Making Our Doubts Worse

Doubting Thomas by Albrecht Durer

Today is the first Sunday after Easter Sunday, and if, instead of sitting here in this building today, we had been among those first disciples on the first Sunday following the resurrection, we would have had Thomas, the twin, with us, of whom we read earlier in the Gospel. And, he would not have been a happy customer, as we say in our day. We would have been excited about the resurrection of Jesus, while he was not. But that would shortly change. Jesus would have appeared in our midst and dealt with Thomas’ doubts and we would have heard Thomas’ famous confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

But Thomas is not known today as “Confessing Thomas,” is he. No. He’s known as “Doubting Thomas” because of how he had given into his doubts about the resurrection. Why did Thomas doubt so much? Many have attributed his doubts to his temperament. In the few places in the Gospels where we read of something Thomas has said, he seems to have had a serious mind about things; one of those personalities that tends to see the gloomy side of life. Well, his temperament may indeed have had something to do with his doubts, but we can all have our doubts at times, can’t we; whatever our constitution….

And because there are enough things to trouble us and tempt us to have doubts about our faith in this world, we certainly do not need to be doing the kinds of things that Thomas did which made his doubts worse. We find three things that Thomas did – or didn’t do – that aggravated his doubts:
1) he did not assemble with the disciples on the first occasion when Jesus appeared to them;
2) he would not believe their testimony about their experience of the resurrection, and
3) he stubbornly presumed upon the Lord’s kindness.
Let’s consider these things for a moment.

First of all, if he had been with the disciples on the day of the resurrection, that would have settled things once and for all and he would never have been called Doubting Thomas. He would have seen Jesus the same time everyone else saw him.

Now, we have no idea why he was not with the disciples, though, if we want to refer again to an apparent gloominess of mind, he may have been too depressed to meet with them. But that would have been the very problem, wouldn’t it. How many people will not come to church and assemble with God’s people in worship because they are depressed or don’t feel like going, when that is the very thing they need to do to feel better?! How many blessings, how much encouragement, how much spiritual strength do we miss, how much do we weaken our faith and aggravate our doubts like Thomas did, because we absent ourselves from the assembly of the saints?

For a long time in my own walk with God I thought the way to get close to God and to grow in my faith was to spend more time alone with God in prayer. But then I was confronted with the plain command in Hebrew 10, that we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but instead we are to be engaged in helping each other on to heaven. On top of that, I found in Scripture that there are a lot of things that are important for our spiritual health that we cannot have in our lives by staying home and being alone. That is why C. S. Lewis says that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion.

But one of the main things that has helped me see the importance of regularly attending services with God’s people is Jesus’ promise: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst.” If I really want to be close to the Lord, I need to go where the Lord is, and he says that, in some special way, he is with His people.

In a special way, Jesus was with his people on that first Easter Sunday – and Thomas missed it because he simply didn’t show up. If we don’t want to trouble ourselves like Thomas did, and aggravate our doubts, we need to meet with the Lord’s people.

The second thing Thomas did not do that he should have done was listen to his fellow disciples about their experience with the Lord. They told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” But he refused to believe them.

Now just think about this. Who is telling him that the Lord is risen? These are sterling people that he has known for years. And they told him with one voice: the whole fellowship, everybody was telling him this. He should have been able to trust these people and to believe what they had told him, but, instead, he made his doubting worse.

Earlier I mentioned that passage in Hebrews, chapter 10, about not forsaking the assembly of the brethren. One of the things Hebrews 10 tells us we are to do when we meet together is to encourage each other’s faith. As it says in the Philip’s translation, “And let us not hold aloof from our church meetings, as some do. Let us do all we can to help one another’s faith, and this the more earnestly as we see the Final Day drawing ever nearer.” (p. 175)
The Lord intends for us to be helping each other to not doubt His truth and goodness to us in Christ. We are to help each other’s faith. We are to tell each other, like the disciples tried to tell Thomas, about the things the Lord is doing in our lives. But for this encouragement to work, we have to listen to what we say to each other. If we don’t listen and believe what we share with each other – for whatever reason: perhaps we like our pouting and the attention we are getting, for example, or we are too proud to admit something – well, it won’t do us any good.

There are many of us believers who could tell some profound stories from their own experience about the Lord’s ability to sustain us in times of grief and loss. Grief and loss will come to us all. Do you have doubts about your ability to get through these rough times in our lives? Then listen to the stories your fellow disciples can tell! The Lord is utterly dependable. To paraphrase the songwriter, Jesus really does give us more grace when the burdens grow greater; he really does send us more strength when the labours increase; to added affliction he really does add his mercy, and to multiplied trials, he really does give us his multiplied peace. Don’t be like Thomas and turn your ear away from the encouraging words of your fellow believers, because of your pride, or self-pity or whatever. Listen to their true testimonies and send your doubts packing.

