It has been a while for me since I have written anything here, due primarily to a busy family life and secondarily to a mind not entirely prepared to write. I met my goal in 2012 of reading over 50 books (52), with over 17,000 pages. The subjects have been varied, from The Hunger Games to Peter the Great to Signature in the Cell. I feel so much more enriched and my mind more active, but my writing experience was more a cerebral “stew” than an organized essay. I found it stressful to write, and so I decided to just read, think, connect, reflect, repeat. In fact, I just finished a book on the history of philosophy, and I am reminded that philosophers do no jump to conclusions. This is what I felt with writing…I didn’t feel I had proper time to reflect and draw a reasoned, objective conclusion. So, I have been reading as my interest led, for personal enjoyment and to layer my home “education”.
But today, after reading a few posts from some blogs I follow, I felt like sharing something I learned last fall. It was from the very fantastic book “The Weight of Glory” by the equally fantastic C.S. Lewis, and it has helped me to put in proper perspective (I think) the place for Christian works. In the first essay in the book, titled “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis talks of the different kinds of rewards in life and how it applies to the Christian life. He says some would call Christians mercenaries because we live for the promise of rewards in heaven, to which Lewis writes:
“There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not a mercenary for desiring it.”
There are rewards that are not naturally connected to the thing earned (money for love), while there is the reward that is connected (marriage for love). But Lewis says there is also a third case of reward that is more complex. The example he gives is that of reading Greek poetry in Greek. To get to the place that one can read the poetry and enjoy it in the original language cannot be reached immediately. It requires work and study, and the reward for this work is at first “disconnected” from the pleasure of understanding the Greek mind inside the Greek poetry. The motivation doesn’t come from the actual reward, which cannot really be known to the student. One studies the language either just to learn it, or because it is required, to get good grades, etc.
“His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.” [emphasis mine]
Here I was struck profoundly that this is the proper role of discipleship and obedience to God. Christianity can appear to be a list of do’s and don’ts. Or, why worry about works when we are saved through faith alone. Works, though, are the proper path for connecting to the God of creation and realizing the benefits of His law. For instance, there is no practical or immediate benefit to me to be patient with people who do not (in heat of the moment) deserve it, other than to sort of “get myself under control”. But consistently practiced, I have seen patience yield great benefits in my home that I could not have foreseen beforehand. These “works” we do as Christians don’t save us. Faith does, but if we do not obey, or “learn the Greek”, as grueling as it can be at times, will we ever get to really know the mind and heart of God? And I do not believe our hearts necessarily have to be “in it”, either, as I have heard and read. I don’t have to have a pure heart to practice patience. In fact, when patience is needed most, I am least likely to practice it all! Yet, if I practice patience anyway, there is the nested reward of knowing God is within it.
“Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward… But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as a tide lifts a grounded ship.”
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis:
If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons—either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it—money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.
You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind of action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong—only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted…
And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not the original thing. (emphasis mine)
Can scientists bioengineer people with better ethics? Are there genes that switch us from wretches to saints? Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, says yes and advises that parents have a “moral obligation” to select for the best personalities for their children so they can be “ethically better”.
“Professor Julian Savulescu said that creating so-called designer babies could be
considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better
He said that science is increasingly discovering that genes have a significant influence on personality – with certain genetic markers in embryo suggesting future characteristics. By screening in and screening out certain genes in the embryos, it should be possible to influence how a child turns out. In the end, he said that “rational design” would help lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society in the future.
“Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?” wrote Prof Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor in practical ethics.”
But is it really our genes that are the problem? If we design the next generation to be better ethically and morally, so that the next generation is then better, and so on, isn’t that the same as bioengineering a human robot? If you minimize, and then eliminate, the biological influences (supposedly personality flaws) on decision-making, essentially removing our desire for wrong-doing (defined as “bad for self and society”), you have removed free will. How does one genetically select for “good” free will? This is the logical conclusion of a naturalist explanation of human existence. The bad that humans do is simply a result of bad genes and bad environments, and it removes completely the any act of free will.
That begs the question: couldn’t God have made us with perfect genes? Why did he create such flawed personalities in the first place? C.S. Lewis writing in “Mere Christianity”, sheds some light:
“‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of–the cleverer and stronger and freer it is–then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best–or worst–of all.”
