Friday, January 23, 2009

The Inner Ring

I really enjoyed this essay of Lewis because I could apply it to my life. In the beginning, he tells his audience that he is going to give advice and issue warnings. He says that he is not going to warn us about the Devil and the Flesh, but he is going to warn us about the World. He starts his essay by telling the story of the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi, who discovers that there two different systems or hierarchies that exist in the army. He uses this story to introduce his topic, the Inner Ring.

The Inner Ring is found everywhere you go. Lewis writes that you will find the Rings in “whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college.” Most have experienced being inside and outside of this Ring. Lewis believes, “One of the most dominant elements in a man’s life is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.” Society is one of these rings, in which we strive to follow the social norm. We see many examples of this in society. Teenage girls are becoming anorexic because of the outside pressures of Hollywood and beauty magazines that display unhealthy, skinny bodies. These girls want society to notice them for being thin and beautiful. In other cultures, it is beautiful to have more curves and be average weight. Striving to enter the Inner Ring of our society can be extremely dangerous.

I believe the main reason why we want to be in this Inner Ring is to make ourselves feel like we are “cool” or popular or a good person. People will try to go in this dangerous Inner Ring, even though they know that it is wrong or not even that much fun. For example, many high school students will choose to smoke and drink because they want others to accept them. Only a few are willing to stand outside of this Ring and refuse to join in with the popular people’s party. In middle school and high school, the Inner Rings were everywhere. I was very self-conscious about what people would think about my new shirt or how they would like my nice brand of jeans. I felt like I couldn’t talk to the “popular” kids because I wasn’t at their status. I was afraid that I would be mocked and rejected. When I got to college, everything was different. Here, nobody really pays attention to what others wear, or if someone wears the same shirt that they wore less than a week ago. There are still Inner Rings at college, but they are not as well defined as they were in high school.

Because the Inner Rings will always exist, it is important that we are aware of them. Lewis writes, “Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life…” It is part of our human nature to desire the acceptance and recognition of others. To be outside of the Ring causes us anguish, but once we enter the Ring, it may bring happiness for a short time. This pleasure will be short lived because the circle cannot have from within the charm it had on the outside. For example, once a teenager has finally been accepted into the popular group by smoking or attending a few parties, he may realize that he cannot be happy because he is not being himself; rather he is putting on a show for others. Being in the Inner Ring is not as great as it seems from the outside.

The Problem of Pain (6)

I found this chapter really interesting because it was all about human pain. It applies to me because I have been through some difficult times of physical pain, such as being in the hospital for a week with a severe leg infection. I also have felt pain in many other trials the Lord has sent me, such as death of a friend’s little sister, grandparent, and classmate. There are two human pains that Lewis mentions. The first is a painful sensation of the nerves; the second is an unpleasant experience. Lewis focuses on the second kind of pain in this chapter. This second kind of pain is synonymous with suffering, anguish, tribulation, adversity, or trouble. These hardships are difficult at the time, and I cannot get through them on my own so I find myself looking to God for comfort and support. In this chapter, Lewis explains that these tribulations keep us on the right path and focus our attention towards God.

In order to understand why God sends us trials, Lewis presents to us a few analogies. He writes that when pain hits him, he is overwhelmed and all his little happinesses look like broken toys. “Then,” he writes, “slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ.” At our lowest and most painful moments is when we focus our attention on God. If we always thought of God and relied on Him this much, he would not need to send us trials to keep us walking straight on our path.

Lewis gives another analogy about his behavior after a trial is passed. He writes, “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…into the nearest flower bed.” Lewis continues by saying that this is why our tribulations cannot come to an end, until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless. God sends these hardships to His people out of love so that they can grow. Just as a parent spanks his child because he wants the child to learn how to behave, so God cares about the salvation of His people and sends trials to strengthen their faith.

Another important point that Lewis brings up is how we fail to acknowledge God when our lives are flowing smoothly. Lewis writes, “We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption.” This is a powerful statement to me because I find it true too many times in my life. I think I have it so good when I am on vacation and get to hang out with friends or family, or I do not know what to ask for at Christmas because I have everything I need. When my life is flowing smoothly like this, I am so absorbed in earthly pleasures rather than putting God first in my thoughts. On the contrary, when our lives are in turmoil, Lewis writes, “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.” Many people today view God like this. For example, after 9/11, people began to pray to God and go to church services. A few years later, these same people stopped because their lives were flowing pleasantly again.

Knowing that it is our tendency to rely on God only in times of need, we must make an effort to rely on God during the good times in our lives also. The way we show our thankfulness for the salvation He has given is to devote our lives to him, and worship Him in any circumstance of life we are in. We may not get angry with God for the trials He sends us because He knows what is best for us and is working all things for the good of our salvation.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Man or Rabbit

I really enjoyed this essay. I thought it was very interesting how he addressed the question, “Can a man lead a good life without Christianity?” The reason why this essay is called “Man or Rabbit? Is because what distinguishes man from other animals is that he seeks after knowledge and desires to find answers. Lewis discusses what it really means to live a good life and whether a person ignorant of Christianity is guilty.

