Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mere Christianity: Book 4; Chapter 4 (Good Infection)

God Is Love

In this chapter, Lewis engages in a lot of Trinitarian Theology that helps to explain the nature of God.  However, the most important part of the chapter is what the Trinitarian relationship shows about God... that He is love.  The unique implication that this has for Christian's is, as Lewis says "that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else."  And in (most) Christian theology, it is this love between the Father and the Son that is the Holy Spirit.  A creative love made manifest becomes a person.

What do I think is most important to take away from this chapter?  The fact that true, authentic, divinely originated love is completely creative.  Perfect love is not destructive.  Of course, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for humans to have this perfect love.  Apart from God it is impossible... through sacrament and prayer and the Holy Spirit and Christ, it is still extremely hard and involves the process of sanctification.

Perhaps the best Biblical iteration of what Lewis is saying is what Paul said so long ago in his letter to the Corinthians, "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked,does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; [a]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The problem is, all to often today we see people mistaking love for something else... mostly either attraction or lust.  People have affairs because they "love" someone other than their spouse, when really something that is true love from God could not destroy a marital relationship.  People get married too soon because they feel in love, but when the feeling runs out, the relationship is often destroyed.

Finally, because we are made in the image of God, we are all called to engage in and find this authentic love. That's really what relationships (not just romantic, but any relationship) is meant to do... teach us how to love.  Of course the ones that do this best are the one's based in Christ's love.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mere Christinity: Book 4: Chapter 3 (Time and Beyond)

God, Time, and Vocation

This is one of the chapters that Lewis says one can skip if its not interesting to the reader, but I'm going to make it relevant to any Christian person.

Basically, God is outside of time... and while this is a mystery that we as humans (who live essentially in time) cannot fully understand, we can begin to somewhat comprehend it--especially in the implications that it has on us as children of God.

God IS... meaning that he always has been and always will be.  His essence is to exist.  This means that God perceives everything in one act.  To Him, your birth and your death, while a difference in kind, presents no difference in when it happens.  To him, the creation of the earth, the sending of his son, the death of his son, and Christ's second coming, are all one act.  Again, we cannot fully understand this (and for many, including perhaps myself, can hardly even begin to understand how this is so), but it's interesting to meditate on.

What does this mean for those of us who believe in Christ?  Jeremiah 29:11 I think is a good application, "for I know well the plans I have in mind for you...plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope".  Many Psalms (139:16 being only an example), echo this, "
Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be."

Without getting into debates about free-will, we can be assured that God, because he is outside of time and all-knowing, has a plan for us--how we will influence the world for the betterment of his kingdom, and thus how we can best become happy.  This is called vocation.

God has given us gifts, and it is recognizing and using these gifts that can help us to discern our vocation.  Do not be afraid to ask God what he wants from you, for though it may be challenging, or even scary, you can be sure that obedience to God is the fastest way to ultimate happiness.  Apart from God's will, there can be no happiness.

So next time you're taking time to meditate on God's eternal "being-ness", pause for a moment to listen for him to communicate his will in your heart.  You just might be surprised by where he's taking you, but it should be no surprise that all he wants for you is to flourish.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mere Christianity: Book Four: Chapter 2 (The Three Personal God)

On The Trinity and the Complexity of Religion

In this chapter Lewis attempts, in various ways, to explain the idea of the Trinity, the “three-personal God” as he calls it.  His first example I believe is somewhat inadequate because, though it makes sense, it seems a rather impractical analogy that doesn’t speak to broad personal experience.  He uses the idea of dimensions to show that more complex and deeper levels means of a concept, while harder to grasp, is a fuller representation of reality.  I don’t disagree with what he’s saying, it just does not seem a practical way to express the reality of the Trinity.  Nevertheless, for Lewis this argument is really just a stepping stone to his better example.  I don't really want to focus on Lewis' explanation on the Trinity in this post (I do encourage you to read it yourself though), but I thought the critique of his argument was at least mentionable.

