Archives For Life

Not to be Missed

May 13, 2013 — 6 Comments

csl doodlesA recent post at the wonderful C.S. Lewis Minute blog introduced me to an amazing new way to experience the brilliance of the great author. I want to pass on the information so that you too can enjoy it.

The site is called “C.S. Lewis Doodles,” and it is the creation of a Kiwi (New Zealander) named Kalman Kingsley.

Kingsley uses a skillful artistic presentation of the clearly read original essays, to give Lewis’ words a particularly engaging and comprehensible air. It is, in a sense, C.S. Lewis “updated” to contemporary media.

Lewis himself alluded to the value of different types of media in communicating. In “Studies in Words” he says, “Language exists to communicate . . . Some things it communicates so badly that we never attempt to communicate them by words if any other medium is available.” Of course, in this case Lewis’ words are profound—in and of themselves. However, the addition of the illustrations serves to highlight and amplify his message.

Lewis, after all, passed away nearly sixty years ago, when most homes still owned black and white televisions. Technology has advanced light years since then, and transposing Lewis’ timeless wisdom to new formats such as this is an important work worthy of the talents of innovative men and women.

C.S. Lewis Doodles is available here, but don’t head there until you finish reading this Mere Inkling post.

The YouTube “Channel” offers three essays:

“The Grand Miracle” (from a sermon about the Incarnation preached in 1945)

“The Laws of Nature” (a 1945 consideration of the interplay between Nature and prayer)

“On ‘Sexual’ Morality” (a 1963 essay entitled “We have No ‘Right to Happiness’”)

All three of these essays are found in the collection published as God in the Dock. (For Americans the last word in that title refers not to a marina, but to a courtroom.)

Because each presentation covers an entire essay, they range in length from eight to ten minutes. Nevertheless, they are so well presented that they will certainly hold your interest.

I believe Lewis would have enjoyed this presentation of his work. Had he been an artist and had access to this technology, he may have experimented with it himself. As he wrote to Arthur Greeves in 1933, his book Pilgrim’s Regress is “going to be decorated by a map on the end leaf which I had great fun in drawing the sketch for.”

You can hear (and view) Lewis’ thoughts on “the Laws of Nature,” by clicking on the image below.

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C.S. Lewis Minute is a website every true Lewis fan should be following. You can read the column I referred to—and subscribe to the blog—here.

Why War?

May 6, 2013 — 18 Comments

bulletsI recently read a profound statement penned by G.K. Chesterton. Although he was not a military veteran himself, he was absolutely on target when he wrote: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

Terrible things are happening today in Syria. Yesterday, over lunch, I “debated” one of my sons regarding the merits (and drawbacks) of American intervention in that Levantine cauldron.

He believes we can’t “stand by” while the world watches as a civil war rages around another of the world’s mad dictators. I argued the United States isn’t morally responsible to serve as the world’s guardian of peace. And, even if we as a single, fallible, divided people were accountable . . . what about the violence and injustice in so very many other places. Sudan, Myanmar (Burma), the Congo, and scores of other lands cry out for intervention on behalf of the oppressed.

There is an almost unlimited amount of injustice around the globe today. And, looking in the mirror, it’s evident we have problems to resolve right here.

Sending American troops to intervene in foreign civil wars is ugly business. Taking sides against dictators does not always provide a safer and more just world—we need look no further than the so-called Arab Spring to reveal that.

I was proud to serve my nation—and causes I believed in—during the liberation of Kuwait and the retaliation for the September 11 attacks on the United States a decade later.

I am now retired from active duty, and I’ve lived long enough to witness how little positive fruit seems to follow war.

Like C.S. Lewis, I remain persuaded that some evils are so malevolent (Hitler, for example, comes to mind) . . . that they must be confronted. As he wrote in “The Conditions for a Just War,”

If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful.

At the same time, however, war is something into which we should never rush. It demands our conscious consideration of the cost and an accurate determination that the blood spilled—include that of noncombatants inevitably caught up in the horror—is a price worth paying.

It is that question which moral men and women must debate and ponder.

“Learning in War-Time” is a brilliant essay included in the collection which goes by the name of Lewis’ speech, “The Weight of Glory.” In the essay, Lewis discusses the seriousness of war. As a combat casualty during the First World War, he vividly understood its nature.

However, as a Christian, Lewis recognized that warfare is not the worst thing that can befall a human being.

What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent: 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It puts several deaths earlier, but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear. Certainly when the moment comes, it will make little difference how many years we have behind us.

Does it increase our chances of painful death? I doubt it. As far as I can find out, what we call natural death is usually preceded by suffering, and a battlefield is one of the very few places where one has a reasonable prospect of dying with no pain at all.

Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstances would? Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it.

