Thursday, February 20, 2014

Extreme Makeover: God Edition

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Reflection – A week of excerpts from my favorite Protestants would be grossly incomplete without a good chunk of C.S. Lewis. I grew up with his books in our family home (oddly, not the Narnia books, which I only discovered at Madonna House later, but several of his non-fiction apologetics works—my parents were bookish sorts who had all sorts of that kind of stuff randomly lying around (hard to believe that, eh?)).

If George MacDonald is characterized by a profound spirit of trust in God that was rooted (in part, at least) with his unusually close and loving relationship to his father, Lewis’ writings are characterized by a constant struggle with God and with faith—he had a deep faith which only got deeper as years went by, but always faith in a God whose ways are inscrutable and painful and where the surrender to Him is always hard-fought and comes at a high price.

Not to get too psycho-analytical about it (which Lewis would hate), his mother’s death when he was nine, and his own rather tortured relationship with his father no doubt played a part in this. He was also an intensely private man who above all loved to be left alone to do his study and work. God for Lewis was always the One who rushed in and upset his plans, would not let him be, forever upsetting his apple cart and pushing and pulling him in all sorts of directions that did not suit him one bit.

Lewis could very well echo the words of G.M. Hopkins in the sonnet Carrion Comfort: “But why does thou rude on me/lay a lion limb on me?” God was the perpetual Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host, knocking out walls and adding bathrooms willy nilly, God the all-demanding Lord, the all-consuming fire, the all-encompassing Life that demands our life to be utterly taken up into and refashioned into a communion with His.

Where MacDonald seems to have taken all of this in a spirit of childlike trust and that good bracing Scottish spirit of toughness endurance and courage, Lewis struggles, continually, throughout his writings, with his own humanity and his resistance to the process.

This is one reason that Lewis is far more widely read today than MacDonald (Lewis is the better writer of the two, as well). In our world today, there is a terrible struggle to trust God, to really affirm in a deep and incarnated way that God is good and to let Him have His way with us in toto is a Good Thing, in fact is the One Good Thing there is.

Between the calamitous global traumas of the 20th century, the widescale breakdown of family structures and solidity in the post-Christian world, and the widespread (and alas, very often justifiable) mistrust of any human authority, there is a great struggle in the hearts and souls of human beings to truly believe in the goodness of God.

So Lewis has a great gift to offer us, and in his own grappling and working out of his own faith struggle shows us a way through it. Namely, God’s plans and God’s desires for us outstrip our own plans and desires by multiple orders of magnitude. We want a comfortable life – God wants us to be a blazing fire of charity in the dark and cold of the world, a torrent of living water in the desert of life; we want to do as we please and choose what we will – God made us to enter the dance and communion of the Trinity where all is from and for and of God, intensely free but never autonomous; we want success on our own terms and worldly wealth according to our own cupidity – God wants us to be divine, eternal success stories, and inheritors of the eternal kingdom of heaven.

So – we have to choose. God’s ways or ours, God’s plans or ours? But we have to be clear (and Lewis truly does help us to be clear) - one choice leads to Heaven, the other leads to Hell (if not repented of by the end), and that’s ultimately all there is to say on the matter.

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