The thing I really appreciated about this chapter piggy-backs off his last chapter in explaining various aspects of religion in general.  Here, Lewis comments on the complexity of religion, specifically theology, and it is tied up into the idea of the Trinity.  Lewis states that theology is practical (because it above all reflects reality), but it is also an experimental science, in that it is the study of God based off his revelation and our experience and interpretation of that revelation.  That this is true is based off of the developmental nature of revelation--God first revealed himself (and we experienced him) as father, then He sent his son who was received as the messiah, the Word, and the Son of God (and whom we crucified), and then He revealed to us the Holy Spirit, who now sustains and guides the Church.  After the fullness of revelation, we looked back into the Bible and realized that everything in the New Testament was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.  This is what we mean by Theology as an experimental science, and it is also what makes it, and our religion, so complex (along with somewhat incomprehensible "mysteries" like the Trinity, The Incarnation, and the Hypostatic Union).

And this brings me to Lewis (and mine's) final point--Christianity is a complicated religion, and it is that very complexity which is evidence of its Truthfulness.  Lewis says that it is the made up religions that are simple, because they do not adequately reflect the complexity of reality.  Furthermore, since theology is an experimental science in which we are the interpreters of revelation, WE are the tools of the science (guided hopefully of course by the Holy Spirit), and thus, any religion will only be as close to God as the people who are charged to lead it.  This, Lewis boldly states, is why "horrible nations have horrible religions".  Because of this, as stated in the last post, the best instrument for interpreting the revelation of God is the Church itself, the community of guided believers who, though individually sinful and thus limited in their own abilities, as a group guided by the Holy Spirit holds the weight of infallibility and the power to fully interpret God's Truths.  This is why as a Church, we must have the Magisterium, who is uniquely guided by the Holy Spirit and entrusted by Christ, as a group, to bind and loose the Truths revealed to us.  This is why "spirituality" cannot be separated from the teaching Tradition of the Church, and any "religion" or "way to God" that claims otherwise is no true means of meeting Him.

"If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions.  How could we? We are dealing with Fact.  Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mere Christianity: Book 4 (Beyond Personality); Ch. 1 (Making and Begetting)

The Trinity and Why Religion Matters

Book four of Mere Christianity is part in which Lewis explains the doctrine of the Trinity.  While it's important that every believer understands this fundamental concept of theology, I will spend less time explaining that, and more time focusing on a few other arguments Lewis makes.

The issue I first want to deal with is the interplay between doctrinal religion, and relational spirituality.  Lewis rightly points out that many "Christians" shy away from doctrine, or religion in general because they don't really see the point.  To them, doctrine is impersonal and decrepit--it doesn't foster a relationship with the Divine, but rather restricts you to think about Him to only a certain paradigm.

Lewis, to some extent, agrees with this.  He states that actual experience of God and relationship with him, is a more real manifestation of the Divine than simply knowing his doctrines and revelations.  His analogy is comparing standing on the shore of the ocean to looking at a map of the ocean.  Obviously standing on the shore is a much more real experience than looking at an image.

But here's the thing, without the map we get lost, and what's more, that map is the product of many experienced peoples knowledge and expression.  Without that map, we cannot see the full extent of the ocean, and we are likely to get lost if we set out ourselves without a map.

So is the Church--it is our map.  Yes, we should be in a personal relationship with God, and we should seek to experience him beyond the rituals and doctrines of our religion, but we CANNOT separate religion from spirituality.  To do so is to mold God into what we want him to be.  To do so is to refuse the experience of wise men (and women) over the course of 2000 years of spiritual exploration.  To do so is to get lost in the vastness of our own finite and ignorant intellect, passions, and personal experience.  The Church is anchor of all believers, and to set out into the deep ocean of faith without it is not only silly and illogical, but prideful.  This is even apart from all the arguments concerning the establishment of the Church by Christ, and the necessity of Sacraments for humans who are both body and soul.  When it all comes down it, people who are spiritual, but are not religious, do not have a true spirituality at all, because it is not grounded in the Spirit.

