Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Weight of Glory

Of late, I’ve developed an expanding admiration for the writings of C.S. Lewis.  The following are excerpts from his The Weight of Glorya sermon preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942.

Far Too Easily Pleased

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. 

Glory is to Please God

In the end, that face that which is the delight or terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.  I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God.  By God Himself, it is not!  How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. 

It is written that we shall ‘stand before’ him, shall appear, shall be inspected.  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 our thoughts can hardly sustain.  But so it is.

Not merely to see beauty, but be united with it…

And this brings me to the other sense of glory—glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity.  We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star.  I think I begin to see what it means.  We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.  We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. 

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.  We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendours we see.  But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so.  Some day, God willing, we shall get in.  When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. 

Passing Through Nature

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her.  When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive.  Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use.  We are summoned to pass through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.  And in there, in beyond Nature, we shall eat of the tree of life. 

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.  A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. 

Beings of Immortal Horrors or Everlasting Splendours

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. 

There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. 

Our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. 

--C.S. Lewis

“Pleasing unto the carnal mind”

“I also knew that there was a God. But behold, the devil hath deceived me. … and I taught [his words] because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind, … insomuch that I verily believed that they were true.” (Alma 30:52–53.)

In a September 1977 article in the Ensign called “"Korihor: The Arguments of Apostasy,” Chauncey C. Riddle outlines the atheist Korihor’s philosophical objections to Christianity—“an approach remarkably similar to that taken by many persons today in semiphilosophical attempts to “relieve” believers of what they are pleased to call their “naivete.”

The author of this lesson elaborates on the concepts of naturalistic empiricism (the belief that truth is to be found only through the manifestations of one’s own senses;) humanism (that success comes by human means such as physical strength, skill and reason;) and relativism (that there are no absolute truths and therefore no absolute judgment.)  My focus will be on relativism, which is an increasingly prevalent and emergent concept in society.  Segments in quotation marks are portions of the original publication.

Relativism—… and whatsoever a man did was no crime (Alma 30:17.) Korihor  claims since “there is no god and men do not live after death, and since all so-called ‘laws’ and ‘commandments’ are but social conveniences to give power to priests, the only important thing in life is to do what you want to do—if you can get away with it. How modern Korihor sounds! But the argument is timeless, as old as sin itself.

“There are, of course, many versions of relativism (one would hardly expect relativism to be absolute).”

1.  Enjoy the Church social organization without getting uptight about theology or religious commandments.

2.  The commandments are great but open to broad private interpretation.

3.  There are commandments, but [you are allowed] indulgence in sin since ‘nobody’s perfect.’

4.  The commandments were okay when they were given, but they have become superfluous in our enlightened age.

5.  A relativism used by Korihor—the commandments were bad from the first; they are inhibitions on the soul of man that actually prevent him from ever achieving happiness.

6.  Also used by Korihor—since one act is indifferent from another, it doesn’t matter what we do.

“The great power of all relativistic approaches is that they allow the individual to judge his own actions. This is why almost any of the approaches strikes a responsive, sympathetic chord in all other relativists. Korihor found many who were pleased with his relativism, even though they may have rejected much else of what he said. ‘And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness’ (Alma 30:18.)

“In stark contrast to the virtually infinite number of personal choices available in the broad way of relativism is that strait and narrow way…to do as [the Savior] did: not to seek our own will, but to do the will of Him who sent us.

“Thus the gospel teaches a way that is absolute—absolute in that the formula for righteousness is always the same for every person and for every time and circumstance: take the name of Christ, always remember him, keep all of the commandments that he gives unto us. There is no other way to righteousness, for whatsoever is not of faith in Christ is sin.

“Now it is little wonder that Korihor found much success in commending relativism to the members of the church in his time. For while the Church is true, the members of the Church here on earth have not yet overcome the world, although most are still trying. For many, the effort is hard, the price too great. Whether they leave the Church or not, they abandon the narrow way and settle for some variety of relativism.

“But there is one thing relativism can never do, even within the Church. One who subscribes to any of the versions of relativism just listed will never (unless he repents) be brought to those sacrifices that will prepare his soul to spend an eternity in blessing others. Relativism can never purify heart and mind, or transform body and countenance into the image of the Savior.”