Under the Sun

C.S. Lewis answering the question- which of the world’s religions is most likely to give it’s followers the greatest happiness:

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it. (God in the Dock p.58)

Perhaps our problem is that we often consider happiness and comfort to be synonymous. On this way of thinking, my pursuit of happiness boils down to something like, ‘do what feels good.’ This is how you trip over your own happiness and stumble into an existential hangover.

What if, as Lewis recommended elsewhere, we look beyond what lies ‘under the sun’?

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  (Weight of Glory)

The first quotation shows that our view of what constitutes happiness can be shallow and banal. The second reminds us that our pleasures are echoes of a greater reality spoken of by the Apostle:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV)

Far too easily pleased indeed.

 

Addict

I need fiction. I’m an addict. This is not a figure of speech. I don’t quite read a novel a day, but I certainly read some of a novel every day, and usually some of several. There is always a heap of opened paperbacks face down near the bed, always something current on the kitchen table to reach for over coffee when I wake up. Colonies of prose have formed in the bathroom and in the dimness of the upstairs landing, so that I don’t go without text even in the leftover spaces of the house where I spend least time. When I’m tired and therefore indecisive, last thing at night, it can take half an hour to choose the book I am going to have with me while I brush my teeth. It always matters which book I pick up. I can be happy with an essay or a history if it interlaces like a narrative, if its author uses fact or impression to make a story-like sense, but fiction is king, fiction is the true stuff, compared to which non-fiction is a shadow, sometimes appealing for its shadiness and halfway status; only the endless multiplicity of fiction is a problem, in a life where reading time is still limited no matter how many commitments of work or friendship I am willing to ditch in favour of the pages.”

—Francis Spufford, The Child That Books BuiltHT Alan Jacobs

Feet

“Now before the feast of the Passover when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
John 13:1

You never said what I should be doing right now. You didn’t tell me whether I should stand and watch or stay away. I look up to you and at eye level I see the blood dripping off your toes. I don’t have the guts to keep looking at your suffering but when I shift my gaze I see my own dirty feet. My toes were clean a few hours ago, you washed them for me. Somehow it didn’t cross any of our minds in the moment to wash yours for you. You went to the garden with filthy feet and stood before Pilate on filthy feet. You walked on filthy feet to this place and now, bloody and exposed before the world, all I see is your feet and mine.
I don’t understand anything right now. You washed my feet, fed me and invited me to pray. Why did I spend those last few hours falling asleep? I can blame the drowsiness on all the food and the wine, but I feel terrible about it now. You did everything for me and my response was to wake up from an ill- advised nap and run away. I call myself “the one who Jesus loves” but my feet wouldn’t follow you when you most wanted a friend.
Why did you wash our feet? You knew what Judas was scheming and you knew Peter better than he knew himself. You must have known that when my feet got still in the garden that my head would begin to nod. You knew that when they came for you there my feet and my fear would carry me away. You knew then that when my feet finally found the courage to come back and stand at the foot of this cross they would already stink again.
We both have filthy feet and I don’t understand. Was there purpose in the washing? Or is the lesson in the dirt? What is the message you have for me? Should I look at the new dirt on my feet or at the blood and grime on yours? Why did you ever bother to wash me when you knew what a mess I would make of your work so quickly after you were done?
You told us you were here to redeem us, you came to seek and to save. You said they would take and kill you. We couldn’t tell until this Passover evening how those three were connected. We didn’t see that what, and how and when were linked so closely that redemption counted on it. I see it now in the blood dripping off your toes and mixing in the mud around mine. I see my redemption in this death on Passover, but I still can’t see why. If my feet didn’t even deserve the water you washed them in, why God, would you buy them with your blood?
You have put your terrible plan into action. This is what you meant to do all along. But I’m stuck right now. I don’t know whether I should step closer to you or to back away from the horrifying thought that you came up with this as the best way to save the world. My feet don’t have the courage to do either. My feet are scared to run away from you, you’ve always had the words of life, and my feet scared to run to you, your words brought you to this death. I’m stuck here in my tracks. I wish I could go back to the room and ask you so many questions, and I wish I had thought to wash your feet.

~MB

The Fear of God

C.S. Lewis on the Numinous:

Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.” This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.

~The Problem of Pain, p. 17

I haven’t found a passage of writing that captures this well the nuances of the fear of God in Scripture. The concept is often easily misunderstood, especially when divorced from passages like 1 John 4:18, and Romans 8:1.

Calvin argued that this sense of reverence is essential for prayer. The Psalmist tells us that God’s grace is accompanied by this kind of fear:

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

~Psalm 130:3-4