It is not easy to resist the temptation to pass on many more of the profound insights I encounter on my literary meanderings. I am encouraged there are so many brilliant people in the world who understand what it means live life with integrity and influence in this new millennium.
I want to share a comment taken from a recent interview with Steven James.* He has authored more than thirty books, and won a number of awards. Since most of my reading is nonfiction, I confess I’m not familiar with his writings, but based on the interview I am quite intrigued about his work.
James was asked: “Are non-Christian books and movies more often either manic or depressant?”
That’s a nicely provocative question. There are certainly many examples that could justify either response. In his response, James identifies one of the lies that has come to dominate Western thinking—that there is no ultimate, objective truth.
Building upon that underlying premise, we see the inevitable consequence. Today’s governing philosophy has become one of personal freedom and choice. Nothing (certainly not a nonexistent agreement on right and wrong) can stem the resultant moral and ethical chaos.
“To thine own self be true,” reads one of Shakespeare’s best recalled lines. Its power arises from the fact it resonates with our deepest desires. Don’t impose your standards on me, our flesh cries out, I will be the master of my own destiny. Of course we wouldn’t want to be untrue to our own conscience. The part that is so often left out here, is the need to pursue truth (Truth).
The Book of Proverbs includes the following maxim: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes . . .” (We prefer to dispense with the second part of the wisdom saying: “. . . but the Lord weighs the heart.”)
What, you may be wondering, was James’ response to the interview question. Trust me, it was worth the wait.
Some movies and books say life is just terrible now: Slit your wrists. Disney on the other hand is: Follow your dreams and everything will be wonderful in the end. This whole idea of follow your heart—that’s not Christian either. Rapists follow their hearts. Pedophiles are true to themselves.
Nazis pursued their dreams. The Bible says that the heart’s deceitful above all things. Why would you want to follow something deceitful? We believe you should follow something greater than your heart, that you need Someone else to inform your dreams. We turn to God.
Point made. Nihilistic films aside, even the sentimental, idealistic, “positive” types of entertainment are fundamentally flawed. Neither reflects reality. And, while the poisoned fruit of the former may be more apparent in its corruption than the latter, the produce of unrealistic optimism is also tainted.
C.S. Lewis describes the untrustworthiness of personal desires, consciences and hearts.
“If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” And equally, if our heart flatter us, God is greater than our heart.
I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose. Have we any reason to suppose that total self-knowledge, if it were given us, would be for our good?
Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he should know what to do next. . . . The unfinished picture would so like to jump off the easel and have a look at itself! (Letters to Malcolm).
This isn’t all bad news, of course. As Lewis says, we are freed from depending on our hearts—the emotions of the moment—for our understanding. We no longer need to be “tossed about by the waves” of circumstance.
In the scriptural passage Lewis cites, we are reminded that “God is greater than our hearts.” He alone deserves to be the “Someone else” who “informs our dreams” and reveals to us reality. And, the wonderful result is that when we listen to God, we learn just how deeply he loves us.
* The interview was entitled “Truth Teller,” and appears in the 14 December 2013 issue of World magazine.