I agree with Lewis when he writes about God’s punishment on the wicked, whether they have heard the gospel or not. Often times we wonder about those people who have never heard the gospel, such as the Indians in North America who worshipped nature. People might say that it is not fair because they gospel never came to them, but they will still be punished because they saw God in creation and chose not to worship Him. I believe that these people who have not had the gospel preached to them and are ignorant will be punished, but their punishment will not be as great as those who heard the gospel and “rejected” it. Luke 10:10-12 teaches us that God will have more tolerance in that day for Sodom than the city that rejected the gospel. God chooses His elect from eternity, and to those who He chooses to save, He will find a way to bring the gospel to them.

In class we discussed the justice of God. Some people think that since God is just, predestination is not fair. I believe in predestination because the Bible supports it. God is just because he created the world just. Justice would be paid if everyone went to Hell. We must remember that we do not deserve heaven, but God in His grace decided to save an elect group of people because this is the best way in which He could glorify Himself.

When defining whether any man can lead a good life without Christianity, I agree with Lewis that we must define what good means. An unbeliever can do no good because he is totally depraved. It may seem to us that an unbeliever is doing good, but it is not good because he is doing it for his own glory and happiness, not for the glory of God. The wicked may believe they are living a good life, but their happiness will be short-lived because they are not seeking after the true God. For this reason, I do not believe an unbeliever can live a good life. I like how Lewis says, “…You can’t be ‘good’ (not for twenty-four hours) on you own moral efforts.” Lewis concludes by saying that people cannot leave a good life without Christ.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Plantinga Book – Chapter 4 (Redemption)

In this chapter, Plantinga discusses our redemption that we need because of the fall. When man first fell, he had something to hide and something to fear because of sin, but then God made garments of skins for man to clothe his shame and nakedness (Plantinga 73). God does not leave us to despair in our sin, but in His mercy He sent Christ to atone for our sins so that He sees His people just as if they have never sinned. I agree with Plantinga when he writes, “Sin traps people and makes them wilt; godly obedience liberates people and helps them flourish. The Ten Commandments are guides for a free and flourishing life” (76-77). Often we think that rules tie us down and take away our freedom when they actually take away the burden of sin when we strive to follow God’s commands.

Because of Christ’s incarnation, atonement, and resurrection we are redeemed. Jesus became God in the flesh, and he lived and preached on this earth to bring comfort to His people. He accomplished His work by dying for the sins of His people (John 10:11). He did not die for all men because he does not love all men and try to save all of them, contrary to the belief of many in the world today. Finally, Christ rose from the dead, overcoming the power of death. Plantinga points out that Christian hope rises with Christ because His resurrection showed that God’s grace cannot be defeated, even by death (82).

In His resurrection, “Christ rose as the head of a whole body of people elected to have faith in him” (Plantinga 83). Christ overcame sin and death for us so we live lives of gratitude unto God, knowing we are free from the everlasting punishment of Hell, which we deserve. Plantinga also brings up justification, which is God’s act of forgiving sinners and reconciling them to Himself (90). The way in which we can come closer to Christ is by prayer, sacraments, and listening to the Word of God (Plantinga 93).

I agree with Plantinga when he says that God’s people will demonstrate God’s saving grace in their life by good works (94). Plantinga gives C.S. Lewis’ example in which a child likes to go to a clothes box full of grownup outfits. These clothes are too big, but the child is pretending and preparing to be an adult someday. Likewise, we can only become Christ-like by putting on godly virtues (Plantinga 94).

Finally, Plantinga speaks of our duty to reform all things. Although we may find this ideal to redeem every person and place in the world, this is not going to happen because it is out of the will of God. He only will redeem His people, and the world cannot be made perfect until He destroys this one with fire and makes His new creation. With the Holy Spirit guiding our lives, we are able to be shining examples in this world, reforming various areas of life according to the Word of God. The Bible gives us guidelines in the Ten Commandments, but it does not tell us exactly how to live (Plantinga 108). We must strive to live according to God’s Word to show our lives of thankfulness as redeemed people of God.

The Abolition of Man

This book is only three chapters long. It is one of the best defenses of the natural law tradition in the 20th century. It has to do with the native understanding of right and wrong that is in every human being. Lewis also draws upon the wisdom of the East, and uses the Chinese term TAO as his symbol for the natural law tradition. For today, we focused our attention on Chapter 3, The Abolition of Man. Of all the writings of Lewis that I have read, this piece was the most difficult and confusing.

In chapter 3, Lewis talks about the natural law, which is sense of right and wrong that man has. There is a tremendous common ground between the principles of the natural law. A society would not exist if nobody accepted these moral laws. I agree with Lewis on this matter because he bases his philosophy on the Bible. In Romans 2:14-26, Paul explains how the Gentiles have the law written in their hearts.

