Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

“A Grief Observed” (C.S. Lewis on his wife’s death)

GriefObserved001“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” so quotes Lewis (p 65) near the end of his published journal entries that relate to the loss of his wife, Helen.  (Lewis doesn’t give the author of the quote, but it’s from Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of [Divine] Love.)  When I finally got to reading this little book, I found it to be a gem of thought, writing, and emotion.  In it Lewis confronts God, then affirms His love for us—even if it’s like the tough love of a dentist or surgeon.  One of his stepsons (Douglas Gresham) wrote so aptly in the introduction:  “It is true to say that very few men could have written this book, and even truer to say that even fewer men would have written this book even if they could, fewer still would have published it even if they had written it (p xix).

Yes, indeed.  My response after reading entries in which Lewis describes his wife’s character was:  “What a guy!”  Lewis eulogizes, “H. [Helen] was a splendid thing; a soul straight, bright, and tempered like a sword” (p 42).  He adds later:  “I see I’ve described H. as being like a sword.  That’s true as far as it goes.  But utterly inadequate by itself, and misleading.  I ought to have balanced it.  I ought to have said, ‘but also like a garden.  Like a nest of gardens, wall within wall, hedge within hedge, more secret, more full of fragrant and fertile life, the further you entered.’  And then, of her, and every created thing I praise, I should say, ‘In some way, in its unique way, like Him who made it” (p 63).

These laudatory quotes belie the overall tone of A Grief Observed, however.  While the end is a happy one, the heart of this book includes the racking grief over the loss of a lover, the struggle with faith when God seems absent but is most needed, and the questioning of God’s goodness.  Lewis put it this way:  “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly.  Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively.  But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand” (p 25).

At the beginning, in the first of only four chapters, Lewis asks, “Where is god?”  He likened God’s perceived absence during his desperation as a silence behind a door, which had been slammed in his face, and then bolted.  He struggled with this lack of comfort from God, writing that “the conclusion I dread is not ‘so there’s no God after all,’ but ‘so this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer” (p 7).

Lewis is angry with God and tries to understand “goodness” in His terms.  He concludes that the real problem is his own shallowness of faith.  His faith is like a rope that didn’t bear him when needed, he claims, being just a “house of cards.”  He connects true faith with outwardness:  “If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.  It has been an imaginary faith . . .” (p 37).  Amazingly, this response to grief is coming from a man that many consider the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century.

Being a great Christian thinker, Lewis couldn’t help but comment on consolations he received from various people.  He derides the feeble platitude, “She will live forever in [your] memory” (p 20, and negatively considers the ideas we hold of the dead being both joyous and brought immediately into God’s presence.  His commentaries relate to his desperate perplexity over Helen’s continued existence.  His prayers to God meet only silence; his questions to Him about Helen are unanswered.  Lewis felt that there was a “sort of invisible blanket between the world and me” (p 3), but this blanket appears to have enveloped his spiritual life as well.

A little over half-way through his journal, Lewis experienced not only a lifting of the blanket, but a strong sense that Helen was indeed “still a fact” (p 51).  When he stopped worrying about how much he remembered of her, she seemed to be, in a certain sense, everywhere.  His relationship with God began to reopen and he surmised that God had needed to show him what a flimsy house his faith really was.

He realized that he should have been praising God more, knowing that the act of praise brings joy.  He realized more fully that we need to love God, not our own ideas of Him, and to duplicate this in all our relationships.  He accepted that there are mysteries that will be solved only in heaven, and that “our apparently contradictory notions . . . will all be knocked from under our feet.  We shall see that there never was any problem” (p 71).

But Lewis leaves us with something that some people may find hard to accept:  an experience of Helen, her mind meeting his.  He says of it, “I had never in any mood imagined the dead as being so—well, so business-like.  Yet there was an extreme and cheerful intimacy.  An intimacy that had not passed through the senses or the emotions at all” (p 73).  He reports more of the encounter than this quote, of course, and analyzes it in relation to intellect, love, emotions, and the resurrection of the body.  As he himself concludes, “We cannot understand.  The best is perhaps what we understand the least” (p 75).