True. To die at enmity with God is a fearful thing. Still, even better than coming to faith during war (Lewis would surely agree), is recognizing God’s love and living a life of peace.

Searching for Water

September 27, 2012 — 5 Comments

Have you ever been truly, deeply thirsty? Parched all the way from your lips to your loins . . . scorched like a desiccated crustacean who didn’t quite scurry back to the retreating tides quickly enough.

If you have, you know how savory—how gloriously life giving—a simple drink of water can be. In fact, when you experience thirst like this and take that first quenching swallow, there is nothing else like it in the world.

In those rare moments of dire yearning and satisfaction, we understand how water is utterly vital to life. All the treasures and honors of this world would be meaningless, if they were intended to substitute for that most basic human necessity.

I was pondering the importance of water as I examined the photograph above. The Mars rover Curiosity took it. NASA considers the outcrop here to be the edge “of an ancient streambed.” Rounded rocks, which would presumably have been shaped as they tumbled along “vigorous” creeks or rivers, support that notion. The quest transpiring across our solar system this very hour is nothing less than a search for evidence of life on that arid planet

Water, of course, is necessary to life “as we know it.” Thus the vast significance of the discovery.

Jesus of Nazareth was talking one day with a woman of Samaria. He brashly said of the water she was drawing from a well that dated back to the days of the Patriarch Jacob: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Because we are inescapably bound to water, it carries tremendous power as a simile or metaphor. C.S. Lewis used it quite effectively in the following passage. In it, he is discussing the true value of performing religious exercises, even when they do not bring us joy or a conscious sense of renewal. As usual, Lewis uses vivid imagery to communicate profound truth.

When we carry out our “religious duties” we are like
people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last the water comes, it may find them ready. . . . There are happy moments, even now, when a trickle creeps along the dry beds; and happy souls to whom this happens often. (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms).

I’m saddened by the number of people (especially those with a family legacy of faith) who succumb to the secular philosophies of our materialistic world. They surrender to the world’s hedonistic proclamation that personal happiness is the greatest good! They are ultimately destined to find their souls withered and wasted by the waterless doctrines they embrace.

The worst part of it all is that the water is right in front of us all, offered freely to each of us. We don’t need to commission any expensive interplanetary projects to seek it out. We don’t need to try to be “good enough” to deserve it. All we need do is accept the gift, priceless though it is.

After the seriousness of my last couple of posts, I hoped to come up with an “uplifting” theme for my latest reflection. And, lo and behold, God provided a perfect picture.

My photograph (through a glass door) doesn’t do justice to his living portrait of peace. Still, I thought some of you who recalled my initial post on the brand new fawns that pranced past my office months ago would enjoy seeing how they have grown.

Mom has them munching on the overgrown grass and clover in our back yard. (My wife says we can alternate mowing the yard, one-half each week. I argue that the deer may want to bring along friends and we wouldn’t want them disappointed by a mower-stunted banquet.)

When I see such peaceful creatures, I long for the new heaven and earth when the lion shall like down with the lamb. To see the harmony God originally designed—to touch and to taste it—is one of the reasons that Narnia resonates to strongly with many of our souls.

C.S. Lewis was a lover of nature. Nature walks were a fundamental part of his life’s regimen. And, Lewis recognized there is a danger in looking to Nature herself for life’s meaning. In The Four Loves he wrote “Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us.”

In the same essay he elaborates on how the bliss communicated by Nature is only fully experienced by those who look beyond it, to its divine Source.

Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you. (The Four Loves).

I looked out the window today, grateful to God for the majesty of the mountains that grace the horizon. With that prayerful, thankful and receptive heart, I found my expectations in that moment far exceeded . . . swept aside as a trifle in a maelstrom . . . as I gazed upon the purity and peace of our three precious visitors.

The Brevity of Life

August 22, 2012 — 12 Comments

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! (Psalm 39:4-6, ESV).

I was reminded this week of that terrible cloud that hangs over all humanity . . . the brevity of our lives.

The Psalmist David lived a long life. Yet, during it he experienced great trials, some of which he failed. In this Psalm, he describes the vast gap between God and his creation.

Even human beings, created in the Lord’s very image so that we might worship him and live in fellowship with him for all time . . . even we human beings, because of sin, are destined to perish. We all die.* It is one of very few certainties that exist; as Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

The Bible can sound almost depressing when touching on the theme of life’s swift passage. But if we begin to despair, we have entirely missed the purpose of these verses. They are simply there to remind us of our utter dependence on God.

We must not trust in the pagan wishful thinking of the “immortality of the soul,” apart from its Creator. Nor should we deny God’s presence and surrender to the belief that there is no existence beyond this life. The latter is a particularly sad “religion,” or worldview. And like all beliefs, it requires “faith” (trust) to believe there is no afterlife. C.S. Lewis described that fact in a 1956 epistle included in Letters to Children.

