Fooling About in the Slums

This week my students read two thought-provoking texts: one from G.K. Chesterton on humility and the other piece by C.S. Lewis on purpose and perspective. His words shatter my humble blog, but I share them here for you, hoping they’ll blow your vision like they did mine. Please don’t groan at the length, but soak up the depth of these waters:

“If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. 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 the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (“The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis).

Placed within us by our Creator, our desires often seem evil, but in their unpolluted state, our appetites speak of something innate. Those that hunger are made to eat. Those that crave something deeper, stronger, more fulfilling reach for the soul thirst. Our cravings for love, joy, passion, hope, and fulfillment don’t disgust God: He opened the vacuum within us–an abyss only He can conquer. Sufficient to fill, He encourages us not to deny that which longs, but to turn it all toward Him. As Lewis said, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.” We all like lost and dirty children push away that Hand that would lead us to the castle, “No, no….I’ll stay here in my slum.”

Balance is possible (craving Heaven and seeking it only in the King), but most of us swing between the imbalance all the way to idolatry. Either side of the teeter-totter brings us to a skewed perspective on this life. One person pleads, give me a comfortable, predictable, low-risk life. I’m here to enjoy my simple pleasures but don’t bring too many adventures.
The goal: comfort and ease through subtraction.

The person on the other side leans back and says, let’s go higher, see new things, climb new heights, find new adventures, make life “better”.
The goal: comfort and ease through addition.

Both people groups want to live a life of joy, peace, and purpose; they just see a different way to accomplish that goal, one through taking away and another through doing more. Although both types can find deep fulfillment and spiritual direction, more often than not, the struggle remains: create your idea of heaven here. Not possible, but we keep buying into the lie that it is.

“When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now” (Lewis). We believe the lies that Heaven can be found on Earth, or that Heaven is such a long way off we should try to live as painfree of a life now as we possibly can….for the reward is here and now.

Again, not all desires (even those aside from God Alone) are evil. When we fall in love, we desire marriage. When we go to war, we desire victory. Both desires are biblical. He offers us many awards for our desires (even Solomon was rewarding fame and riches by God–though he only asked for wisdom). When we study Scripture, we start seeing the promises of God. Not only will we have God Himself, but we will be like Him, glorious and pure. We will feast and enjoy the richest of pleasures. We will rule with Him, as His sons and daughters. C.S. Lewis poses the question, “The first question I ask about these promises is: ‘Why any of them except the first?’ Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ? For it must be true, as an old writer says, that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”

We know and understand that His grace is sufficient, and yet, we are here, separated from the fullness of His presence. We long and crave for the deepest of joys, and this earth only allows hints and shadows of it. We see God and connect to Him through the filters of this life. One day we will be freed from our tainted self-love, our futile ambitions for human acceptance and accolades and we’ll sense the full glory of acceptance,

“The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. ” (Lewis).



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