Of Joy and Desire, Part 2

This is part two in a series on CS Lewis and his observations on desire and joy.

After spending years searching through literature, mythology, and relationships, Lewis came to a revolutionary conclusion that he states in his work Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” It was just after his conversion to Christianity that Lewis penned the following words that explain how he came to this conclusion: “It appeared to me… that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given… in our subjective and spacio-temporal experience.” Of all of Lewis’s writings on the subject of sehnsucht and the quest for the fulfillment of this unknown desire, it is actually his friend Owen Barfield who most simply explained Lewis’s conclusion to the matter: “true longing is never fulfilled by anything in the earthly life, but… it’s always a disguised longing for God.”

God, says Lewis, is the object of our longing. This belief goes along with the words of Augustine when he wrote, “O, Lord, you have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” The great works of secular literature are often ascribed their greatness because of the eloquent manner in which this longing is described and personified. Even these works confirm the fact that the objects most desired, if they are of this world, do not, when they are attained, fulfill those longings.

This longing for the things of God is addressed at length in the Scriptures that were written on behalf of a people that God knew would be seeking something greater than themselves. The writer of the Psalms wrote at length about his desire for God, saying, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (63:1). The writer of the Psalms also stated, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (42:1-2). Someone with a thirsting in his soul, his body longing for something as though in a “dry and weary land” sounds like the descriptions of the characters in much of modern writing. But this writer is not thirsting for drink, hungering for food, or lusting for companionship. He is desperately searching for a way to meet with the One he has discovered will fulfill those longings. He desires God. “Like Augustine, Lewis believes that if there is a God, in whose image we are made and in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:23), then it would stand to reason that we would have a longing and a built-in craving for a Joy beyond all earthly satisfactions” (quoted from Dave Brown, “Real Joy and True Myth,” Real Joy and True Myth [1997] <http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/3505/LewisJoy.html>).

Testimonies like those from the Psalmist fill the Bible and confirm that Lewis’s thinking is a common thought among people. In fact, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul goes even a step further. He confirms not only that God will fulfill our longings; he also gives his personal conviction that the things of this world never will. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). All things that he once considered worthy of his time and attention, all the things man pursues daily in an attempt to fill that desire with temporal matter, Paul says here that once he met Christ, those things became to him like garbage.

“In great Lewis tradition, Alister McGrath describes the apologetic opportunity this (the realization that the things of this world are truly unfulfilling) presents us: ‘This feeling of dissatisfaction is one of the most important points of contact for the gospel proclamation. In the first place, that proclamation interprets this vague and unshaped feeling as longing for God. And second, it offers to fill it…” (Dave Brown). In the Scriptures, God essentially offers to fill that longing He placed within us with Himself.

The aforementioned argument begs the question, “What of those that do not believe in the existence of God?” How are they to explain this longing? Atheist Austin Cline has researched Lewis’s argument of desire at length, and he gives this rebuttal:
According to Lewis and other apologists, every desire is necessarily a desire for something, and every natural desire must have some object that will satisfy it. Since humans desire the joy and experience of God, therefore there must be a God that will satisfy our desires….It is true that every desire is a desire for something, but it does not automatically follow that every desire is a desire for something that actually exists…. [H]ow many people desire the ability to fly or the ability to read minds?

While this point should be considered and respected, one should also be quick to notice that one can very readily argue the fact that there is a tremendous difference between desiring the ability to read minds so that one may sneak into the mind of his or her nosy neighbor, and desiring an object that will cause us to feel complete as entities within the universe. If the point is looked at on the truly grand scale of finding one’s identity in the cosmos, the ability to read another’s mind is really inconsequential. This is a point that C.S. Lewis understood well. As a former atheist who journeyed through the progression of all false objects until they proved their falsity, he knew that the closer one got to finding the One to whom we are all drawn, the farther one moves from all other aspects of existence.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 3

This is part 3 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialim,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow. Part One and Part Two are here.

The second premise of Heyward’s work is that Christian tradition has been “antisexual” in its teachings. Heyward places the behavior of sinful, fallen, and fallible man as the standard by which Scripture is judged. Rather than declaring that mankind has been wrong in its portrayal of women, especially when such behavior is judged through the glaring Light of the Gospel, Heyward seems to make the assumption that, because church tradition allowed such behavior to occur, then such behavior must be condoned in the Bible as well. Much time is spent by feminist theologians pointing to Old Testament passages concerning the ceremonial uncleanness of women after childbirth or menstruation as examples of men writing oppressive religious codes against women. The apostle Paul is accused of being a homophobic misogynist. Heyward actually goes so far as to declare the Bible as “antisexual” because its supposedly antiquated rules set up a sexual ethic completely unrelated to today’s society. She states:

The christian church plays the central formative role in limiting and thwarting our sexual phantasie, or sexual imagination. Most historians, sexologists, and others who are interested in how sexual practices and attitudes have developed historically seem to agree that in the realm of sexual attitudes, Western history and christian history are so closely linked as to be in effect indistinguishable. That is to say, the christian church has been the chief architect of an attitude toward sexuality during the last seventeen hundred years of European and Euroamerican history—an obsessive, proscriptive attitude, in contrast to how large numbers of people, christians and others, have actually lived our lives as sexual persons (Heyward, 12-13).

