Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Miracles

I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ Miracles – a philosophical work examining whether miracles (“an interference with Nature by a super-natural power”) are possible.  It was a bit dense to start, but it picked up speed and the whole experience was incredibly worth it.  I especially loved the chapters on the miracles of the incarnation, resurrection, and examining Jesus’ miracles (separated into works of the “Old Creation” – like multiplying loaves – and works of the “New Creation” – like raising Lazarus).  The final appendix discusses prayer, divine intervention, and time, and really helped me think about intercessory prayer (I’ve often struggled with understanding its purpose).

Here are a few neat quotes, violently ripped out of context, that I enjoyed: (the list is limited to the sections I read while I had the means to record quotes and is thus woefully incomplete)

In science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.

Theology offers you a working arrangement, which leaves the scientist free to continue his experiments and the Christian to continue his prayers.

… part of a long and beautiful argument in the chapter called “On Probability.”  If we accept science/nature as absolute, things fall apart on closer inspection (why should nature be logical? etc.)  Lewis, here, makes the point with Chesterton – if we’ll allow one thing that makes no sense (the Christian God), everything else falls into place.

 

Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts (a) That men make coarse jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny.  The coarse joke proclaims that we have here an animal which finds its own animality either objectionable or funny.  Unless there had been a quarrel between the spirit and the organism I do not see how this could be: it is the very mark of the two not being ‘at home’ together.  But it is very difficult to imagine such a state of affairs as original–to suppose a creature which from the very first was half shocked and half tickled to death at the mere fact of being the creature it is… Our feeling about death is equally odd…In reality we hate the division which makes possible the conception of either corpse or ghost.

On death:

It [death] is mercy because by willing and humble surrender to it Man undoes his act of rebellion and makes even this depraved and monstrous mode of Death an instance of that higher and mystical Death which is eternally good and a necessary ingredient in the highest life… Our enemy, so welcomed, becomes our servant.

Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent’.  It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Discussing the bodily resurrection and physical sacraments and a real heaven in the most beautiful passage on it ever (possibly excepting the passages in Narnia that borrow heavily from this one):

There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires.  But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body?  These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys.  We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatient, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables.  Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?

 

What are your favorite parts?

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“Some Thoughts” on Death

Of all men, we hope most of death [as in, not being the end of all, but a passage to an even more real life]; yet nothing will reconcile us to—well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.

Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.

– C.S. Lewis, “Some Thoughts”

 

Posted here so I don’t lose it.

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Why I Love Sci-Fi

I have a moderate obsession for science fiction.  I love just about anything written by Asimov or Card and the “Christian sci-fi” of C.S. Lewis and Chris Walley, among others.  I own every episode of Stargate SG-1, am rapidly becoming a “Whovian”, and have consistently enjoyed Star Trek (except for DS9, amirite?).

Many of these stories involve alternate views of religion, and most of those views vary significantly from orthodox Christianity.  However, for a grounded Christian, I do believe that engaging with such speculative fiction has great benefits.

 

1. Thinking.  Most importantly, reading (or watching) stories with alternate views of god(s) and their character(s) encourages a Christian to think critically.  Is ____ true of the real God?  What is this narrative missing about the true God?  What have the author(s) added to the truth?

For example, as I discussed earlier, the god-figures in Card’s Homecoming saga have many attractive qualities similar to the true God – involvement in people’s lives, a desire for people to follow willingly, a goal of humans loving one another properly. But, these god-figures are missing the saving aspect that is the distinguishing feature of Christianity – these gods make no effort to atone for the sin of their people.

In stories like Doctor Who and Stargate where the characters routinely encounter entirely new planets and species, I wonder what I would do in their situation as a Christian.  Can I tell these new people of God’s saving grace?  Does Christ’s death atone for the sins of aliens, too?  Or would aliens, like those in Lewis’s Space Trilogy, already know of the love and grace of God, perhaps better than we do?

When I started reading Lawhead’s Pendragon series, I didn’t know that Lawhead is a Christian.  Halfway through the first book, I thought, “Wow.  This fictional god Lawhead created is amazingly like the real one.  What’s his game?”  I watched very carefully for what differences this “secular” author was going to introduce.  Then, the character discovers that the Spirit he is following is named Jesus.  Psych!