Lastly, Thomas troubled himself by tempting the Lord, by presuming upon Him. “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” That is to say, “Jesus has got to do what I want him to do or I’m not going to believe.”

I once had a fellow down in the Caymans say the same kind of thing to me one day. He said, “I’ll believe in Jesus when he appears before me and shows himself to me,” as if the Lord had to give him some special attention. Our Lord, after his resurrection, appeared to lots of people a lot of times, and those appearances were recorded for all history, so that we would know that he had done so. He therefore doesn’t have to appear for every single person for them to believe in him. This idea of, “I’ll not believe unless God does something special for me that he’s not doing for anybody else” is nothing but stubborn pride and presumption. Jesus did not behave that way before God, did he? He prayed, “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” But Thomas and this other fellow down on the island demanded that God must do what they wanted him to do, or else.

Friends, sometimes we trouble ourselves because we have an idea of what God ought to do about something and then, when he doesn’t do it, we doubt his faithfulness. We doubt that he hears our prayers and that he wants what is best for us. When we do this, we are aggravating our doubts, because we are presuming upon the Lord’s goodness and it’s all our own fault.

But how did the Lord respond to Thomas’s misbehaviour? Did he condemn him for not having been there on that first Easter Sunday? Did he condemn him for not listening to the other disciples? Did he condemn him for his presumption? He could have, because he should not have been acting like that. But, no. He turns Thomas’ attention away from his doubts to himself. That was all Thomas really needed; and the Lord knew it. Thomas had failed the Lord, but the Lord did not fail Thomas – he never did. And He never fails any of His children. Jesus is the Author and the Finisher of our Faith. He knows our weakness; he knows our faith will never be perfect in this life, and so He continues to show Himself to the eyes of our hearts and renew our trust in Him.

Here friends is the best answer to all our doubts. Look away from them, and turn your eyes upon Jesus. If we are looking at our doubts, our faith will be shrink. But if we look to him, our Faithful Saviour, our faith will be inspired. Jesus is the same He has ever been and ever will be – the absolutely dependable God. Keep your eyes on Him. Amen.

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Changing Your Mind About God


It should be no surprise to us that sometimes we need to adjust our thinking about God.  Is he not in his being beyond our mental categories?  When C. S. Lewis became England’s most reluctant convert – as he describes himself in Surprised by Joy – a change in his thinking about God was precisely what lead him to that point.

In St. John 9, we read of how Jesus – once again – had to adjust his disciples thinking about God.  As Jesus was “passing by”, he sees the blind man and determines to heal him. However, the disciples pipe in with a question. They must have noticed that Jesus was giving this blind man attention. But the first thing in their minds about him was this question of the reason the man was born blind. Whose fault was it? For this man to have suffered such an awful fate, it must have been the judgment of God for someone’s sin, either his own or his parents.

Jesus answers their question by telling them that they totally had the wrong idea about this situation. He tells them that the man was blind for another reason which they were not considering. They had a false concept about God, and that false concept not only kept them from understanding the ways of God but also lead them to have uncharitable thoughts toward this man and his family.

This kind of thinking about God is still with us today. It is an overly simplistic way of handling a very complex problem: how can God be good and in control of everything while there is so much evil and cruelty in the world? People try to answer that serious question – which has perplexed the minds of men for millenia – by taking the position that actually God is acting justly in this world – it’s just that we don’t always know the back story for why bad things happen. If we did, we would realize that somehow those things happened to those people because they had done something wrong and deserved it. We “reap what we sow,” they would say.

Now we know that there are occasions when God brings temporal judgment upon wicked people. We actually can reap what we sow. However, we know that that is not what is always happening. And here, Jesus pulls back the curtain of God’s ways and say, “Actually, this man is not blind because he or his family had done something wrong and so God is punishing them. Rather, God has allowed this tragedy for the purpose of his glory, so that his works could be seen in this man’s life.” Now that is really a complex answer! But it doesn’t come from philosophical speculation; it comes straight from the Son of God himself, who came to reveal the Father to us. It is actually the case. And if it happened in one man’s life, it could very well be something God has done with the lives of others.

In other words, Jesus confronts the disciples’ overly simplistic answer for why evil happens to people with a fact about the ways of God that is beyond their ability to completely explain and understand in this life. You can’t. Instead, you can only take a place of humility about it, quit making such quick and easy judgments about human life, and trust the wisdom of God.

God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts and there is mystery about the reality that we live in every day.  If we would walk with God, we must accept the fact – as Lewis tells us in Mere Christianity – that reality is complex. We must beware of getting on bandwagons – be they theological or political or whatever – that use simple explanations for what are really complex matters.

And we need to ask ourselves, do we have some false concepts about God? Are we in need of a paradigm shift like the disciples? Are we perhaps making judgments about what is going on in our world, or in the church, or in the lives of other people, or even ourselves, that miss the point because we have avoided the discomfort of really thinking things through and recognizing their complexity?