Savulescu doesn’t understand that no matter the genetic make-up, humans still have free will and can exercise it to good or evil. He obviously does not believe that there is any Moral Law, is a complete naturalist, believing that perfect genes would produce a perfect being. But in essence, in the attempt to bioengineer superheroes, we will still end up with supervillians.
In the book Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson speaks to us through the reflections of the character of Imlac, when he and Rasselas finally arrive at the pyramids.
“For the pyramids, no reason has ever been given adequate to the cost and labour of the work. The narrowness of the chambers proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and treasures might have been reposited at far less expense with equal security. It seems to have been erected only in compliance with that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some employment. Those who have already all that they can enjoy must enlarge their desires. He that has built for use till use is supplied must begin to build for vanity….I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyments.”
This is the lesson of history. People in perfect health and wealth will still choose self-glorification, and will make miserable others to achieve their selfish ends.
I had (sadly) never heard of Samuel Johnson before I started reading Not with a Bang but a Whimper by Theodore Dalrymple. The book is a collection of essays about the decline of Western culture, and its emphasis (so far) is directed at the decline in moral character. It is not the genes that make us better men, it is our moral decisions that do. And that comes from living a life of flaws.
Of Johnson, Dalrymple writes that “at every moment [he] reflects on the moral meaning and consequences of human life.” In his biography of Richard Savage, Johnson reflects on the faults of the poet. Dalrymple asks, “Who could fail to recognize a common human pattern in his delineation of Savage’s greatest failing?”
“By imputing none of his miseries to himself he continued to act upon the same principles and to follow the same path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune from falling into another. He proceeded throughout his life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness which were dancing before him, and willingly turned his eye from the light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion and shown him, what he never wanted to see, his real state.”
There is only one path to wisdom. It is spiritual, and it is open to everyone of all genetic make-ups.
Note: I have since downloaded the free Kindle version of Rasselas and plan to read it soon.
“On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in you present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realize that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point. I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.
But that is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what he intended us to be when H made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? …We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.”
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (Chapter 9, Book 4)
“Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Throughout the week, I try to think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason, and then share that passage. Hopefully it will bring some meaning to you.
Given the heated politics of the day, I found this Friday Quote from Mere Christianity very interesting and thought-provoking. Hopefully it is some food for thought for you. Comments are very welcome.
“All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no ‘swank’ or ‘side’, no putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience—obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls ‘busybodies’.
If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced’, but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned—perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
Now another point. There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or ‘usury’ as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private money-lender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said. That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.”
“Your natural life is derived from your parent; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else.” -Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
These words from C.S. Lewis resonated with me this morning. He has such a way with words, and communicates so much depth about the world and Christianity. As father of four, from 15 years to 10 months, I am very aware of the work of a parent. Probably not as much as my wife, who stays home and home schools them. It is amazing that God has enabled men and women to bring new life into being, and to mold and teach children everything from love and morality to abuse and neglect. It is very interesting that most animals are born and can run or fly within hours to days, but for humans it is years.
When children finally assert themselves and take control of their life, what are they really taking control of? They have a physical body and beliefs and experiences gifted them from their parents and so many others. What they mean is they want to take control of their free will. But they are controlling a life received from someone else. Everyone is in the same boat.
“As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not. A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.
That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; of—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”
I think God allows (forces?) us to be parents for years so that we understand these concepts. Men and women commit one act of pleasure and a baby can be conceived, a being so beyond our ability to design. The child is forced to rely on us for so long for food and teaching. We understand how very much they owe us for life. As children of God, do I (we) have this attitude? Or is ours more of us exercising our free will, living “our life”?
I have to say I was very convicted this morning by these thoughts.
Throughout the week, I try to think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason, and then share that passage. Hopefully it will bring some meaning to you. This quote in particular related to my post here.
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race…What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always bring the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start-up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”
The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. –C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity
I have posted here and here on free will, and these thoughts have brought to culmination some thoughts on the movie Brave that have been simmering in the back of my mind ever since I saw the movie. This movie has so much to do with free will, but in two different aspects. [Spoilers ahead]
The Imperial Free Will
In the movie, the fiery red-headed Merida is forced into an arranged marriage which she doesn’t want. In fact, she shows up at the archery contest to win her own hand, and aptly out-performs her competition. Her mother, though, who has always tried to mold and shape her into a proper princess, insists she marry for the good of the kingdom. Merida desperately tries to take control of her destiny, and this is where we see what I am calling the Imperial Will. She escapes the castle to change her Fate and…
- She follows a will o’ the wisp trail for what seems miles. Ok, now when I was a kid, rolling dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons ( Nerd Alert!), I would NEVER have followed a will o’ wisp. You are just asking for a Hobgoblin ambush or something, just sayin’. Legend has it, these lights lured travelers from safe paths. We, the audience, also know there is a huge terrible bear on the loose somewhere. When I saw her do this, I was alarmed!
