Archives For Glory

Fleeting Fame

February 10, 2015 — 17 Comments

fameIt’s likely that the names of 98.6% of authors who top the bestseller charts today will be unremembered a century from now.

This weekend I posted the latest issue of Curtana: Sword of Mercy, a journal I edit about military chaplains. (If you are interested in checking it out, you can download a free copy here.)

The current issue includes an interesting article about two chaplains from Vermont who served during the War of 1812. (For international readers, that was the war following the winning of America’s independence when they British got their revenge—they captured our national capital and burned the capitol.)

In the biographical portion of the article, the author included a final summary of the life of one of the chaplains. Solomon Aiken (1758-1833) left his civilian pulpit to serve soldiers and sailors.

Aiken was quite prominent in his day. Not only was he a well known preacher and writer, he actually served as a member of Vermont’s legislature. Yet, I doubt that even Vermonters would recognize his name today.

Here is the quotation from a nineteenth century tribute published after his passing.

Mr. Aiken enjoyed uncommon health and vigor. He never took a particle of medicine, or lost a relish for food, until his final and brief sickness—a pleurisy fever. He possessed peculiar power as a logician, and was very popular as a preacher. He was kind-hearted and benevolent, almost to a fault. But it is chiefly as a political writer that Mr. Aiken is remembered. He was sent as a representative for two years, by the town of Dracut. He published several sermons and pamphlets, chiefly upon political themes, which excited much attention in their season.

The words that seized my attention were the conclusion, “. . . which excited much attention in their season.”

“In their season . . .” That season must have been brief, since the history was written just twenty years after Aiken’s death. By then his works had either withered or, more optimistically, gone to seed. In either case, their day was passed.

Translating that to our modern era, where things become obsolete almost as soon as they are envisioned, it would imply that our “season” of fame or reputation will last little more than a handful of months. And that, of course, assumes that a person actually achieves some level of renown.

Fame is fleeting. It has always been so, and the good Reverend Aiken is simply another example of that truth.

Thank God (literally) that there is more to life than notoriety.

C.S. Lewis is one of the 1.4% whose fame lasts. His has not diminished; it continues to grow. Just a year ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, he was honored by having a plaque dedicated in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Lewis never sought fame, as the following discussion from his essay “The Weight of Glory” clearly reveals.

I turn next to the idea of glory. There is no getting away from the fact that this idea is very prominent in the New Testament and in early Christian writings. Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendour like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern.

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?

When I began to look into this matter I was stocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation’ by God.

And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards.

This exceptional work merits consideration not only by people of faith. It invites all honest readers to gaze within themselves at their deepest yearnings.

Another passage from C.S. Lewis that relates strongly to the subject at hand comes from The Great Divorce. You can read the entire passage here, but the heart of it is this. Lewis views a simple woman, presently in heaven, receiving magnificent praise and celebration. He naturally assumes she must have been some well known saint.

He is, however, informed that she lived an obscure life, despite the fact that she touched countless nondescript people and animals with her compassion. Lewis’ heavenly guide is rather surprised that the Oxford professor has overlooked a simple truth:

Fame in heaven “and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

Only the second will last.

Jesus & Gandalf

February 19, 2012 — 10 Comments

Today Christians celebrated our Lord’s Transfiguration. (If you attend a church that doesn’t follow the historic “Church Year,” ask your pastor about it. It can be a healthy and educational spiritual discipline.)

The Transfiguration took place on a mountaintop where God the Father brought Moses and Elijah to speak with Jesus. During this encounter, Jesus and his garments shined with a pure, clear light that dazzled the eyes.

It was quite likely the Transfiguration that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to include one powerful image in his Lord of the Rings tale. (The Lord of the Rings is often referred to as a trilogy, although it is actually a single intricate novel which consists of six “books” plus appendices.)

In the Middle Earth myth, the heroic Gandalf dies in battle with a champion of evil . . . only to be resurrected with even greater power and focus. In this point, the two events differ, since Jesus’ nature never changed. He was incarnate and born as both God and human being. The Transfiguration merely revealed momentarily a portion of his divine identity which was masked, in a sense, by his human flesh.

The aspect in which the accounts are similar comes in the appearance of the glorified Savior and the resurrected Wizard . . . they exude a holy radiance so powerful it even affects their garb.

Thus, Tolkien’s beloved Gandalf the Grey is transformed into the triumphant Gandalf the White.

The Transfiguration of Jesus was one small piece of evidence that he was who he claimed to be. It wasn’t given to the disciples to persuade them of his divinity; in fact, those who witnessed it were enjoined not to share the miracle with others until much later.

Ultimately, what one believes about Jesus does not come down to adding up his miracles and weighing them against the claims of other faiths. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and humanity’s Savior. If he wasn’t exactly that, he should be condemned and his memory forgotten. As the brilliant C.S. Lewis wrote:

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because He said so. The other evidence about Him has convinced them that He was neither a lunatic nor a quack. (C.S. Lewis, “The Language of Religion”)

Those familiar with Lewis’ writings may recognize how this quotation echoes others where he discusses his divine trilemma.

The world is full of hypocrites who want to force Jesus into their warped pantheons as a “prophet” or “teacher.” Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be embraced as anything other than who he is—God’s Son. Since he made that claim so clearly, he is either precisely that, or he is a liar. Or, it’s possible as Lewis points out, that he may have been insane. In which case he also falls short of being someone who should be followed.

For those who do not presently know Christ, simply pray in humility that God would open your eyes in a personal epiphany. God desires that no one would remain separated from him. And then, one day we can all look forward to seeing our Lord in the fullness of his glory.