 

2. Worship.  Similarities and differences between the true God and the god(s) in these fictional stories cause me to recognize aspects of God that I might not otherwise notice.  In recognizing those aspects, I can worship.

When I see dreams sent by the Oversoul to characters in the Homecoming saga, I thank God for the dreams He has sent me.

When I “meet” new, fantastic creatures (like timelords from Doctor Who or hrossi from Out of the Silent Planet), I rejoice in God’s creativity.

When I see how much greater God’s love is for us than the love of these fictional gods could ever be for their fictional people, I worship Him.  Who else but God could have conceived of His incarnation?  Who would dare to go further and imagine a God’s death to enable forgiveness of His people?  Praise God, who is greater than all other gods!

 

3. Fun.  God created us with a great love of story – after all, look at the way He chose to reveal Himself to us in the Scriptures.  Reading and watching the imaginative stories dreamt up by science fiction writers absolutely delights something deep inside of me.  The great imaginations He gave us let us explore questions like, “What happens if you put dinosaurs… on a spaceship?”, “What would happen on a planet where the seven suns never set?”, or “What if the pyramids were landing sites for alien ships?”.  What fun!

 

Finally, I want to emphasize that I think speculative fiction is beneficial only to people who have a solid grounding in the teachings of orthodox Christianity.  Star Wars might inspire thinking, worship, and fun, but Yoda is certainly not a good source for theology.  These stories are designed to draw the audience in, and can thus create an opening to impart false moral teaching.  Because of one’s enjoyment of Star Trek characters, someone without a solid footing might be tempted to throw out the truth that Christ is the one way to God in favor of the Federation’s tolerance and acceptance for all viewpoints (which is a reflection of popular modern thought).

For me, science fiction has been a source of great delight and one of the many avenues God has used to bring me closer to Him.  Happy reading, my friends.

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How could he not?

“The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prizes which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Obstinacy

Found this draft from two years ago…

I have always felt very young. I think it has to do with always being the shortest of a group. Being a child, you always physically look up to your parents, and now that I am grown, I still physically look up to people. My mind has decided they must all be older and thus wiser than I am. (This gets strange when my students are taller than I am…)

I think this manner of thinking has shaped by worldview. I tend to (and occasionally force myself to) see things with a sense of childlike wonder. The stars in the night sky, Advanced Calculus homework, the functioning of kidneys, the graceful movement of horses, the etymology of words, you name it.
I promise I have a point.

Just before Christmas, I read the Christmas story. Like Jill Pole, I was too tired to sleep and decided to read both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts in one sitting. I had apparently never read the two stories in quick succession before, and the differences startled me.
Luke tells about the shepherds, Matthew about the wise men. No problem, just focusing on two bits of the story, right?
Luke discusses the flight to Egypt and the massacre of Israel’s children, which Matthew omits. Strange.
Luke seems to say Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and returned there after the birth; Matthew seems to say that they moved to Nazareth after leaving Egypt. Hmm.

These inconsistencies bothered me for about 10 minutes as I lay there approaching sleep and talking to God. I then realized that it doesn’t really matter. Wherever Mary and Joseph lived before and after the birth, whoever came to see the infant King, Jesus is still God. He still came to save us. Both Gospels agree that He was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, which is what the prophets predicted; the other details are unimportant.

I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Obstinacy in Belief.” If you have access to JSTOR, go search for it. He talks about how Christians are sometimes accused of clinging to beliefs despite copious amounts of evidence that the beliefs are false (for example, inconsistencies in the Scriptures that are supposedly God’s inspired words).
While people trying to determine if God is who He claims should poke and prod and search for evidence, we who have met this incredible Person simply must always believe that He is who He is. We can’t do otherwise.
Lewis says things better.

There is, you see, no real parallel between Christian obstinacy in faith and the obstinacy of a bad scientist trying to preserve a hypothesis although the evidence has turned against it. Unbelievers very pardonably get the impression that an adherence to our faith is like that, because they meet Christianity, if at all, mainly in apologetic works. And there, of course, the existence and beneficence of God must appear as a speculative question like any other. Indeed it is a speculative question as long as it is a question at all. But once it has been answered in the affirmative, you get quite a new situation. To believe that God, at least this God, exists is to believe that you as a person now stand in the presence of God as a Person. What would, a moment before, have been variations in opinion, now become variations in your personal attitude to a Person. You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the little children. They have a sense of awe and wonder about the world. They do not know about supposed inconsistencies in the Gospel or the nuances of communion or all the myriad of things that are debated among Christian academics; they simply know Jesus.
And that’s enough.