© Vicki Priest 2014 (this was moved from withchristianeyes.com; posted and revised since 2001)

 

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Easter message from Pastor Abedini, imprisoned in Iran

Saeed Abedini with one of his children.  From http://beheardproject.com/saeed#sign
Saeed Abedini with one of his children. From http://beheardproject.com/saeed#sign

The following is posted at the ACLJ website, where you can read many different articles about Pastor Saeed Abedini’s imprisonment–his current unhealthy condition, President Obama’s response, how his family is doing, etc.–and sign a petition for his release (this link takes you to a separate site where you can learn about Abedini’s case as well).  You may think that these petitions don’t do any good when directed at a country like Iran, but, recently Abedini wasn’t being treated for his illnesses and international outcry did cause the Iranian government to at least move the pastor to a hospital bed.  Abedini wrote this message from the hospital.

Happy Resurrection Day.

On the Eve of Good Friday and Easter I was praying from my hospital room for my fellow Christians in the world.  What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed.

Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him.  We do not realize that unless we pass through the path of death with Christ, we are not able to experience resurrection with Christ.

We want to have a good and successful marriage, career, education and family life (which is also God’s desire and plan for our life). But we forget that in order to experience the Resurrection and Glory of Christ we first have to experience death with Christ and to die to ourselves and selfish desires.

Jesus said to His Disciples:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

This means that we should not do things that we like to do (that God does not want us to do) and to do things that we do not like to do (but God wants us to do) so that He may be glorified.

So in addition to spending our days and night in doing the works of faith as described above, we should also transform our dead faiths into living and active faiths through the resurrection of Christ which is an active and constructive love that is effective.

In conclusion, let us resurrect our Dead faiths to living faiths by first dying to our selfish “resurrected” self and experiencing the cross of Jesus. Then we are able to experience the Glorious resurrection with Christ.

A Glorious life with Christ starts only after a painful death (to self) with Christ.

We will start with Christ.

Pastor Saeed Abedini
Prisoner in the Darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light

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The Parable of the 10 Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13): Confusion and Understanding

Light your lamp (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/848608).
Light your lamp (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/848608).

Prior to my pastor’s recent sermon on having faith that you’re saved even when you feel inadequate and have doubts, I was wondering about the meaning of what Jesus said in the “Parable of the 10 Virgins” in Matthew (25:1-13).  Whenever this parable was brought to my attention, it bothered me, and it was on my mind prior to that sermon.  Maybe God was trying to tell me that my concerns about the parable were not applicable to me, and followers of Christ like me, and that there was another meaning to it that I simply wasn’t grasping.  In my 19 years of having been a Christian, I had not come to terms with this parable, which seems kind-of pathetic and embarrassing.  I want to dig deeper into this parable—car to come along?  Here is the parable (NIV):

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’  “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’  “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’  10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.   And the door was shut.  11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’  12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’  13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The concluding verse exhorts us to keep watch always.  And that is good and necessary, and is repeated elsewhere:  “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40; see also Matt 24:42, 44; Mark 13:35).  The problem is, the young ladies weren’t keeping watch in an ordinary New Testament sense.  The five that got into heaven fell asleep just like the five that didn’t get into heaven.  The difference was in the oil–in their preparedness–not in their actual watchfulness (being awake, having one’s eyes open, looking toward Christ, etc.).

And the problem with this, the oil issue, is at least twofold.  One, oil is commonly known to be symbolic of the Holy Spirit, which we receive from God (we don’t take it or buy it).  Related to this is, (2) how much of our own work do we need to do to be saved?  First, one must read and understand the parable correctly.  Depending on the version I had read in the past, it wasn’t always clear to me that the five foolish virgins didn’t have any oil at all.  This needs to be clear:  five of the virgins brought lamps with them that were . . . empty!  Who does that!?  These were the foolish virgins, we’re told, but it still took a lot of time for my mind to register that someone would bother to bring lamps that didn’t have any oil.  (Truly, what is the point?  It’s like pushing your gasless car somewhere, expecting to drive it off later without filling it up.)   For a long time I thought that the virgins in question had oil in their lamps when they left their homes, and that they didn’t bother bringing extra and thus ran out (this is the take on it that Kaiser et al present, too).  But that’s not what the parable says.  In any case, let’s look at the oil issues I mentioned.

