Monday, January 26, 2009

The Inner Ring

In his essay, “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis writes about two conflicting hierarchies. There is one of formality and another of informality. The formal system is recognized by all. It is externally prevalent and interpreted. “A general is always superior to a colonel, and a colonel to a captain.” There is a pre-established order. However, the informal system is “not printed anywhere.” Rather, it exists either in our minds or behind a code of secrecy with “officers and rules that would be told after you were admitted.” Now, this is not trying to establish one system or hierarchy as greater than the other, though we may naturally place a greater emphasis on the hidden system because of its mysterious and undisclosed nature.

I believe that the informal code appeals to our personal nature. We desire to be known by a group of people. The problem that exists is finding those people and establishing the codes and guidelines that will be followed. Anybody is permitted within the group. However, there is the necessary issue of creating an inner ring, those who know. Outside are the other people, those who don’t know and can’t get in. Perhaps that is our draw to groups such as inner rings. We desire to be known exclusively by only so many people because after a while, with more members, the personal connection and secrecy is lost. Thus, the inner ring loses its mystery and purpose. The group goes from personal to impersonal.

The formal code I believe represents an impersonal system. Here, positions and accomplishments matter. The past is recognized versus simply living and concerning oneself with the present. The formal code is recognized by all men. It is almost a most primitive system glorifying the survival of the fittest attitude suggested by Charles Darwin. Those who are more powerful and successful attain a higher rank than those who are trampled below and have trouble surviving. There is a universal recognition of status and importance, a list of pre-established rules to follow.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the inner ring is our longing to be in the ring. Naturally, we place ourselves on the outside, separate from others and living without what we desire. We want to become part of the inside, to use the slang or the group. The slang of the group becomes a set of religious creeds and sacraments. There is meaning and membership by using the word “we” as opposed to Tony and me. There is that exclusive dialogue we wish to be included in. And, the “exclusion (of the Inner Ring) is no accident; it is the essence.”

The irony of the inner ring is found in C. S. Lewis’s analogy of an onion. The inner ring is like the skins of an onion. As you enter into an inner ring or peel off a skin, there is always another deeper layer. Each time you find another inner ring. There seems to be no end to the rings and desiring. It seems that even when we do get what we want, or finally are admitted to that inner ring we desire, we end up being unsatisfied. The excitement of potential admission is gone. The mystery of the group is lost. Instead, we just begin to search for a new inner ring to join. The cycle never stops; it’s an endless progression from skin to skin, peeling away more and more layers only to discover more still, deeper and harder to remove.

C. S. Lewis does not frown down upon inner rings, but yet does not approve of them. In fact, he agrees that it (the inner ring) is almost a natural occurrence in life. However, there are two observations that C. S. Lewis makes. The first is that of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man, do very bad things.” The man surrenders himself to the caucus, laying aside his personal beliefs for the price of admission. The second reason is that often when seeking the Inner Ring, we seek what cannot be had. “As long as we are governed by that desire, we will never get what we want.” Our goal teasingly flees from us, keeping just beyond our grasp. The Inner Ring does not guarantee happiness. And thus, “until we conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider we will remain.” Without understanding this we will eternally search for our Inner Ring. We will forget the simplicity of friendship, an informal system transcending the laws of the Inner Ring.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Problem of Pain - Human Pain

C. S. Lewis addresses the question of: “Why does God allow suffering?” in chapter six, “Human Pain,” of his book The Problem of Pain. He not only deals with our concept of pain, but also investigates the reason for pain and common perceptions of pain in his day. First, we’ll deal with the two definitions of pain. Pain can either be the sensation caused by specialized nerve fibers which a patient recognizes and dislikes, or it can be any experience which the patient dislikes. C. S. Lewis makes it clear that he is going to address the second definition of pain. Everyone understands physical pain of the body, but what of this other more relative pain, possibly mental or physical?

So we come to the question, “If God is good, then why does he allow suffering?” First, we must recognize that we our mistaken when we ask this question. God is not to blame for our pain. God did not create pain or in general evil if we choose to go there. Evil/pain would be defined as the absence of God or the absence of pleasure. We are to blame, not God. We chose to sin and thus as a result fell into sin and now must live with the consequences. If we believe in total depravity, then of course, we have no right to happiness and most likely probably deserve to suffer.