People do find it hard to keep on feeling as if you believed in the next life: but then it is just as hard to keep on feeling as if you believed you were going to be nothing after death. I know this because in the old days before I was a Christian, I used to try.

The message of the Scriptures is not for us to bemoan the fact that we will die, and that our days in this world are brief. On the contrary, God’s word paints this picture vividly, with the sharp colors of reality (rather than numbing pastels of euphemisms) because it is vital that we understand how this life is merely a prelude to the life that follows.

I began this post by saying I’d recently been reminded of death’s immanence. Last year I had written a brief letter to Calvin Miller, the anointed author I quoted in my previous meditation. He graciously responded. Well, it dawned on me that he might enjoy reading my comments about The Philippian Fragment, so I wrote him again four days ago. I had not heard back, and eagerly awaited his reaction . . . only to learn yesterday that Dr. Miller had passed away two days after I wrote to him.

While I was saddened (on behalf of his family and fans) to hear of his death, I recognize that he is already experiencing a more abundant and true life this very moment, than any he could ever know here. Still, I wish I’d written to him just a few days earlier, since I’m curious what he might have thought about my modest words on the subject of compassionate ministry.

Since we began with a Psalm of David despairing about the brevity of human life, it is fitting to end with another song penned by the same royal composer. Once again he acknowledged the shortness of our lives. But here, he makes it very clear that due to God’s immeasurable love for his children, we have an “everlasting” destiny, which will never end. His children by faith, who have trusted in his only begotten Son, already possess the gift of eternal life. And we will experience it fully after the resurrection, when we have discarded this fallen shell and been clothed in our new body.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:15-19, ESV).

* For theological clarification, it is possible for God to raise someone to heaven without dying (e.g. Elijah), and those who are still living when Christ returns in the Parousia, will not have to experience physical death.

In our last conversation we considered the fact that life is a journey. And during this journey which encompasses our very existence, we follow a variety of paths.

Not all of the paths lead to “happy endings.” I almost wrote “fairy tale endings,” but then I recalled that some old folk tales conclude in a rather grim fashion.

Signposts stand as sentinels at the junctions. “Take this path to self-fulfillment.” “Follow this lane to explore forbidden pleasures.” “This way leads to power.” They offer promises aplenty, but their veracity is not guaranteed. In fact, the more outlandish the claims, the more suspect they become to the wise.

Speaking of wisdom, some of the most powerful words in the Book of Proverbs relate to this notion of choosing paths cautiously. Wisdom and Folly are personified as two women. One offers life-enriching knowledge and insight. The other proffers more carnal and transitory wares.

My son, keep my words


    and treasure up my commandments with you . . .

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”


    and call insight your intimate friend,

to keep you from the forbidden woman,


    from the adulteress with her smooth words.

. . . and I have seen among the simple,


    I have perceived among the youths,


    a young man lacking sense,

passing along the street near her corner,


    taking the road to her house . . .

And behold, the woman meets him,


     dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.

She is loud and wayward;


     her feet do not stay at home;

now in the street, now in the market,


    and at every corner she lies in wait. . . .

I have spread my couch with coverings,


    colored linens from Egyptian linen;

I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,


    aloes, and cinnamon.

Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;


    let us delight ourselves with love.

For my husband is not at home;


    he has gone on a long journey . . .

With much seductive speech she persuades him;


    with her smooth talk she compels him.

All at once he follows her,


    as an ox goes to the slaughter,

or as a stag is caught fast

    till an arrow pierces its liver;

as a bird rushes into a snare;


    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

And now, O sons, listen to me,


    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.

Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;


    do not stray into her paths,

for many a victim has she laid low,


    and all her slain are a mighty throng.

Her house is the way to Sheol,


    going down to the chambers of death.

The power of this proverb is in its truth. I have actually known the seductresses (and seducers) described in these verses. Well, I’ve been acquainted with emanations of both female and male versions of Folly, since they are legion.

Despite the Lies, There is Still Hope

The key to journeying through life with the fewest deadly detours is to rely on a trustworthy guide. A compass, so to speak. A map or handbook that soundly advises which paths to take, and what precipices to avoid.

Of course, if we would rather take the risk, we can rely on human ignorance (is West to my right or my left?) . . . or worldly counsel (let us take our fill . . .).

The Bible lays out the safe and proven path. What’s more, our Savior—who calls himself “The Way,”—promises to accompany us on the journey itself.

One of C.S. Lewis’ least read books is entitled The Pilgrim’s Regress. It is modeled on the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in 1678. The Pilgrim’s Regress was Lewis’ first published work of prose fiction. His protagonist goes through a period of disbelief, mirroring Lewis’ own. It is well worth the read, although, perhaps, it is best preceded by a reading of Bunyan’s original work.

