Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

How To Amaze Jesus

How To Amaze Jesus

I don’t think that it comes as a surprise to us today that people coming in contact with the unique Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, were amazed by Him.  The miracle worker, healer, and teacher extraordinaire consistently amazed the crowds.  Here’s one example.  In Matthew 7:28-29 you’ll read, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

But this is a stunner:  on two occasions the Bible says that Jesus was amazed!  That’s right, Jesus was amazed … as in astonished, astounded, shocked, surprised, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, staggered, and the always brilliant Shakespearian King James version … taken aback!

Have you ever pictured Jesus with a stunned look on His face?  A look that says, “Wow!”

Look at Mark 6.  (Second book in the New Testament, sixth chapter)

1 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples.  2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.

There it is again.  People were amazed … even in His hometown of Nazareth.

“Where did this Man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”  5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.   (Matthew 13:58 says, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”)  6 And He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus was amazed!  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

How you view Jesus will dramatically effect your confidence in Him, your beliefs about God and truth (Jesus claimed God was His Father, and that He – Jesus – was the Truth), and your opinions on miracles and healing (did they, and can they happen in real life?).  Your perspective of the Carpenter of Nazareth will, according to Jesus Himself, determine whether or not you have a soul-saving, life-changing relationship with His Father (John 14:1-14).

The people in Nazareth saw Jesus as ORDINARY!  No one special.  They were familiar with Jesus.  He was just one of the guys.  Just one of Mary’s children.  A carpenter … and the son of an ordinary carpenter.  So …

What do expect from ORDINARY?  What do you expect from a carpenter’s son?  (Furniture … or maybe farm equipment?)

Here’s a lesson in human nature:  The tendency is that if you grow up with someone, and you compare them to your ordinary self, you’ll tend to expect little of them … or yourself, or your peers.  That’s why all of us are surprised when one of the gang makes it big.  All of us are surprised when someone we perceive as “like us” does something beyond us.

And that’s when our ego responds.  Psychologically … we get offended … and the reason we do is because the peer that rises above us brings awareness to our lack of accomplishment.  Because we’re in the habit of comparing ourselves with ourselves and our peers and our relatives … when someone outdoes us, selfish-humankind that we are – we get offended.

And why do we do that?  Because we’re made to feel small in our own eyes.  The Greek word here for “offended” means “to be repelled because of unmet expectations.”  (The Nazarenes had low expectations of Jesus  – so they were repelled by Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, and His power to perform miracles!)

Jesus was amazed one other time in His life.  Take a look at this (Luke 7 – third book in the New Testament, seventh chapter):

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.  2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal His servant.  4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, “This man deserves to have You do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  6 So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Him:  “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, for I do not deserve to have You come under my roof.  7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9 When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Because the Centurion grasped WHO Jesus was … and that all the power of heaven was behind Him … and because the Centurion understood that Jesus had power in and of Himself (!!) … he knew that all Jesus had to do was COMMAND the sickness to leave his servant’s body – and it would be done!

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had power.  The Nazarenes thought Jesus was ordinary.

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had authority. The Nazarenes thought Jesus was “upity.”

The Centurion recognized that faith in Jesus was the key.  The Nazarenes thought their disbelief was the smart (or safe) position to take.

So … Who do you have more in common with, the Centurion or the Nazarenes?  Are you willing to stand alone, with confidence in Jesus?  Or must you stand with the crowd where it’s safe?  Taken to the extreme:  Is Jesus God in the flesh, the Savior of the World … or was He another insane false messiah?

Think about it.



The Spiritual Journey 3 – Humility

Sheldon Vanauken wrote (in A Severe Mercy):  

“To believe with certainty, somebody said, one has to begin by doubting.” (p. 83)

“… there is nothing in Christianity which is so repugnant to me as humility – the bent knee.” (p. 91)

“… if we were a species that didn’t normally eat, weren’t designed to eat, would we feel hungry? … Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? … [and] Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time.  (‘How time flies!  Fancy John being grown up and married!  I can hardly believe it!’)  In heaven’s name, why?  Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.” (in a letter from C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken, p. 93)

Based on these quotes, I’d like to make a few observations.  First, if you’re going to believe that Christ is the Son of God, and therefore the Savior He claims to be, it is no fault to begin by doubting such a phenomenal claim.  