Some may still argue insisting that God is good and therefore should not allow pain. Perhaps, we must realize that goodness is like love. There are two main definitions of love in today’s culture. The first love is that of giving the patient whatever he or she wants. The giver does not hold back anything desired by the patient. He spoils the patient. The second definition of love is that of doing what is best for the patient. It is like when a parent feeds their child broccoli and other vegetables because cake and ice cream every meal is not healthy for the body, even though it tastes good and that is what the child wants. Perhaps, you could say that this is sort of a tough love, a love which allows pain with a greater purpose in mind. And, going back to the original question: “why does God allow pain if he is good?” we should maybe remind ourselves that God might be suffering more than us when we suffer. Again, it is like a parent and a child. When a child is hurt with a scrape on his knee the parent wishes so much that he could take away the pain. He probably feels worse or suffers more than the child.

What is interesting to note is that when we suffer the most, it is when something most dear and precious to us suffers or is lost. It is like when you paint a beautiful picture and then it either gets ripped or spilled on with a careless person’s hot coffee. We suffer so much because of all the time and effort put into our project. I believe that this is how God feels about his creation. He made it good, and then we started a cycle of destruction. What pain God must have felt compared to our humble pains of scraped knees and broken relationships. C. S. Lewis writes that “the ugliest things in human nature are perversions of good or innocent things” (The Problem of Pain 92). Suffering and evil do not exist by themselves but rather on their ability to distort goodness. We see at work beauty being distorted by sin, a beautiful picture and creation tainted by hot coffee or man’s autonomy.

C. S. Lewis also addresses the question: “Why do some people suffer?” However, perhaps the question that should be asked is: “Why don’t all people suffer?” Man does not deserve happiness. He is totally depraved and caught in sin. Man himself is to blame for his suffering; hence presumably, all men should suffer. The beauty, though, is in God’s love for us. He saves us even though he didn’t have to get involved. God ultimately stepped in and gave hope to our endless cycle of suffering.

There are benefits to pain. This is not to say that all pain is good though. First, pain awakens us to our tragic situation. It can show us the danger we are in when we forget God in our lives. Often when times are good, we dislodge God and let him drift away, but then later when we scramble to paddle over to him. It is like in the lecture we listened to in class where a pilot knows that there is a parachute in his plane, but hopes that he doesn’t ever have to use it. I believe that this is often how we view God. We hope to ignore him until we absolutely need him. We like to fill our mind with toys and then complain when they are broken as C. S. Lewis puts it in chapter six, “Human Pain.” Perhaps, we must recognize that when our cards and toys tumble down, this is “the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to posses by heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ” (The Problem of Pain 107).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 4 - Redemption

Plantinga writes of a “double grace” in chapter four entitled “Redemption” from his book Engaging God’s World. There are two components, sanctification and justification. Sanctification is the progression towards holiness. It is becoming like Christ, becoming holy. This is a lifelong process, not simply achieved by confession and an intense moment of spiritual revival. Instead, God works this part of the double grace throughout the entire length of our lives. We find his touch in refining and redeeming our lives every day. The second component of the double grace is justification. This at first seems like a one-time ordeal, the initial moment of confession at which we admit our sins and allow God to work in us. However, justification really is when we are made right with God by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins. This like sanctification is not over and done with. It happens nearly every day as we confess our sins and ask continually for forgiveness. Our initial salvation and conversion perhaps is only the highlight of this justification, the beginning of a “double graced” transformational process.

As a response to our freedom in Christ, it seems odd that we then become subjected to a new law, God’s law. Normally, as humans we perceive rules and laws as limitations that impede our desires or prevent what we think could be innocent fun. Often times we forget that these established laws were created for a purpose, many times that purpose is for our safety. Now, I am not saying that all laws are justifiable and necessarily work towards the betterment of man, but many of them have good intentions in mind. Our human laws need to reflect God’s law. We have freedom within God’s law. The rules and guidelines that God lays out are there to protect us from all this hurt and pain we could experience. Often it protects us from our own silly mistakes. God displays true love towards us. He does not simply act like a misguided parent who gives their child whatever they want. Instead, God acts as the responsible parent who feeds his child broccoli and carrots, even when it is cake the child screams for. God does not give us simply what we want; he does what’s best for us.