- She finds a witch who will give her a spell to change her fate. Ok, a witch. She knows nothing about this woman and doesn’t think to ask.
- The witch makes her a cake that she must feed to her mother Elinor. Merida knows nothing about its effects. No, “Um, what is in this? or “What will this do to my mother?”
- She brings the cake back and actually gives it to her mother to eat. Oh yeah, did I mention, Merida knows nothing about its effects.
There is an ignorance streaming right through the life of Merida that is simply terrifying and a parent’s worst nightmare. It is as C.S. Lewis stated above—she set her free will up as what she had to have at all costs, and it made her so incredibly foolish. She did not consider the consequences for her actions, and the movie explores her attempt to make them right. I hope and pray that those young people who are coming into their self-awareness will see and learn from this lesson.
The movie shows the typical fight between parent and child, where the parent tries to fit the kid into their mold. I am not advocating that, but jeez, these kids accepted so little responsibility! The good part of the royal marriage is just that—they are married! And they love each other! The dysfunction, however, lies with squarely on the huge shoulders of King Fergus. Although very funny, he is a completely useless adolescent man (all the men were depicted this way, really) that left the real leadership to his wife. [Pet Peeve: It is annoying and offensive to think of men during that time period as so goofy (I’m thinking of William Wallace, Rob Roy, etc), but this is a kids movie and so I let it go.] This dysfunction, however, strains the parenting and leaves all the hard work to the mother. Sadly, this does reflect our society. Men, we need to step up and lead our families!
The Extinguished Free Will
The other instance of free will I saw in this movie was the use of bears. Once transformed into a bear, Merida’s mother started to become the bear and take on the animal nature. There was a moment when Elinor turned and attacked Merida. We see her come to her senses, her alarm and shame, and we sense the peril her mother is in.
This transition is key in understanding the pantheistic worldview underlying this movie. The villain of the movie, the huge vicious bear that took the leg of Fergus, is none other than the Mor’du.
Mor’du was not always a bear; he was a human prince, who wanted to take over the kingdom he shared with his three brothers, and went to the witch to gain “the strength of ten men”, paying with the ring of his house, which bears two crossed axes. The spell he received eventually transformed him into a bear, soon leading to the fall of the kingdom, as on the dawn of the second day, the spell became permanent and the bear side of him overtook his humanity, making him a monstrous beast.
In the end Mor’du is crushed and killed, and we see his human spirit rise up out of the carcass. He looks intently at Merida, nods, and then dissipates to become a will o’ wisp. At this point, I was tempted to think that this was a positive thing. Poor guy, made a huge life changing mistake, and he got released. Happy ending for him. I do wonder about the countless unhappy endings of those that lived and died when destroyed the kingdom. And I do wonder if this movie is telling me Mor’du is not responsible, after all, the animal “overtook his humanity.” An animal, of course, has no free will…therefore, Mor’du is not accountable for the crimes he has committed.
I thought I would be clever and call it Extinguished Free Will, and it raises a lot of questions. If Neo-Darwinian evolution is true, aren’t we all just higher animals? If that is the case, what are we really to be held accountable for? Aren’t we lucky if we manage to do a little bit of good? Does Hitler or Stalin just rise up out of their graves, give a nice little nod and go on into the universe? Is there no ultimate justice? Perhaps it is comforting to think that after all the bad we do, we still get to go surf the universe?
One reason why many people find [Life-Force] so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is sort of a tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? -C.S. Lewis in Mere Chrisitanity
I was reading in Signs of Intelligence yesterday and was struck by the meaning of “intelligence”, as derived from its Latin roots. It comes from intellegere, to discern or comprehend, but literally from the preposition inter, meaning between, and the verb lego, meaning to choose or select. Thus, intelligence consists of choosing between, choosing from a range of competing possibilities.