Doubting allows a person to begin with a clean sheet, so to speak.  A person that has been raised in the Church, had positive experiences in the Church, and is therefore open to indoctrination from early on, doesn’t wrestle with doubt on the same level as someone who (a) has been raised in the Church and had negative experiences or (b) not been exposed to either positive or negative Church experiences during their childhood and adolescence.  In speaking to those who doubt, I suggest:  that is a good place to start one’s spiritual journey, as did Vanauken.  Why?  Because of the “clean sheet.”  But to be truly clean, one’s “sheet” must have a valuable and necessary ingredient in its makeup or constitution, and that ingredient is HONESTY.  Not openness but honesty.  If it is discovered during one’s investigation of Christianity that there is a prejudice (a pre-judgement) based on anything – peer pressure, education or one’s educators, or the bias of unbelieving parents – and that prejudice is not addressed or challenged in one’s heart and mind, that person is not being honest.

Second, being honest comes from or springs from a general HUMILITY, and that humility is based upon an appreciation that NO ONE knows everything, and that there may be someone or something outside the existential confines of one’s reality and intellect that knows and understands more about the universe of ordered things.  Therefore, true humility must be allowed to and may result in “a bended knee” – acknowledgement that something is true when it would appear to the honest seeker, based upon the life-education-experience limitations mentioned above, that it “should” be false.  Humility requires the honest seeker of truth to allow for things to be true outside “the box” of one’s current thinking.  Again, this basic, this fundamental humility must be allowed to move toward a greater humility – a humility that would require a bended knee.

Third, it seems that if there is a hunger for something (say a belly for food, a fish for water, or the temporal for the metaphysical or, in this case, the sacred or mystical), that longed-for something may exist.  REPEAT:  The humble man will allow that something may be true that was, up ’til now, thought to be improbable, false, or impossible.

I would suggest, humbly, that mankind hungers for God because there is a God.  If one honestly doubts that supposition, help me understand the immaterial part of me – thought, love, joy, sadness, etc. – and why there is this debate about all things spiritual (and in this case, the idea that there is a God)?  How is it that the idea or possibility of God cannot be easily dismissed as some have dismissed the existence of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or flying saucers?

Think about it.

The Spiritual Journey – Belief

Sheldon Vanauken wrote that when he and his wife were studying at Oxford they were rubbing shoulders with “nuclear physicists, historians, and able scholars in other fields.”  What struck them was that these fellow scholars “believed” in Christ, and for that reason “… we must, at least, weigh it (Christianity) very seriously.”  Both he and his wife had assumed that anyone who took Christianity as true must be ignorant, but these brilliant souls who had put their faith in Jesus were anything but ignorant.

Soon the Vanaukens arrived at this conclusion:  “Christianity was a faith.”

“By now,” Sheldon wrote,” we knew that it was important.  If true – and we admitted to each other the possibility that it was – it was, very simply, the only really important truth in the world.  And if untrue, it was false.  No halfway house.  First or nothing.  I wrote (to C. S. Lewis), ‘It is not possible to be “incidentally a Christian.”  The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing.  This suggests a reason for the dislike of Christians by nominal or non-Christians:  their lives contain no overwhelming firsts but many balances.’”

Once someone believes that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God, that belief must translate into a living faith – faith being the expression of belief in hard, practical terms.  The Bible says, “Faith without action is meaningless, or dead.”

True.  Faith is belief becoming actionable, and expressed through a changed life.

Think about it.

The Spiritual Journey – Rationale

One of my favorite books is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1977).  This former atheist wrote:

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians:  their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.  But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them.  Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity – and possibly nowhere else.  If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.” (page 85)

I will put it another way.  The reason many people do not believe that Christianity is true is because so many Christians are false.  There are people in this world who claim to be Christians, and call themselves Christians because they attend church … or because they might pastor a church. 

I am in no position to say who is and who isn’t a Christian … that is, a true follower of Jesus Christ.  I don’t know what is in anyone’s heart … not even my own, at times.

But I would like to offer up for discussion what I believe a true Christ-follower looks and sounds like, hoping my thoughts will lend something positive to the current debate about the impact of religion in the marketplace of human ideas and human institutions.

At this time I will not offer up a defense for the existence of God.  And at this time I will pose that Jesus Christ was not a liar or a lunatic; that He was who He claimed to be.  That is my starting point.