At this point, I am obstinate in my belief.  I still learn, I still question, and I still get confused, but none of these questions will ever shake my belief that Jesus is God incarnate who came to rescue me from death.  I rest, childlike, trusting that He knows the answers.

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Nana

I went to the funeral this weekend of a woman I had met only once, but who has changed my life forever: my husband’s Nana.

While I’ve hardly met her, I know so much about her from her family.  I know that she and Papa went to a movie theater on their honeymoon, but neither could remember what movie they saw (“I wasn’t watching the movie, grandson”).  I know that she sewed my mother-in-law’s wedding dress.  I know that she loved flowers and gardening, and that her favorite color was pink.  I know that she painted her dining room mural, read to her grandchildren, and dominated at 42.  In her handwritten notes under pictures dating back to her own childhood, I feel I have come to see some of her personality.

Though I know many things about her, I can feel her love for the Lord.  She was a passionate lover of Jesus, always serving, often rejoicing in song.  I know that my father-in-law learned his steady, faithful love for God from his mother, who enveloped her daughter-in-law in this love, too.  My in-laws then nurtured that love for God in their son, my husband.  (And all of them can sing – oh, can they sing praise!!!)  I know Nana is so proud of the way her grandson serves and talks with his Lord every day.

I have been blessed to have not attended many funerals in my life.  The one I remember most vividly was so sad – a friend’s mother taken much too young.  We did “mourn with hope” because we knew she had gone Home; still, the mourning for her leaving so soon overshadowed other emotions.

This weekend, there was so much joy.  Nana has gone home!  Her long suffering with dementia and short, painful suffering with cancer are gone.  Nana’s family mourned the long “see you later” that her death means for them here, but rejoiced that she is finally in a place of healing and rest, a place where she can look on the face of the God she has loved so long.

My father-in-law gave his mother a wonderful send-off on Sunday morning.  He reminded all present that heaven is real – God’s promise for those of us who believe – and that Nana is where she most wanted to be.

He read this passage from Narnia’s Last Battle:

Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.  And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan.  “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leapt, and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was  a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are–as you used to call it in the Shadowlands–dead.  The term is over:  the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended:  this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

After the service, tears streaming down my face, I wrapped my mother-in-law in a hug.  She said, “I wish you could have really known her.”

I will.

Thank you, Nana, for having children and for teaching them so much about life, love, and the Lord.  You have changed my life forever through your son and grandson.  I so look forward to meeting you – mind whole – in heaven and dancing for our Lord together.

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C.S. Lewis on Microscopy

C.S. Lewis helped train me on the fluorescence microscope last week.
No, really, he did!

My lab manager explained many of the functions and buttons and knobs on the microscope, teaching me how to reveal the hidden glowing bits inside a cell. I rarely ask questions, but I was curious enough about “dark field” microscopy to inquire.

Bright field (left) and dark field (right) images of human tissue. From Paralkar et al. "Cloning and Characterization of a Novel Member of the Transforming Growth Factor-β/Bone Morphogenetic Protein Family." Jour Bio Chem. 1998;273:13760-7.

He explained: “Do you know what Venetian blinds are? You know how, on a sunny day, you can see bits of dust illuminated in the ray of sunlight from the blinds, but they disappear when the lights are on? That’s how dark field microscopy works. The direct light falls out of the range of the objective, so the objective only sees light scattered from objects on the slide. The technique allows you to see some pieces that are invisible in bright field microscopy. Does that make any sense?”

Yes, in fact, it did. And I smiled because this idea about microscopy threw me back to an old English literature professor who once stood in a toolshed:

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.
– C.S. Lewis, Meditations on a Toolshed
(I first encountered this in Ward’s Planet Narnia.)

Lewis said that we could think about most things two ways: contemplating them directly (looking at the beam), or enjoying them (looking along the beam). We profit from considering both viewpoints, whether in life or science.
So, that’s how I learned how to use a microscope from C.S. Lewis.

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