Dembski, in his essay, was relating this to Intelligent Design, but I was brought back to what I have been reading in The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. In chapter two, Lewis is describing the rationale for a neutral material world for people to live in. He writes first about God’s omnipotence, describing it as the power to do the intrinsically possible, not the intrinsically impossible (such as the argument that asks God to make a rock so big He can’t lift it; this is a non-entity and nonsense). Lewis then builds on this with the need for a material world (Nature):
“I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature.
There is no reason to suppose that self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a ‘self’, can exist except in contrast with an ‘other’, a something which is not the self. It is against an environment and preferably a social environment, an environment of other selves, that the awareness of Myself stands out.”
He is saying that without a society, we would not be able to self-actualize. There must be a fixed space and time environment available in order for co-existence, and there must be a material world that is neutral. We must be able to act on it and manipulate it in order to exercise choice and free will. This means that if I cut down a tree and use it to build a house, another ‘self’ cannot keep that tree for shade. But if God were to pop in and prevent me from cutting down the tree, I then cease to have free will. If He popped in to stop every act of self-will against other people (i.e. violence, oppression), free will would cease to exist.
In order to have intelligence, for choosing between, we must be allowed to make the choice. This must also allow for evil. So it seems, we either have free will with good and evil, or give up our freedom and cease to be self-conscious. There is no in between.
Later in chapter three, some ideas Lewis talks about, with regard to the material world, struck me. We were made not primarily to love God, but that He may love us, “that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. An argument can be made that God is selfish or possessive, caring only for His satisfaction in molding us and caring little for our contentment.
Lewis first asks which of us would value the love of a friend that cared for our happiness but did not object to our becoming dishonest. To the question ‘Is God an egoist or altruistic?’, he brings a point I have never really considered. Lewis specifically isolates our language and definitions to our own material world.
“The truth is that this antithesis between egoistic and altruistic love cannot be unambiguously applied to the love of God for His creatures. Clashes of interest, and therefore opportunities either of selfishness or unselfishness, occur only between beings inhabiting a common world; God can no more be in competition with a creature than Shakespeare can be n competition with Viola. [a character from Twelfth Night; I had to look it up as I don’t know much Shakespeare…don’t judge me.]”
So words like selfish and possessive and even jealous are words linked to situations we observe in our material world, our world of choice and free will. Yet we really are in the interesting position of a fictional character observing owns writer. That is a very interesting concept to consider and ponder.
Lewis then brings the illustration of the material world to full dimension for me by using the Incarnation.
A modern pantheistic philosopher has said, ‘When the Absolute falls into the sea it becomes a fish’; in the same way, we Christians can point to the Incarnation and say that when God empties Himself of His glory and submits to those conditions under which alone egoism and altruism have a clear meaning, He is seen to be wholly altruistic.”
This is so amazing to me and makes the Incarnation clearer in my mind. In the place where we have exact meaning of words, we see Jesus selflessly acting out the Father’s will. The son of Man came to serve, to wash our feet, to teach and challenge us. All this must influence our concept of God the Father, existing outside of the material world.
Beyond all doubt, His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call ‘better’. The Divine ‘goodness’ differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning…..
…..We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment’. Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.
From The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 3
“Aren’t you well, Bree dear?” said Aravis.
Bree turned round at last, his face mournful as only a horse’s can be.
“I shall go back to Calormen,” he said.
“What?” said Aravis. “Back to slavery!”
“Yes,” said Bree. “Slavery is all I’m fit for. How can I ever show my face among the free Horses of Narnia?—I who left a mare [Hwin] and a girl [Aravis] and a boy [Shasta] to be eaten by lions while I galloped all I could to save my own wretched skin!”
“We all ran as hard as we could,” said Hwin.
“Shasta didn’t!” snorted Bree. “At least he ran in the right direction: ran back. And that is what shames me most of all. I, who called myself a war-horse and boasted of a hundred fights, to be beaten by a little human boy—a child, a mere foal, who had never held a sword nor had any good nurture or example in his life!”
“I know,” said Aravis, “I felt just the same. Shasta was marvelous. I’m just as bad as you, Bree. I’ve been snubbing him and looking down on him ever since you met us and now he turns out to be the best of us all. But I think it would be better to stay and say we’re sorry than to go back to Calormen.”
“It’s all very well for you,” said Bree. “You haven’t disgraced yourself. But I’ve lost everything.”
“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another. And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we’ll see about the other half of that mash.”
From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, chapter 10