Lewis discusses how man has power over nature, but really this power is just man over man. Lewis gives the three typical examples of this: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. I like the example of the contraceptive because it is easy to understand. For example, with abortion man is not only trying to control nature, but he is putting himself in God’s position by killing an innocent human. Man is taking to much power to himself, and this is the same error that Satan fell into. Satan wanted to be like God, and man is passively trying to be God when he takes another man’s life into his own hands.

What we must remember is that God is King over the earth. We must not try to put ourselves in front of the will of God. Christians may use all of the inventions and new technology in our culture, but we must be careful whether we are using these things to the glory of God. As soon as we use technology to put ourselves over God, we must stop using it because this is sin. As Christians, we must also remember the real reason why we obey the natural law, and that is because we love God and have a deep desire to please Him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Four Loves: Eros

When he was a mature man, Lewis wrote this book about the four loves: storge, philia, Eros, and agape. We only read the part about Eros, which is “the kind of love which lovers are.” Eros is the romantic side of the relationship, where as Venus is the sexual side of the relationship. Eros must come before Venus because Eros is true love for one’s husband or wife.

An important part of Eros is that a man loves a woman because of who she is, rather than the fact that she is a woman (Lewis 133). On page 134, Lewis writes, “Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved.” With Eros a man really wants one particular woman, not a woman and the pleasure she can give. Sexual desire is not true love; this is Venus, which is self-centered. A lover should be too busy thinking of the other person, but not of that person physically. Pleasure is a by-product of Eros.

I really like the following quote of Lewis: “Love ceases to become a demon when he ceases to become a god.” Sometimes people get too caught up in the pleasures of being in love that they make it the top priority in their lives, rather than putting God first. Lewis writes, “Theologians have often feared, in this love, a danger of idolatry” (155). Lewis does not see the idolization of the other person as the real danger, but it is more dangerous to idolize Eros itself.

This love represents the love Christ has for His Church. Song of Solomon is full of verses that paint a picture of the beauty of this love. For example, Song of Solomon 2:14 says, “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” Christ also speaks sweetly to His Church like this out of great love for her. Lewis writes, “In the act of love, we are not merely ourselves…” Marriage is a picture of Christ’s love, in which Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:25). The wife must be submissive to her husband, but the husband must display love and kindness to his wife first, just as Christ has first loved us. In marriage God has given us a garden, but in order to keep this garden alive, the husband and wife must both tend to it. The garden needs constant weeding and watering because it is a continuous fight.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Plantinga Book – Chapter 5 (Vocation in the Kingdom of God)

In this chapter, Plantinga discusses our longing for the kingdom of God and how we must serve God in this life with our talents and our calling. This chapter ties in well with Lewis’ Learning in War-Time because both of these pieces of writing emphasize our importance to continue our education and follow seek out our vocation that glorifies God.

I agree with Plantinga when he says that Christians’ prayers for the kingdom of God sometimes fade when their lives are good. They pray for God’s kingdom to come but not right away because they are enjoying earthly pleasures too much (Plantinga 106). I realize that I do this too often. When God sends me trials or I see the suffering of a close friend, then I long for heaven. When I have vacations and fun things to do, I fail to pray for God’s kingdom to come because I am enjoying life so much.

Plantinga writes that a prime citizen passionately yearns for the kingdom. A child elected by God has been elected to serve the kingdom of God. The first way to fulfill this duty is to belong to an active Christian church (Plantinga 110). We must also take part in government by voting intelligently, paying taxes, and praying for our leaders (Plantinga 111). I agree with Plantinga that we can also play our part as citizens of the kingdom of God by pursuing a higher education in college. God equips each of His children with particular gifts and talents to serve in different areas. Some are made to be doctors, others teachers, others engineers, others to be ministers. All are important for working together in the body of Christ because we each contribute to the kingdom.

I agree with Plantinga when he talks about the importance of a Christian education. The danger comes when we stop talking about God because we think we all know about Him anyways. At a public university, one will have to be better prepared to defend his faith and go out of his way to worship God. At Calvin, the Christian community is all around us, and the professors integrate the Word of God in the classroom. Although this is true, Plantinga writes, “Every Christian community includes some Daniels who made it through the academic dens of confusion and conformity with their kingdom vocation intact and sometimes even purified by the fires of adversity” (125). I realize that at Calvin everyone here comes from different denominations and believes differently. I have actually grown stronger by defending the truth of the gospel against the false interpretations and attacks on essential doctrines, such as creation and salvation. Just because Calvin is a Christian college, it does not mean that everything the professors teach us about God’s Word is true.

Finally, Plantinga writes about three things we need to become prime citizens of the kingdom of God. First, we need knowledge to love God intellectually (Plantinga 129). Second, we gain skills at college to prepare ourselves for living to the glory of God in this world (Plantinga 130). Third, we gain virtues, such as honesty and compassion, to show we are children of the King (Plantinga 132). By combining knowledge, skill, and virtue, we are able to serve the kingdom of God (Plantinga 136). We must work to the best of our ability at college so that we are fully equipped to defend ourselves against the fiery darts of the devil and so that we can follow the vocation God is calling us to.