Toward the end of his allegory, Lewis brilliantly describes the course of travel for many who sojourn for a season in foreign (unbelieving) realms. The traveler learns that all who earnestly seek the Truth ultimately find it in a single Source. I offer the following passage not as a “spoiler,” but to illustrate the importance of following the right path—and to entice you to consider reading The Pilgrim’s Regress.

“What do you see?” said the Guide.

“They are the very same shape as that summit of the Eastern Mountain which we called the Landlord’s castle when we saw it from Puritania.”

“They are not only the same shape. They are the same.”

“How can that be?” said John with a sinking heart, “for those mountains were in the extreme East, and we have been travelling West ever since we left home.”

“But the world is round,” said the Guide, “and you have come nearly round it. The Island is the Mountains: or, if you will, the Island is the other side of the Mountains, and not, in truth, an Island at all.”

“And how do we go on from here?”

The Guide looked at him as a merciful man looks on an animal he must hurt.

“The way to go on,” he said at last, “is to go back. There are no ships. The only way is to go East again and cross the brook.”

“What must be must be,” said John. “I deserve no better. You meant that I have been wasting my labour all my life, and I have gone half-round the world to reach what Uncle George reached in a mile or so.”

“Who knows what your uncle has reached, except the Landlord? Who knows what you would have reached if you had crossed the brook without ever leaving home? You may be sure the Landlord has brought you the shortest way: though I confess it would look an odd journey on a map.”

On Death’s Specter

May 14, 2012 — 8 Comments

Death is an unpleasant subject. And the knowledge that each of us is destined to face our own, has the potential to overshadow the countless joys this life offers.

Virtually everyone reading this has lost a loved one to death . . . and some reading this may have been informed by doctors that their own days may be limited. If you find yourself counting down in years, months, or weeks, may God strengthen you and pour upon you an overflowing portion of his divine peace. The Scriptures refer to God’s peace in circumstances of great personal trial as a “peace which passes understanding.” And that is precisely what I pray he provides for you.

Those of us who are Christians find ourselves in a bit of a tension. We believe in Jesus’ resurrection, and his promise to raise us to new life as well. So, in that sense death is a defeated “enemy.” It no longer has the final word. In fact, passing through the portal of death actually allows us to enter into the presence of the Lord! Nevertheless, we dread the prospect of dying. Too seldom do people pass peacefully in their sleep.

C.S. Lewis experienced an illness which brought him near to death. Yet he recovered . . . with mixed feelings. Five weeks before his death he wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves:

Tho’ I am by no means unhappy I can’t help feeling it was rather a pity I did revive in July. I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one’s face and know that the whole process must some day be gone thro’ again, and perhaps far less pleasantly! Poor Lazarus! But God knows best.

The reason we should no longer fear death is because it has no power over those whose sins have been borne by the Messiah. Those who have not experienced this grace may rightfully fear the day of accounting that awaits humanity. Jesus invites all people—even the most sinful and vile people we can imagine—to yield to him and trade their inheritance of death for his righteousness and the gift of eternal life.

That means there is nothing that you have done that is so evil God cannot forgive it. Simply ask him to.

One way this experience of salvation is described in the Bible is as a resurrection. Jesus said to one of his disciples, “I am the resurrection and the life ‘Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” (John 11:25). Jesus is distinguishing between the two deaths. Physical, where this finite body fails . . . and spiritual death, where those who have ignored God’s mercy spend eternity separated from it.

Another aspect of this transformation is found in the fact that through conversion we die to the power of sin over us, and participate (even in this physical life) in Christ’s resurrected life. (Baptism is a “sign” of this, as the immersion is “burial” and rising from the waters is rebirth.) As Paul of Tarsus assures believers: “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8).

C.S. Lewis bluntly put it this way: “Die before you die. There is no chance after that.” (Till We Have Faces).

Which brings us to the peculiar image above. It comes from some classical text and whenever I’ve encountered it over the years, I’ve always considered it rather odd that the illustrator decided to portray this skeleton in the posture of prayer. It’s actually a bit disconcerting, since death and decay have nothing to do with our Lord who is the way, the truth and the life.

If we haven’t said our prayers in this mortal life, as Lewis reminds us, we will lack the voice and opportunity to do so in the next.

Besides, knowing Christ is not something with benefits only in the next life. Walking through life in his light makes our days here all the more pleasant and joyful. As I look back on my own life I recognize numerous ways in which his hand directed my path. Had I lived for my own selfish appetites the person I would be today would little resemble the Christian me. Thank God that he delivered me from becoming that man.