Because of our redemption and atonement in Christ, we are inspired and prompted to do good works. “Love vivifies us” as Plantinga puts it. We love because He first loved us. In response to our salvation, we should gladly offer ourselves for the construction of God’s kingdom. We need to willingly mirror Christ on earth. Martin Luther wrote: “Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then we are able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree.” We need to clothe ourselves with the attitude and actions of Christ. And, perhaps the clothes do not fit at first, they may be baggy or loose, but at least we are catching a glimpse of what we are intended to become and beginning to work towards growing into those clothes. In fact, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are intended to spur us on towards good works. We are part of “God’s team,” encouraging one another and reflecting Christ. Our actions are a result of our faith and evidence of its existence. And thus, we begin the process of sanctification and justification, clothing ourselves with the virtues of Christ.

Man or Rabbit?

Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity? Well, possibly one might say, but that depends on your definition and qualifications for ‘good.’ The funny thing though, is that by asking this question, the asker is automatically acknowledging that Christianity has something that he or she does not have. The asker finds himself in a state of doubt concerning his or her own life. He wonders whether he is making the grade. In fact, by simply asking the question he infers that Christianity is good in itself. The asker is attempting to live the bare minimum in life. He wants happiness, or whatever ‘good’ is, without working for it. He is apathetic and primarily pragmatic. He says to himself, “All I’m interested in is leading a food life. I’m going to choose beliefs not because I think them true, but because I find them helpful.” The asker is searching for truth, but weakly. He needs to realize that as men, we must not bury our heads in the ground as ostriches, but lift them up high and search for truth. We must pursue a “good” life with everything we have. And, we must recognize that perhaps this “good” life might not necessarily be what we are searching for.

C. S. Lewis addresses the question of “living a good life” with a two part answer. First, we cannot obtain a good life. We simply cannot do it, especially on our own. I believe that C. S. Lewis is using the fact that humans are totally depraved here. We are tainted by sin and thus are sinners; we do not deserve to be happy or live a “good” life. Second, “in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence.” We are not meant to simply be “good.” “Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts.” If “goodness” is our goal in life, what is our goal after life? Is not the ‘good life’ only temporary? Are we too shortsighted and disillusioned to see that?

And, if anything in addressing the “good life,” we again run into the problem of defining ‘good’ because of its relativity. The materialist may see it as happiness while the Christian sees it as advancing God’s kingdom. Perhaps there are two different standards to which this “good life” can apply, taking into account extremes here. Maybe one can work towards a crown that will not last and the other can work toward a crown that will last forever. Both crowns may be ‘good’ and seem ‘good,’ but it is only one which perseveres and lasts. Instead of living a ‘decent life,’ we need to live a Divine life. This new life then calls us to become gods and goddesses. Here, I do not mean that we replace God or hold greater authority, but that morality is only a piece of what makes us truly human. We find that the real Man consists of striving towards perfection, not goodness. And for perfection, we require the assistance of a God to reconcile us to him, a God by which we model “goodness.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Abolition of Man

Man seems to have engrossed himself in an eternal campaign to conquer nature. He attempts to transform all that is uncivilized, “nature,” into civilized culture. Man constantly looks for ways he can exert his power over the natural elements, the world around him. However, the result of this conquest is not always the progression towards a bright and peaceful future. Instead, often Man’s conquest leads him to conquer himself. C. S. Lewis gives various examples in “The Abolition of Man.” The first is that of the contraceptive. Here, Man is exercising his control over the natural process of reproduction and birth, but is also limiting himself and extinguishing human life. Second is that of newspapers, aero planes, and the wireless. We find, just like that of the contraceptive, that man in fact does transform nature into things useful and civilized, but in doing so he ultimately affects himself. Man becomes the patient and possessor, “the target both for bombs and propaganda.” From this conquest, C. S. Lewis believes that we should define Man’s conquest over Nature rather as Man’s attempt to maintain power over other men with Nature as his instrument.