Or is there more going on?  Have we misunderstood the truth, because it didn’t fit our agenda or because of some other ulterior motive we have, other than the glory of God – all in the name of the glory of God, of course!

No, this man was not born blind because of his or his parents’ sin. He was born blind for that very moment in history. He was born blind so that Jesus could, in that hour, heal him and, through him, show the works of God. If that seems unfair, we need to remember Paul’s answer to the objection in Romans: “Who are you, O man, to question what God may do with his own?” See Romans 9.

Besides, something is about to happen that is going to be a huge, huge blessing for this man, for which he will be thankful.  I don’t think he is now in heaven worrying about the philosophical implications of how he was born.

If we are growing, we are going to have periodic paradigm shifts in our thinking about God and life.  Do you agree?

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Craving your patience

Dear Gentle Reader,

I apologize for not having updates recently.  I am in the throes of buying and moving into a new house and my time is just swept away.  I will finish my comments on The Discarded Image in the near future.

With warm regards!

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Discarded Image, Ch. 4

Philosophia counsel Boethius

In the chapter, “Selected Materials, The Seminal Period,” Lewis introduces us to those authors whose works did indeed sew the seeds of what grew into the Medieval Model of the universe – that imaginative framework which had an “emotional effect” (p. 112) on the Medieval mind.

He starts out by commenting on the overlap between the classical Pagan mind and the Christian mind to which he refers in his famous “De Descriptione Temporum” speech, in which he says that the pagans had more in common with the Christian mind than do the moderns.  He shows how the older classical mind had an enduring impact upon the nascent early Christian mind, which eventually developed into the Medieval mind.

He then reviews important authors who moved comfortably between the classical and Christian authors as they themselves wrote about the universe.  These are Chalcidius, Macrobius, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Boethius.  Of Boethius, he said, “To acquire a taste for it [his De Consolatione Philosophiae] is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages. (p. 75).

Because Boethius is so important, the rest of the chapter is an 11-page-worth Book-by-Book introduction and summary of the Consolatione.  I’d buy the book just for this summary.

As you read his review of these authors, he refers to how later authors referred to these works, especially Dante and Milton.  Part of the joy of reading this chapter are the “aha” moments when he shines light on these later authors.  It’s also refreshing to have Lewis sweep away our misconceptions of what the early authors believed about the universe, and to learn how much genius was often at play.

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The Discarded Image, Ch. 3

In this chapter, Lewis surveys important classical works read by Medievals.  Elements of the Medieval mind gleaned from this chapter are:

1 The Platonism they held was limited in scope and filtered down to them through other writers; they only had the Timaeus in those days.  This means their Platonism had a particular character.
2 The Principle of the Triad: no two things relate to one another without some third acting as an intermediary.
3 The Principle of Plenitude: Spheres of existence must in some way be “inhabited.”  There is no room for cold, dead space.  This reminds us of Ransom’s experience of “outer space” in Out of the Silent Planet.
4 The body tends to have less importance than the mind or spirit.
5 Medievals tended to not distinguish between books of different sorts.  Thus an old figurative description of something by a poet might be taken as a factual description, such as one might find in a travelogue.
6 You could say the Medievals developed their own goddess of Nature, because of the way they processed previous writings concerning “Nature.”
7 And, of course, their cosmology was inherited from the Classics and adapted.

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The Discarded Image – ch.’s 1 & 2

Copernicus

Lewis’ The Discarded Image is meant to be something of a manual for reading Medieval literature.  Lewis’ goal is to inform us about the Medieval mind so that we will be able to appreciate and understand Medieval literature “from the inside,” so to speak.  He wants to deliver us from importing our modern, Western sentiments into the texts.

In ch. 1, he explains how the Medieval mind differs from a more “savage” kind of mind and the modern mind.  The Medieval mind was “bookish,” credulously accepting as authority any old book at hand.  It was concerned that all information be organized and fit into a theoretical structure.  Medievals were also influenced by their Model of the Universe, based on both classical and Christian ideas.  This Model was either the subject, conscious material, or assumed backdrop of everything they wrote.  The typical “Romance” ideas we have of the Medieval mind – with knights errant, courtly love, and so forth – were incidental, not core.

Ch. 2 is an attempt to understand the nuances of this mind.  It leans heavily on Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances, chapter vii.  We can understand the idea of “saving the appearances” as referring to the Medieval attempt to make all the data from their books fit into a cohesive whole, where every fact had its own place.  In Medieval times, over-arching theories that facilitated this unity were provisional, for they recognized that newer theories could arise which fit things together better than previously.