For one thing, I think a Christ-follower is rational.  To follow anyone, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, blindly or carelessly or ignorantly is nothing short of ludicrous.  It is also dangerous.  That kind of followership invites cultist results.  God, the most supreme and extreme Intellect in the Universe, would not expect, much less demand, such a followership.  Committing intellectual suicide in order to “believe” in Him was never part of the deal.  In fact, Jesus Himself invited honest inquiry.  He entered into conversation with the intellectuals of His day, and challenged them with His claims.

Think about that.

“Pain Can Be My Friend” (an excerpt from Dancing With The Healer)

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Pain takes a mighty toll on our spirit.  Pain is more than a physical phenomenon, but is somehow tied to every part of our being.  Having done carpentry (not well) many times, I believe I’m an expert of sorts.  Instead of driving a 16 penny nail into the wood, I’ve pounded my thumb nail with the hammer.  My thumb nail was physically damaged, but the pain went from my head to my toes, disabling my mind.  Time stood still.

The great English philosopher C. S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Problem Of Pain.  Lewis poses the following argument from the beginning of the book:  “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’  This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”

Pain will make you question whether or not God is good.  Pain will cause you to question His love for mankind.

Lewis tackles the problem of pain by pointing out that because God is good and powerful, He gave mankind the gift of choice – and man’s choices open the door to pain.  Only a Being that is almighty can GIVE such a gift, and only a loving Being would think to give the gift of choice – that is, freedom to act on one’s perceived best interests in one’s own way.

Lewis spends much of the book addresses choice, goodness, love, power and ultimately pain.  In speaking about God’s goodness he states, “Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.  On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil.  What seems to us good many therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to be evil may not be evil.”

That is an arresting idea.  The Bible puts it this way:  “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.”  He and we are “other.”  Contrary to the ancient Eastern mystics, Joseph Smith, and more modern New Age thinkers, what He is we are not, nor can we become what He is … if God is the God that is revealed in the Bible.  If you have come to believe that the Bible’s God is not God, then you may wish to read another book besides this one, because Vicki and I firmly believe that THE God is the God of the Old and New Testaments.

And so we believe that this biblical God is wiser than we are, more loving than we are, and “other” than we are.  He is transcendent – beyond us.

C. S. Lewis arrives at this conclusion after examining the nature of THE God, and taking the reader logically through the arguments that He is good and almighty:  Pain rouses us to understand that “all is not well,” but there is One who invades our painful existence will “healing in His wings,” and rescues us from the consequences of our unwise choices, and the fact that because of choice, the planet on which we live is fallen.  The conclusion of Lewis, and the concluding statements of the Bible lead us to this truth:  Pain will not be done away with on Earth, but in Heaven.  So Paul writes, “ … the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” when we cross the threshold of Heaven, and come, literally into the presence of the Almighty.

Here, and now, we have pain.  Then, and there, we will not be in pain – not in His presence.  That is a Christian belief, and is so because it is Christ-centered.  Jesus said, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.’

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’  [And] Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”[1]

The “Father’s House” and “the place” that is being prepared for us is Heaven, and there is no sickness, disease, pain, sin, or evil there.

Pain will make you forget about the promise of Heaven.  Pain reveals weakness, and shows us gaps in our faith.  As I’ve said before, anyone can have “faith” when everything is going great.  It’s when the going gets tough that our faith, weak or strong, is revealed to US.  We come to know where we are on the faith scale.  God already knows, and He’ll allow pain to inform us of what He already knows.

Pain is also a tool, or weapon, that God’s enemy – Satan – uses to serve his purpose, and that is, to separate us from God.  He hopes that we will turn our pain into anger, and our anger into distance from God.  Satan’s greatest tactic for building a wall of separation between us and God is the lie that God withholds good things from us.  Satan used that ploy in the garden, when it came to “the knowledge of good and evil” that could be acquired by eating God-forbidden fruit, and he uses pain to convince us that God is still holding out on us – this time, comfort and healing.

It’s important, then, to note that Vicki did something brilliant, and different than most, when she turned her pain-filled anger toward the cancer and Satan.  In Vicki’s case, Satan’s ploy backfired.  Vicki didn’t turn away from God, but toward Him.  As she said on different occasions, “Pain can be my friend.”

 


[1] John 14:1-6