Even though Heyward repeatedly calls herself a “christian,” such a statement can only be made by one whose sexual ethic is not grounded in the concept of God as the Holy and Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Instead, such an ethic can only be grounded within one’s self. Heyward’s above observation of the church and human sexuality is correct—the church has been the guardian of the holiness of God, and in an attempt to keep the church holy as God is holy, certain sexual behavior has been limited by that same holy God. This limitation and thwarting of sex is not the work of close-minded men who wrote Scripture of their own accord. This limitation instead is the good work of God for His creation. These boundaries are, in the very words of God, for our own good (Deut 10.13).

Heyward would have her reader believe that the Bible declares all sex to be sinful. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:

Modern people are always saying, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” [If they mean,] “there is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself a certain way , nor in the fact that it gives pleasure..” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. … I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked that as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure were bad in themselves. They were wrong (emphasis mine).

There have indeed been many “muddle-headed” Christians who have declared sex to be inherently sinful. Church father Augustine said of women that “it is a shameful thing to intend to use one’s husband for passion.” He went so far as to say that all Christians should desire to remain chaste because the sooner humanity died out, the sooner Christ’s reign on earth would begin. Those who marry only do so because they lack self control. Early church fathers nearly unanimously claim that sex is solely for the purpose of procreation. Justin Martyr said, “If we marry, it is only so that we may bring up children.” Lactantius made the bold statement, “There would be no adulteries, no debaucheries, and prostitution of women if everyone knew that whatever is sought beyond desire of procreation is condemned by God.”

Heyward gives the example of the Council of Elvira in 309 A.D. as an early indication of the “church’s antisexual preoccupation” (Heyward, 13). At the fall of the Roman Empire, Heyward surmises that the church sought to establish some amount of control over the ensuing chaos. Heyward uses Historical theologian Samuel Laeuchli’s work as support for this belief. According to Heyward, “Laeuchli…[suggests] five reasons why the church’s elite became preoccupied with sexual control of the clergy and, to a lesser extent, the laity.” These five reasons were: 1) the transition from contending with the state to vying for control of the state; 2) a “new sociopolitical context” that centered church power in Rome; 3) the exacting task of becoming true members of Roman culture, 4) the increasing urbanization of Christians, and 5) the widening gap between the religious mythologies of both pagans and christians (Heyward, 13).

Later in the article, Heyward proclaims, “Understanding sex historically might enable us to also experience sexual pleasure as good, morally right, without need of justification…. We do not need to justify pleasure” (Heyward, 15). Again, Heyward, is correct; pleasure should not be justified or explained away. Heyward’s subtle destruction of the truth occurs in the fact that she equates all sexual pleasure with biblically correct, God-honoring, holy and good sex. By making a sweeping claim that Christians declare sex to be bad, Heyward seems to echo the oldest lie told to mankind: “Did God actually say…?” (Gen 3.1). Heyward’s twist of truth has caught many a Christian in the trap of sexual license. By asking for this one “clarification” of facts, the serpent is shifting the focus from the plethora of blessings showered upon man by his Creator to sudden desires that seem unfulfilled.

C.S. Lewis explained this lie best when he stated: “Like all powerful lies, it is based on truth—the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself… is “normal” and “healthy,” and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal.” Lewis is correct in assessing that sexual pleasure and desire are not inherently sinful. In fact, these things are, when practiced within the boundaries designed by God, good and right. Sex in God’s perfect design is pure and holy and pleasurable. Sex outside of God’s design is ultimately none of these things.

CS Lewis and Sexual Morality

While researching for a paper, I reviewed Lewis’ chapter concerning sexual morality in Mere Christianity. Lewis concludes the chapter with this word of warning:

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of  power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who regularly goes to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

In his classically biting and convicting style, Lewis forces his reader to consider first the plank in his own eye. As Christians, we claim to subscribe to the ridiculously high standard of Christ, who declared that adultery starts in the heart, not in the sex act. This idea was not unique to the “new” ethic of Jesus; Proverbs 23.7 says, “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Our thoughts say much more about who we are as people and as disciples of Christ– like a blinding headache or paralysis are external symptoms of an internal brain disease, our actions are just outer symptoms of an inner heart disease called sin. The Pharisees were notorious for judging others by their actions, but Jesus reminded them that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16.7). So many times we judge those around us by their behaviors– or worse, by their behavior before they surrendered their hearts and their lives to Christ. We would do well to remember that in the eyes of God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23). But even for those of us who have committed supposedly more grievous sins, Paul declares, “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6.11). In God’s accounting, sin is sin, and even the smallest sin in man’s eyes is an infinite insult requiring infinite separation from an infinitely holy God. Let us not forget that in more than one of Paul’s lists of sins which deny entrance to heaven, disobedience to parents, lying tongues, and envy are listed side by side with the “big sins” of murder and theft and sexual immorality.

