C.S. Lewis truly was one of the greatest theologians (and I would argue, philosophers) of our modern time. The connections he made between Scripture and humanity are almost unparalleled. The quote above has a lot of meat to it, but for our 50th post on this lovely little thing we call “Winning the Welcome,” I thought we might reach for a higher challenge!
This excerpt from his piece Mere Christianity is a wake up call for the Christian that maybe isn’t “all in.” It’s a challenge and it’s absolutely convicting, but I think that if we’re not exposed to healthy conviction, our heart and our faith isn’t pruned to grow in the right direction.
When I was a philosophy student in college and I was reading tough texts, I would take it a line or two at a time. It broke it up in chewable pieces and made it easier to glean the good stuff. So… let’s do this!!
“What can you ever really know of other people’s souls — of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole of creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands.”
Initially, the question Lewis poses at the beginning might seem a little…Ecclesiastical. (I love the book of Ecclesiastes but if you’ve read it, you get it.) I get the idea that he’s actually explaining something I feel frequently, maybe you have too…
You know when you’re asking someone for advice and you explain the situation, but they can’t possibly know every minutiae of every person’s personality or be able to explain the motives without making assumptions? So, when they give you their advice, you get a feeling like, “Ehh… I don’t know that’s what they meant…” or “But I know their past traumas that caused them to lash out like they did…” There’s always another piece of the puzzle, right?
So, then, it’s true: you can’t ever really know another’s soul because their motivations and their detailed life story have too many branches for you to explore. In fact, it would take a lifetime. But your life is already being lived by you, so you should spend your time and efforts examining what makes you tick.
After all, living your life and learning about the One who created you and died for you — learning to operate in that understanding — is what we’re hardwired for. Our soul wasn’t made for an earthly someone; our soul was made for Him.
“If there is a God, you are, in a sense alone with Him. You cannot put him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books.”
First and foremost, Lewis is not questioning the existence of God here. Saying, “If there is a God” allows him to address Christians on a common ground: we all agree God exists, but some of us don’t act like it. He’s trying to establish that there’s a gap in what we believe and how we live.
Think about all the silly things we talk about: The Bachelor drama, fad diets, what’s new on Netflix, Super Bowl teams and commercials… who really cares?! That stuff is not eternal.
So, when he’s pointing out how we gossip about our neighbors or what new books we’re reading (ouch, on that last one), he’s trying to remind us that IT. DOESN’T. MATTER.
And it doesn’t! When we are at the final stages of our lives (and we’ll all get there; it’s not morbid), there will be you and Him. It’ll be a celebration, but it will also be a place where you need to answer for some things. Personally, this is really hard for me. I’m already very hard on myself and demand close to perfection in anything I do (except folding fitted sheets – couldn’t care less!), so having to face my Creator and Father to answer for things I did or didn’t do on Earth? *Gulp*
A one-on-one conversation with the Divine. It’s…well, we’ll get to that next.
“What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, unavoidable?”
Ah, the best part. Ironic that I mentioned Ecclesiastes earlier, because there’s a bit of scripture that echoes Lewis’ words well: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'” (Ecclesiastes 1)
It’s not what I’d describe as a particularly “joyful” book, but it does start with human depravity and end in hope. And doesn’t that reflect life so well?
I like how Lewis calls life an “anesthetic fog.” It’s like when you have so much on your mind on the drive home from work and you pull into your driveway with no recollection on how you did it. That is physically dangerous, but living a life like that — one where you forget that you should be chasing God — is spiritually dangerous.
And, I think it’s necessary to define the three words Lewis uses to describe God’s presence to get the full effect.
Palpable – so intense as to seem tangible
Immediate – occurring at once; instant
Unavoidable – not to be prevented or ignored; inevitable
Who knew that Oxford Dictionary could describe the Presence so pin-pointedly? These words are just words when they’re used in every day language, but when they’re put as attributes to standing in the closeness of God — extraordinary.
The final thing I’ll draw our attention to is the phrase “…the Presence in which you have always stood…” This can be difficult to wrap our heads around, especially to a new believer who is just coming to grasp this new world. From the beginning of time, we have all been in the Presence of God. Our lives on Earth are just the physicality of our existence, and we will once again return to what we were before — a soul.
Your soul (and my soul) is constantly available to seek out God because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Before the Ultimate Sacrifice was made, someone had to intercede (step between) God and us in order to speak with him. There were prophets, judges, angels in dreams, priests, etc. But Jesus tore the veil between the seemingly inaccessible, unimaginable, and far off to bring God close to his people. Jesus became our “step between,” if you will.
So, to realize what your faith gives you access to is the beginning to your true walk with him. Let’s not spend our lives absorbed in meaningless things, but instead let’s search our hearts for the gifts God placed inside of us so that we can live our lives well.