The idolization of Eros

“We must do the works of Eros when Eros is not present.”

Eros2I’ve been reading through some marriage books lately and, since most of the material was on the current end of the timeline, I thought it would be good to go back and hear Lewis in The Four Loves. I’m nearly certain that my first reading of the book was over 20 years ago, before marriage and pastoral ministry, so this fresh reading has been immensely rewarding.

Two quick observations before I get out of the way. First, although the “Eros” chapter has the most to do with marriage, Lewis’ “Friendship” chapter is surprisingly relevant for married couples. I couldn’t help but think that all the talk we hear these days about “marrying one’s best friend” is a good thing so far as it goes, although I suspect we have a pretty weak grasp on what that actually means (or ought to mean). Second, Lewis’ dissection of Eros deserves a broader audience not only because he gets so much right (I speak as a husband) but because it exposes the shallowness of so much of our post-modern romanticism (I speak as a husband and a pastor). That said, here is Lewis describing the ebb and flow of Eros:

In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the center of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

and

Can we be in this selfless liberation for a lifetime? Hardly for a week. Between the best possible lovers this high condition is intermittent. The old self soon turns out to be not so dead as he pretended–as after a religious conversion. . .

But these lapses will not destroy a marriage between two “decent and sensible” people. The couple whose marriage will certainly be endangered by them, and possibly ruined, are those who have idolized Eros. They thought he had the power and truthfulness of a god. They expected that mere feeling would do for them, and permanently, all that was necessary. When this expectation is disappointed they throw the blame on Eros or, more usually, on their partners. In reality, however, Eros, having made his gigantic promise and shown you in glimpses what its performance would be like, has “done his stuff.” He, like a godparent, makes the vows; it is we who must keep them. It is we who must labor to bring our daily life into even closer accordance with what the glimpses have revealed. We must do the works of Eros when Eros is not present. . . And all good Christian lovers know that this program, modest as it sounds, will not be carried out except by humility, charity, and divine grace; that it is indeed the whole Christian life seen from one particular angle.

The terrible necessity of tribulation

Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over…

I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. . . . And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys. . .

Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over–I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

— C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

‘Christianity And’

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’, You know–Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Physical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart–an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.

–C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

A necessary caution & comfort

These days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate misguided sincerity from crass advertising, but differing motivations can share the same deleterious effects.

Some time back I posted a quote from Thomas Weinandy on a pitfall of modern theology:

Many theologians today, having embraced the Enlightenment presuppositions and the scientific method that it fostered, approach theological issues as if they were scientific problems to be solved rather than mysteries to be discerned and clarified.

This statement made a lasting impression on me as I realized that the problem-solving quest isn’t unique to theologians but is part of the Christian culture in general. With decreasing attention spans and sound bite theology exploding on social media, it should come as no surprise that we have a very low tolerance for the mysterious, the unanswerable, the unmanageable.

Nowhere is this more evident than in so much talk about spiritual encounters in a worship setting. These days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate misguided sincerity from crass advertising, but differing motivations can share the same deleterious effects. So for those tempted to buy into the hype that exhilaration is proof of God’s presence, Lewis offers a word of caution. And for those tempted to despair because they have no proof of God’s presence, Lewis offers you a word of comfort.

The presence of God is not the same as the sense of the presence of God. The latter may be due to imagination; the former may be attended with no “sensible consolation” . . . The act which engenders a child ought to be, and usually is attended by pleasure. But it is not the pleasure that produces the child. Where there is pleasure there may be sterility: where there is no pleasure the act may be fertile. And in the spiritual marriage of God and the soul it is the same. It is the actual presence, not the sensation of the presence, of the Holy Ghost which begets Christ in us. The sense of the presence is a super-added gift for which we give thanks when it comes.

This is the beginning of the New Creation

The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe.

…the Resurrection was not regarded simply or chiefly as evidence for the immortality of the soul. It is, of course, often so regarded today: I have heard a man maintain that “the importance of the Resurrection is that it proves survival.” Such a view cannot at any point be reconciled with the language of the New Testament. On such a view Christ would simply have done what all men do when they die: the only novelty would have been that in His case we were allowed to see it happening. But there is not in Scripture the faintest suggestion that the Resurrection was new evidence  for something that had in fact been always happening. The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the “first fruits.” the “pioneer of life.” He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened. [emphasis added]

-C. S. Lewis, Miracles

One tin soldier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin into flesh. And suppose the tin soldier did not like it. He is not interested in flesh; all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt. He thinks you are killing him. He will do everything he can to prevent you. He will not be made into a man if he can help it.

What you would have done with that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second Person in God, the Son, became human himself: was born into the world as an actual man–a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier–real tin, just like the rest–had come fully and splendidly alive.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Apple is preaching to you

apple-iphone-6-1How has it come about that we use the highly emotive word “stagnation”, with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages have called “permanence”? Why does the word at once suggest to us clumsiness, inefficiency, barbarity? When our ancestors talked of the primitive church or the primitive purity of our constitution they meant nothing of that sort… Why does “latest” in advertisements mean “best”? Well, let us admit that these semantic developments owe something to the nineteenth-century belief in spontaneous progress which itself owes something either to Darwin’s theorem of biological evolution or to that myth of universal evolutionism which is really so different from it, and earlier… But I submit that what has imposed this climate of opinion so firmly on the human mind is a new archetypal image. It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones.  For in the world of machines the new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy. And this image, potent in all our minds, reigns almost without rival in the minds of the uneducated. For to them, after their marriages and the birth of their children, the very milestones of life are technical advances. From the old push-bike to the motor-bike and thence to the little car; from gramophone to radio and from radio to television; from the range to the stove; these are the very stages of their pilgrimage. But whether from this cause or from some other, assuredly that approach to life which has left these footprints on our language is the thing that separates us most sharply from our ancestors and whose absence would strike us as most alien if we could return to their world. Conversely, our assumption that everything is provisional and soon to be superseded, that the attainment of goods we have never yet had, rather than the defense and conservation of those we have already, is the cardinal business of life, would most shock and bewilder them if they could visit ours.

-C. S. Lewis, “De Descriptione Temporum” [Inaugural Lecture from the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, 1954]

Believing things on authority

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place, I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the solar system, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Romanticizing theology: Aslan’s effectual call

No one could romanticize Christian theology like C. S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, touches on a breadth of doctrines so creatively (and succinctly) that the average reader will unknowingly traverse ground that only seminary nerds dare to trod. Best of all they’ll actually enjoy the excursion! 

For all the aesthetic pleasure in the fictional series the work is intentionally subversive. After all, it was subversive fiction, among other things, that was instrumental in Lewis’ own journey from atheism to Christianity:

In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous. [Surprised by Joy]

I noticed early on that my kids quickly zone out when I deliver a theology lecture. Even an  eloquent & paternal homily doesn’t keep their eyes from glazing over. Honestly, what kind of kid prefers Netflix to an impromptu sermon? [but I digress] I still run the risk of boring them–sometimes there’s no way around it–but I’ve come to see the benefits of adopting “unscrupulous” methods in their instruction.

So last night, without planning for it, my kids got a dose of “effectual calling” as we read The Magician’s Nephew:

Aslan threw up his shaggy head, opened his mouth, and uttered a long, single note; not very loud, but full of power. Polly’s heart jumped in her body when she heard it. She felt sure that it was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it and (what’s more) would be able to obey it, however many worlds and ages lay between.

They never saw it coming. {insert sinister laugh here}

Too weak and fuddled to shake off Nothing

The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

. . . It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.

-C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters