Monthly Archives: January 2011

Every Choice Matters

People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’  I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.  I would much rather say that every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature — either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), Mere Christianity, 92.

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Why Read Old Books

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), “On the Reading of Old Books” in Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4-5.

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Wandering in Times Not Ours

We never keep to the present.  We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight.  We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is.  The fact is that the present usually hurts.  We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away.  We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.

Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future.  We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future.  The present is never our end.  The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end.  Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that should never be so.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées, 13.

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Creatio Ex Nihilo

See, heaven and earth exist, they cry aloud that they are made, for they suffer change and variation.  But in anything which is not made and yet is, there is nothing which previously was not present.  To be what once was not the case is to be subject to change and variation.  They also cry aloud that they have not made themselves: ‘The manner of our existence shows that we are made.  For before we came to be, we did not exist to be able to make ourselves.’  And the voice with which they speak is self-evidence.  You, Lord, who are beautiful, made them for they are beautiful.  You are good, for they are good.  You are, for they are.  Yet they are not beautiful or good or possessed of being in the sense that you their Maker are.  In comparison with you they are deficient in beauty and goodness and being.  Thanks to you, we know this; and yet our knowledge is ignorance in comparison with yours.

How did you make heaven and earth, and what machine did you use for so vast  an operation?  You were not like a craftsman who makes one physical object out of another… The way, God, in which you made heaven and earth was not that you made them either in heaven or on earth.  Nor was it in air or in water, for these belong to heaven and earth.  Nor did you make the universe within the framework of the universe.  There was nowhere for it to be made before it was brought into existence.  Nor did you have any tool in your hand to make heaven and earth.  How could you obtain anything you had not made as a tool for making something?  What is it for something to be unless it is because you are?  Therefore you spoke and they were made, and by your word you made them (Ps. 32:9, 6).

Augustine (354-430), Confessions, XI.iv-v.

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Why God Became Man

[It] was not right that the restoration of human nature should be left undone, and that it could not have been brought about unless man repaid what he owed to God. This debt was so large that, although no one but man owed it, only God was capable of repaying it, assuming that there should be a man identical with God. Hence it was necessary that God should take man into the unity of his person, so that one who ought, by virtue of his nature, to make the repayment and was not capable of doing so, should be one who, by virtue of his person, was capable of it (emphasis mine).

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), The Major Works, “Cur Deus Homo,” 348.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (emphasis mine). For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:14-18

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How to Study Theology

We need to ask ourselves: What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.  It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens.

To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it…. [T]here can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard.

Our aim in studying the Godhead must be know God himself better.  Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it.  We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God.  It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it (italics mine).

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 21-23.

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