Just as Lewis closed his chapter, we will do well to remember that we are not to remain in any sin. Previously in this chapter, Lewis discussed the difficulty of striving against sin and the benefit of fighting through and overcoming our temptations. He wrote:

For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process [of fighting and overcoming temptation] trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

May we never be content with anything less than perfection! Though we will never reach it this side of our glorification, may we never cease seeing it as our goal! May our single desire be that we would be holy as He is holy.

An Open Letter to Sinners

I wrote this letter for a friend going through a time of struggle and restoration with the Lord, but with so much being written these days about the experiential, emotionally driven church, I wanted to share it with more people. The church today has been deceived by the feel-good Gospel and with a simple glance at the world around us, we can see that getting people to feel good about themselves is not improving the state of the world around us. Please read this letter prayerfully, and feel free to copy it and pass it along.

Dear Friend,

I am so excited to hear that the Lord has provided a time of solitude for you this weekend. Often times when we have been faced with a crisis of sin in our lives we want to fill our time up with people and noise and work and chaos, with the thinking that being busy will keep us out of trouble. We don’t trust ourselves; and rightly so. Jeremiah 17:5-18 talks about our wicked, untrustworthy hearts and how they can get us into trouble so many times. But in verse 14, Jeremiah remembers who should be trusted—not us, but the Lord: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, for you are my praise.”

The amazing thing for believers is that He has already healed and saved us! Romans 6 is an amazing testimony to us about our relationship with both Christ and with sin. Paul tells us that we are already dead to sin! There is no battle to fight because Christ has already won the battle. Before we are believers, we have no choice but sin; we think we are free to do what we want, but we really have no choice but to sin. But once we are filled with the Spirit of God, the victory over sin has been won and we now have the choice to live in freedom!

I know from personal experience that we do not always make the right choice. But simply knowing in those deepest, darkest times of temptation that I do not have to give in because Christ has already won the battle for me is enough sometimes to see me through. Peter talks about this when he tells us in 1 Peter that we have everything we need for life and godliness. Paul backs that up in 1 Corinthians when he told the church at Corinth—a group of people familiar with their own sinfulness—that God will never tempt us beyond what we can bear. That is a promise you can take to the bank! Our hearts and our flesh may scream that we must give in to temptation, and that we have no choice, but God has promised that through the Spirit and the Word we have everything we need to resist, even when we feel like we can’t.

When I went through my time of brokenness and restoration with the Lord, I read Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, and in that book there is a paragraph that has become dear to me and I return to it often:

“On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer topic than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” … But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in it determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”

What an amazing God we serve! And the even more amazing thing is that we already know the cost of that love—for us, we must die to self, no matter how painful the process may be. And for God, the cost was His very Son. He died for us; the very least we can do is die for Him.

But how do we do that? Dig into the Word! The Spirit can only work with the tools we give Him. The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, so you must arm Him in order for Him to be able to protect you. God told the Israelites through Hosea, “My people die for lack of knowledge.” We stay in a defeated state when we do not arm ourselves with the Scripture. Too often we trust our own love, our own warm fuzzy feelings about God to keep us safe, but that is such a dangerously prideful place to be because it gives us too much credit and doesn’t give our enemy enough credit. If we are in battle against a roaring lion who is seeking whom he may devour, I’m not going to approach him thinking I’m untouchable—I’m going to want a weapon! The Scripture is our weapon—begin this weekend arming yourself with the Word and never let up. The more you know, the more you want to know.

I will be praying for you this weekend as you begin this journey with the Lord. Do not be afraid of the process of brokenness and solitude with the Father. It is gut wrenching, painful, and agonizing at times to really see your sin and deal with it. But the freedom found on the other side is worth it every time. Pray for the Lord to show you the weightiness of your sin and how it impacts your relationship with Him and with those around you. It’s an honest prayer. It’s a painfully humbling prayer. It’s a prayer He will answer every time. And it’s a prayer you will never regret once you reap the fruit of your obedience to Him.

When God allows us to go through times in which we must face our own sinfulness head-on, it’s usually because He has great things in store for us to do for His kingdom. Much like Jesus allowed Peter to be sifted like wheat by Satan, he allows us to be sifted so that the sins we cling to so desperately can be removed from our lives for His glory. Do not be afraid of the sifting process—being a useful weapon for the Father is a blessing I will never understand. That He chooses weak, sinful people like us to do His work will always amaze me.

For His Glory,

Bekah Mason


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~~ 1 Cor. 10:31 …whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ~~