If oil represents the Holy Spirit in this parable, as it does elsewhere in the Bible, then the foolish virgins didn’t have the Holy Spirit.  They wanted into heaven, but they didn’t really accept God (God’s spirit); they weren’t true believers.  If you are sincere in wanting to be with God, God will give you His Holy Spirit; if you just want the goodies of heaven without acknowledging God’s will, your heart is in the wrong place.  So, the only work necessary is to actually believe in God and His son’s work:  “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent (John 6:29).  And according to the parable, if you have God and His Holy Spirit you will be saved even if you get drowsy waiting.  This is quite comforting, and the opposite meaning of what I had originally thought regarding this parable.

One reason why I had a bit of a hard time with this parable is that it didn’t seem logically cohesive.  What I mean by that is, we believers are the church, which is referred to as Christ’s bride in the New Testament.  So, why would the ten virgins (and thus the message) refer to believers, who are already behind the door in the parable (as the bride)?  The virgins are attendants, not the bride; the Syriac and Vulgate versions of the New Testament make this clearer by adding in verse 10 that Christ came with his bride.

We know that the context of the parable is eschatological, that is, regarding the end times.  Only two of the commentaries I have here address the actual relevance of this issue, and they appear to disagree:  Enns 2008, which mentions the theological stance that the wedding takes place in heaven, while the banquet takes place on earth after Christ’s second coming, and MacDonald 1995, which seems to place the wedding and the banquet together (in heaven).  The time is during the tribulation, so the virgins represent true believers and those who aren’t true.  But, why use the term virgin, instead of just person?  Since Christ’s bride – the church – is already in heaven (behind the door), then why are the people in the parable referred to as virgins?  It makes me think Jesus is talking about the Jews during the tribulation period.  Certainly his audience at the time was made up of Jews, and MacDonald (1297) refers to them as those with messianic hope.

Israel is specifically called out in Revelation 7, where during the time of the opening of the Sixth Seal a certain number of Jews will be marked as saved; that is, sealed.  In the New Testament, God seals us with, and gives us, the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.s 1:22; Eph.s 1:13, 4:30).  But whether or not the “virgins” refer to Jews alone, or the wedding feast takes place in heaven or on earth (or even if that has any relevance), people will indeed be saved during the tribulation and the mark of this is the seal of the Holy Spirit, just as it is prior to the tribulation.  The admonition to always be ready and waiting for the Lord’s return is true at all times prior to the actual wedding banquet, announced in Revelation 19, which happens after all the seals are opened, all the bowls of judgment are emptied, and all the trumpets sounded, but before the final battle and binding of Satan (this order is according to the literal reading of Revelation).

The message to walk away with is, don’t be foolish but wise and receive the Holy Spirit, and after that keep vigilant in waiting for the king’s return.  However, we can take comfort that Jesus “knew” the five virgins who did in fact drift off to sleep, but who had held on to God’s seal.

_____

Sources

Dunn, James, and Rogerson, John. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub Co, 2003. Print.

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008. Print.

Kaiser, Jr., Walter C., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Print.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub.s, 1995. Print.

Plummer, Robert L. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2010. Print.

 

The Repentant Criminal on the Cross, Luke 23:39-43

Image from Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (1903; CC Flikr), modified by author.
Image from Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (1903; CC Flikr), modified by author.

Jesus Christ was crucified along with two other men, criminals, who, according to Matthew and Mark, insulted or mocked Him (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32).  But Luke provides for us a different picture–that one of these criminals was redeemed–and today I was very pleasantly surprised by a new insight on this.  Luke 23:39-43 reads:

 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?”  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This has always been an inspiring passage, one of hope.  It also teaches, directly from the words of our Lord, that people go straight to heaven when they die (as does 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and 1 Philippians 1:22-24, though some try to teach otherwise).  I basically hadn’t thought about it much otherwise, but then I realized today what a drastic measure of faith and spiritual knowledge the criminal showed by him when he asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

How did the criminal know about Jesus’ kingdom, and that He would be coming into it?  Obviously the criminal knew it was spiritual, not just physical, since they were all dying.  How did he know that?  Most of the disciples didn’t even understand all this, and for the most part, they weren’t even with the people at the crucifixion (Luke 23:49, but also see John 19:25-27).  The disciples displayed their lack of understanding after the crucifixion, so they wouldn’t have been good witnesses during the event in any case.

On the road to Emmaus they grumbled about Jesus not fulfilling what they thought He was supposed to do, until the post-Resurrection Jesus met up with them and “interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27b).  The women, too, had to try and convince Peter and the others that the Lord was resurrected . . . not dead.

Yet the criminal (can I call him something . . . Bob?) came to an astonishing understanding of Jesus’ purpose during his last hours on earth, without having been a disciple.

Of course, it was the Holy Spirit’s doing, but did the Spirit just simply give this man the spiritual knowledge all of a sudden?  How much did Criminal Bob talk with Jesus on the cross before this?  My bible note suggests that Jesus talked with  Criminal Bob.  Certainly He could have, but they couldn’t have talked much, since when a person is crucified it’s very hard to breath.  In fact, that’s the idea of crucifixion–you are caused to have excruciating pain while you force your body in a position to allow breathing.  [I do have problems with the explanation of crucifixions that claim these extreme symptoms, at least when applied to Jesus and the two criminals, simply because they are said to have talked so much!  Perhaps they had a foot support or the nail didn’t go through the medial nerve . . . I don’t know.]

However Criminal Bob came to his understanding doesn’t actually matter.  What matters is that he was a blind criminal, then he came to see before it was too late.  There is hope for anyone.  Hope and grace are continually present and active!

C.S. Lewis’s Conversions: Atheist to Theist, Theist to Christian

Rare early picture of CS Lewis, on the cover of “All My Road Before Me” — from his early and agnostic or atheistic days.A Christian Conversion Experience:  C.S. Lewis

Contemporary apologetics so often focus on the issues of biblical reliability and understanding in relation to science, and on the question of evil, as these are the currently contested concerns.  One apologetic that points towards the existence of God, however, is one that is generally not “scientific” enough, and that is a changed life.  Not a temporary change, which can indicate a simple excitement of a person’s will, but a permanent change evidenced by the long term.   So let’s look at the conversion experience of a well-known person, C.S. (Jack) Lewis.  Lewis was an Oxford and Cambridge Professor (English and Philosophy) and the well-known author of both fictional works like The Chronicles of Narnia and of highly valued scholarly works.

To anyone who comes in contact with atheistic thought, what Lewis wrote to his best friend in 1916 (below) will seem quite familiar.  What made him come to that conclusion, and what made him change his mind?

“I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention” (Hooper p. 9).

Lewis, or Jack, was brilliant from early age, having been tutored at home until he was nine, when his mother died.  As if this great sorrow was not enough, Lewis’ dad sent him away to school, from their home in Ireland to England.  Lewis’ older brother, Warnie, attended the very small school with him, but Jack hated it, and with good reason.  The headmaster, a Reverend, was abusive and eventually deemed insane.  At his next school, Lewis experienced an occultist head matron.

One can see the progression of Lewis’ road to apostasy from his parents’ Anglican faith:  God did not heal his mother, one school leader was a cruel and crazy believer, and the other was a non-believing occultist.  By the time Lewis attended his third school, he was an atheist.  Hating this school as well, Lewis’ father sent him to learn under a distinguished tutor, who happened to be an atheist also.  Lewis was superb at languages and translating.  As his tutor wrote, Jack had “a sort of genius for translating . . . .  He is the most brilliant translator of Greek plays I have ever met” (Gromley p. 36).

He went on to learn and teach at Oxford, with WWI service (and related injury and recovery) sandwiched in.  After the war he lived with his adopted family, a much older atheist woman and her daughter.

So what would cause Lewis to stray from his atheism?  A couple of strongly held ideas played their parts.  One was the concept and experience of what Lewis termed “joy” – a pang of intense bliss and longing, followed by a strong desire to experience it again.  The other was his concern, from an early age, that if Christianity were true it could be shown that paganism prefigured it, or that Christianity fulfilled paganism.  Indeed, Lewis felt his pangs of “joy” when reading the northern pagan mythologies that he loved so much.

