what the master of the house will do when he discovers what the tenants had done. They replied that he will put the tenants to death and find other tenants who will give him the fruits of the vineyard when they ought.

In today’s verses, Jesus, like Nathan before him, tells his audience that they have condemned themselves with their answer:

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:42-43)

I’m not sure what the religious leaders thought Jesus was trying to tell them with the parable, but it clearly wasn’t this. In verse 42, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 to show that he is the son that the tenants rejected and killed. As we saw when we looked at Matthew 16:18, this idea of Jesus being the rejected cornerstone was not lost on the early church, especially Peter (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4-8). In verse 43, Jesus confirms that God, as master of the house, would indeed take his vineyard (the kingdom of God) away from the tenants who rejected and killed his son (Israel) and give it to people who would produce its fruits (typically interpreted as the Church). Continue reading Producing Fruit