Now, a quick note on begetting--We say that the Father begets the Son... this means that, in a sense, Jesus is born of the Father... he is of the same substance.  This is all very high and lofty theology, but the primary thing to realize is that Jesus is God, a different person of God, and that he was not created...he existed before all time, and is thus eternal.  We are created, however, and thus are inherently separated from God even insofar as we are created.  However, Lewis states that, the very idea of Christianity is, in effect, obtaining new life, a new creation, in which we go from our human life into a spiritual life.  We become adopted children of God.  He relates this to, what is basically, Pinoccio.  We are no longer statues, no longer things of merely creation, through Christ we take on life and become animated in the Spirit.  We become Christlike.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 12 (Faith (cont.))

 Faith vs. Works

I want to start off by affirming what Lewis says in the very beginning of this chapter... if you're at the stage of your faith where you've never considered the relationship of Faith vs. Works, or if its something where you're set in your ways and don't want to discuss something that can have a lot of distinctions and nuances, or if this topic typically causes you some sort of passionate rage, it's probably better to stop reading now and pick up in the next chapter.  This is not necessary for Lewis' arguments, but it is something that needs to be addressed for those that are ready.  That being said, I'll try to make it as simple and explicit as possible.

Lewis first describes a question, and its divided answers (typically between protestants and Catholics), which leads to the problem of faith vs. works.  The question is, "what is man capable on his own".  On one side (protestants) we find that man is completely debased in his nature totally incapable of any virtue or moral act on his own and completely dependent on the grace of Christ.  On the other hand (Catholic/Eastern Orthodox) we find that, while man has fallen, his nature is still intrinsically good, and thus his works have some semblance of merit.  We'll flush this out a bit more in a minute.

Lewis here shows his protestant leanings by saying that man cannot be virtuous on his own.  However, he does make some concessions for works.  He looks at it from the standpoint of obedience, which is perhaps where the best crossover between faith and works occurs.  He states that if you are truly and completely dependent on Christ, then you trust him and be obedient.  If you're not obedient in your acts then you must not truly and fully depend on him.  This is somewhat circular, and its what a lot of protestants have been arguing for years.  And its not incorrect.

Lewis next discusses it from the "final cause" in a sense... or what leads a Christian home.  Basically, how do we get to heaven--faith, or works?  Lewis correctly states that FAITH is the ONLY thing that can lead a Christian to heaven--we cannot be "saved" merely by keeping the law.  Even the Apostle Paul affirms that.  Here though Lewis again points to an "apparent" Catholic and Protestant divide (which only exists in spiteful and uneducated circles today).  Basically he says many people think Catholics think only works (especially giving money to the Church) is the only way to heaven, whereas Protestants (especially calvanists) think only faith matters, no matter what you do.  Obviously this is a load of bull... works without faith are empty, and faith without the fruit of works is dead.  Why are we still arguing about this all?

Here's my two cents--I agree almost completely with Lewis, but I think the issue must be approached keeping in mind the actual nature of the Human Person.  We have fallen, and so we sin.  But the human is no so degraded that we lose are free will, rationality, and ability to act in a somewhat moral fashion without Christ.  We need faith in Christ to get home, but the mere act of assenting and accepting the undeserved gift of Grace shows that humans are capable of good acts.  They cannot be taken separately of course, for even the ability to receive comes from God, but we still make the choice.  It's all very confusing, I realize that... but to neglect the fundamentally good nature of the human person is to neglect the creative intent of the Father.

So in short--Man was created good and is capable, at least at a fundamental level, of doing Good.  Faith and works are inseparable, but works alone cannot save.  Faith must be first but is only truly present through the fruit of good works.

For a better presentation of the issue though, just read the chapter ;-)