Jack Lewis wanted to be his own man; he did not want to acknowledge a power or diety that demanded loyalty.  Through the years, however, seeking truth and being drawn to authors and friends who helped him with answers to his search for “joy” as well as his concern over God’s communication with the pagan world, Lewis’ heart and mind opened enough to hear God give him a choice.

“. . . a fact about myself was somehow presented to me.  I became aware that I was holding something at bay, of shutting something out. . . .  I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. . . .  I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. . . .  The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional.  I was moved by no desires or fears.  In a sense I was not moved by anything.  I chose to open . . . .  Then came the repercussion on the imaginative level.  I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt.  The melting was starting in my back – drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle.  I rather disliked the feeling” (Lewis p. 123).

This experience of Lewis’ happened in 1929, and it was “conversion” to belief in God, not in an afterlife or in Jesus Christ.  Lewis still thought that parts of Christianity were a kind of myth, yet he wanted to know the truth and to live truth.  God gave Lewis many nudges, even via an ardent atheist who thought that it really did seem as though God made the pagan myths come true through Jesus Christ.  This atheist’s admission shocked Lewis.  Jack’s good friend J.R.R. Tolkien helped him with this issue, too, as did Hugo Dyson, on a pivotal walk in September 1931:

“Tolkien was convinced that myth, such as the Norse myth of the death of Balder, or the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, was not the opposite of fact.  These stories were a way of expressing truths deeper than fact. . . .  [Tolkien declared that] not only did the truth in myths come from God, but a writer of myths could be doing God’s work in the world.1 As Tolkien talked, there was a sudden rush of wind out of nowhere, as if to underline the message.  The three men held their breath, feeling the importance of the moment” (Gormley p. 95).

Later that month Lewis had a second, more subtle, conversion experience.

“As I drew near the conclusion, I felt a resistance almost as strong as my previous resistance to Theism. . . .  Every step I had taken, from the Absolute to ‘Spirit’ and from ‘Spirit’ to ‘God,’ had been a step toward the more concrete, the more imminent, the more compulsive.  At each step one had less chance ‘to call one’s soul one’s own.’ . . .  I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken.  I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo] one sunny morning.  When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.  Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.  Nor in great emotion. . . .  It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Lewis pp. 129-130).

So, finally, Lewis found that myth had become fact (that is, Jesus was “the god that died”) and that the pangs of “joy” had been sign posts to God.

As Lewis had written in Surprised by Joy, “all” is required of a person who acknowledges and worships his maker, and Lewis gave his all.  He is considered to be the greatest apologist of the 20th century, having written Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and more.  In addition, he was a very popular layman preacher in Oxford.  As a “secular” scholar and author, he wrote poetry, the highly regarded “A Preface to Paradise Lost,” The Discarded Image, and others.   Lewis was the president of Oxford’s Socratic Club from 1942-1955; this was a philosophy group that delved into the pros and cons of the Christian faith.

As if the schedule demanded by all that was not enough2 – don’t forget that he taught as well – Lewis was kind enough to answer all his letters (as he became “popular” he had the help of his brother, and then his wife).  He always helped those in need–in a very personal way when the opportunity arose–and in a more general way through significant monetary giving.  His apologetics show a concern and love for the common man, being theological and philosophical explanations open and accessible to all.   Jack’s life was one humanly lived and beautifully lived.

_____________

Notes

  1. Indeed, as probably all of you readers know, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the great “modern myth,” The Lord of the Rings.   It’s likely that many fewer are aware of Lewis’ re-told myth of Psyche and Cupid (or Eros) in Till We Have Faces.
  2. Lewis had a truly unbelievable photographic memory, easily quoting pages from books that someone happened to mention.  This gift was obviously a very great help to his studies, writing, lectures, etc.

____________

Sources

Gormley, Beatrice. C.S. Lewis: Christian and Storyteller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1998.

Hooper, Wlater. C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life & Works. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Lewis, C.S. “Surprised by Joy.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, by C.S. Lewis, 1-130. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994 (1955).

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is an edited version of my article at Examiner.com, published 2011)