Thus develops two groups of people. There are the Conditioned and the Conditioners. To be a Conditioner is to be truly human. The Conditioners follow a certain “Tao” or natural law (here C. S. Lewis is drawing from the wisdom of the East and the tradition of the Western world). The Tao is the doctrine of humanity and life. It is what the Conditioners pass onto the Conditioned. Hence, the Conditioned serve to represent the younger generation or an inferior group of people. They must be taught how to live and act. The Conditioners take it upon themselves to teach the Conditioned. However, this doctrine and teaching of the Conditioners is fraught with subjectivism. The reason for this being is that the Conditioners must choose what they shall pass on and educate to the Conditioned. They determine what doctrine and ways of life will be perpetuated into the future. It is almost as if the prior generation controls the current generation.

Man exerts control over himself by deepening the gap between generations. New civilization and technology only limits Man further. There are more manuals for Man to read and more directions for Man to follow. In general, future generations of Man seem to lose their autonomy because of the generations before them. They become dependent on the doctrine and teachings of the Conditioners. Thus we are in danger, for if we rely on humans to relate and pass down natural law, won’t their lessons simply be the result their current impulses and relative Tao. If we were to assume the Conditioners were not men, then they could pass down the Natural law, but we cannot bear the thought of this. Inconsistency is enough to prove this theory false. Thus the Conditioners are characterized by irrational behavior of which we naturally mistrust. However, if we assert that the Conditioners are men, we are held slaves to cruel subjectivism of the ages. What a position we find ourselves in. How are we to define and realize the Natural law?

Perhaps the answer to this question is to trust in some divine intervention. For, we recognize that Man, by himself, cannot consistently construct a coherent Natural law, and that Man cannot be held apart from the Natural law, for it is found in all of us. There seems to be a need of an outside source. Man desires to “see through” all things. The problem with this, C. S. Lewis writes, is that “then everything is transparent.” The world becomes invisible; we do not see at all. Perhaps, we must rely on the common grace of God to trust that Man’s attempt at defining Natural Law becomes not too distorted or too depraved. We need to recognize and address the casualties of our subjectivism. Then we are able to maintain that in man there is an inherent capacity for determining right from wrong, one inspired and authored by God, no matter how hidden or ignorant of it we may become.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


C. S. Lewis presents us with two seemingly contradicting views of Love. The first is that of seriousness. Often we speak of love in hushed tones, with tightly held voices and whispers in our ears. We treat sex as a sacred rite, only for those who have attained the holy status of marriage. Rightly so, we do this. But, our fault perhaps lies in our in our secrecy of the issue. The church can often be too silent, allowing public institutions and locker room conversations to introduce young boys and girls to the birds and the bees. Sex and love is serious. It requires commitment, faithfulness, selfless giving. Love between two people is Eros, a romantic love that can experience at certain times the pleasures of Venus. It is the fact that a woman is a woman does not matter to a man. He simply desires to be with her. He longs for her person, not her as an object. This unity and commitment models that of Christ and his church. It is here that we find deep meaning and solemnity. Eros becomes serious, but only to an extent.

The second view of Eros is that of foolishness. Its physical act represented by Venus serves as a goddess who laughs at us. We seem to play a game of catch as catch can. Perhaps the foolishness of the Venus within Eros is that God has created our desire for Venus, the carnal side of love, as an appetite. It comes and goes. We are made fools chasing one another around, the moment right for one, but wrong for the other. Our appetite for sex perhaps reveals God’s playfulness in the matter. We are not meant to hide Eros in a closet and shove it under our beds. Rather it must be present and modeled in our lives. We must enjoy the Romantic side of Eros as well as the Venus side as an appreciation of Eros. God wants us to delight in each other within our marriage relationships.

C. S. Lewis points out some of the dangers of love, most specifically that of idolizing Venus. Our appetite for sex can make us worship sex. We become solely carnal creatures looking for the next opportunity for pleasure. We are so given into our physical passions that we forget the Romantic side of love. We forget that we are interacting with another human. Venus becomes selfish. We focus on receiving versus getting. We want our own moment of pleasure. This is when we are mistaken. By removing the seriousness of love and treating it solely as a game or all-consuming desire, we hurt ourselves and fail to represent true Eros. We are as C. S. Lewis puts it, youths who jump into a pond, but then don’t know what to do once they’re in the water. So, they just get out and find another pond to jump into and the cycle repeats itself. We become enchanted with love. We are in love with the idea of being love. There is no commitment, but fleeting passion, no consistency, but desire. We forget that Eros and love are a choice, not simply desires or a goddess we may worship.

What I found very interesting is C. S. Lewis’s notion of a man and woman in the state of Eros. The man and woman serve as representatives for all men and women. They become “Father Sky” and “Mother Earth,” the ultimate He and She. Both man and woman share equal roles. It is said that the man is considered the head of the house, but perhaps instead of looking at this concept as a symbol of status or hierarchy of power, we should see it as how a man must care for his wife. He must demonstrate love as Christ, the head, demonstrates to his church. It is a sacrificial love. He may be the head, but that does not mean his desires or needs are placed first. Instead, both have equal share and say.

C. S. Lewis compares Eros to a garden that must be tended. Just as a garden must be weeded and pruned, so do our relationships and love lives. This requires time, hard work, and energy. We must invest ourselves fully, not holding back. And, in addition, we must not plant seeds in the garden before the ground and garden itself is prepared. Perhaps C. S. Lewis is hinting that we should allow time for our relationships to mature. We must start as acquaintances, then friends, then partners. The ground must be ready before the garden can flourish, before Eros can occur.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 5 - Vocation

In chapter five, Plantinga begins by describing kingdoms within a kingdom. As Christians, we are all princes and princesses in Christ, we rule over a sphere of influence determined by our calling and vocation. However, despite having our own territory to rule in, our kingdoms and power come from God above, to whom we pledge our allegiance. God allows us to help rule and renew his creation. The phrase, “Your kingdom come,” from the Lord’s Prayer is not complete without “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Representing Christ here on earth in our own kingdoms does not mean we sit back and observe our kingdom. Rather, it means that we take initiative to make God’s kingdom ever more present here on earth.

This pursuit of God’s kingdom implies that versus being just citizens of God’s kingdom, we are prime citizens. Plantinga quotes Frederick Buechner by writing, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” God desires that we find our niche in life, where our passion and energy can be coupled with the world’s hurt and pain. We need to strive first for the kingdom of heaven, not for our own power, prestige, or wealth. We recognize that our work becomes a vocation, a tool for promoting God’s kingdom. In essence, as prime citizens, we are spreading shalom, a flourishing wholeness and peace, throughout all of creation. God desires that we work towards a common good and mutual service. Perhaps as a prime citizen we need to recognize the position God has put us in right now. We need to look around us and find what God is calling us to be and do. Maybe we need to be a student, or a teacher, or a worker, or simply a friend. God is not limited by who we are. Instead, it is when we find ourselves weak, that God is strong, when we are limited, God is free to work.

Plantinga lists two potential dangers Christians often face while they perform their task if redeeming God’s world. The first is triumphalism, “the prideful view that we Christians will fully succeed in transforming all or much of culture.” We suspect that is it primarily because of our own glorious efforts that parts of creation have been redeemed. We focus on our work, what we did and sweated over. We almost feel a sense of ownership and “you owe me” attitude towards God. We must “memento mori,” remember to die, just as a single man would remind the Roman emperor during a triumph or ovation. Our work means nothing without God’s purpose in mind.

The second danger Christians may face as they redeem the world for God is that of writing the world off, “to abandon it as a lost cause.” Often times, Christians tend to isolate themselves from the world. They feel that nothing can help this utterly despicable and fallen creation. Thus, they isolate themselves if only to make sure they do not become tainted by the fallen nature of the world. However, this does not follow God’s cultural mandate. In isolating ourselves, we hand over our small personal kingdoms to the world. We’ve abdicated our God-given earthly thrones. The problem with this is that “God’s plan is to gather up all things in Christ.” He intends to restore and redeem all of creation, not just those who devotedly followed him. It is our duty as Christians to share the grace God has given us with the rest of the world. We must take responsibility for our kingdoms, not gloating over our progress and control, but rather delighting in our ability to contribute towards God’s greater kingdom.