Lewis, via Barfield, explains that Copernicus’ theory of the heliocentric universe was considered one provisional theory along with others that could “save the appearance” of the unity of the learning of the time.  Galileo was so controversial because he wanted the theory of the heliocentric universe to no longer be thought provisional but to be factually true.  Medieval’s didn’t think you should do that!

Lewis throws in some other ideas of his own about how ideas work in cultures that are – typically – quite interesting and helpful.

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My Favourite Place to Read and Write

If you will look in the center of this picture, you’ll see a round table by the closed French doors, with a wrought iron base and a slate top. The 2 chairs are hidden. The shop is Jacobs and Field in Headington, UK, which lies across the street from where C. S. Lewis’ wife lived before they were married. What makes this one of my favourite places for reading and writing?

Well, first, they have great coffee. After all, it is a coffee shop. The food is good too – simple and wholesome. The shop also holds lots of memories for me, as I’ve been going there since 2012. It is a convenient location, which is quite important. I have often gone to Jacobs and Field after praying Morning Prayer with the clergy at St. Andrew’s church up the street. It’s been lovely to bike over to the shop after prayer for some extra quiet time.

But if you look at the picture, you may guess another important reason I like it there. Note the defined space. I’ve got the corner off to myself, sitting at a much more interesting table than one of the wooden booths. When the weather is nice and the doors are open, it is an especially lovely spot.

Space definition is important for “atmosphere,” that is, if you are wanting to do something quiet and reflective. If you are in a public place, such as this, to have your own little corner gives you a sense of a personal location that you can feel almost belongs to you. This is especially so if you frequent the same spot – it feels like home. You’ve established a comfortable relationship with the space. This feeling of settledness aids concentration. You get into a spot like that, put your ear buds in and start listening to some quiet cello music by Bach or Haydn, and you are good to go – well, after you’ve had your eggs on toast!

By the way, having a regular spot in a cafe such as this leads to a relational connection with the employees. They begin to think of the space as your spot as well! They start to notice when you are not there. A sense of mutual belonging grows. That’s quite valuable, because friendships are always valuable.

The design of cozy spots in a public place is important. It enables a kind of presence of the customer, or of more intimate social relations, that is – shall we say, at least – hindered by the sprawling open-space concept. A mixture of the two in an establishment like a cafe is ideal.

Where is your favourite, public place to read and be quiet? Have a picture? Share it in the comments, preferably on Instagram!

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Narnia Code – A Must Have!

If you have not read The Narnia Code or seen the video, you’ve got to do it.  Michael Ward has insights as to how Lewis composed the Narnian Chronicles that will transform the way you think about the books and will open up new vistas in your reading of them as well.  I can’t recommend his material highly enough.

I’ve shared below a video of his interview with Eric Metaxas a couple of years ago as a sample of the kind of thing you will learn from The Narnia Code.  Would make a great Christmas present! Enjoy!

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A Hymn for the Weight of Glory sermon

univ-ch-pulpit-cropped

This is the hymn that was sung at the service where Lewis preached his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.”

Bright the vision that delighted
Once the sight of Judah’s seer;
Sweet the countless tongues united
To entrance the prophet’s ear.

Round the Lord in glory seated
Cherubim and seraphim
Filled His temple, and repeated
Each to each the alternate hymn:

“Lord, Thy glory fills the Heaven;
Earth is with its fullness stored;
Unto Thee be glory given,
Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

Heaven is still with glory ringing,
Earth takes up the angels’ cry,
“Holy, holy, holy,” singing,
“Lord of hosts, the Lord most high.”

With His seraph train before him,
With His holy Church below,
Thus conspire we to adore Him,
Bid we thus our anthem flow.

“Lord, Thy glory fills the Heaven;
Earth is with its fullness stored;
Unto Thee be glory given,
Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

Richard Mant, Ancient Hymns, 1837

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A century of evil enchantment

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Today, I received the following in an e-mail:

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me please? Early in “Weight of Glory” Lewis says “And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years”. I assume the hundred years would be about 1845 to 1945. Can you tell me what he is referring to by “nearly a hundred years”?

BTW, the quote he refers to comes from the fifth paragraph.

Here’s my answer:
In answer to your question, lets pick up the flow of Lewis’ thought in this part of the sermon. He is setting forth an aspect of what we call his “argument from desire.” It is an idea about the universe that there is a correspondence between the things we seem to desire or need and the existence – somewhere – of an ultimate satisfaction for that desire or need. Indeed, the existence of this ultimate, satisfying reality is the cause, as it were, for the existence of the desires and needs. In the case of our desire and need for God, Lewis likes to talk about what he elsewhere calls “joy.” Here, he uses the terms “suggestion,” a “reminder,” an “inner voice,” and “a longing for the transtemporal.”

He says in the sermon that, by bringing these experiences up, he is trying to weave a spell to counter another spell. He is setting forth a vision of the universe to counter another vision of the universe. He is using imaginative language, and reference to the experience of his hearers, to foster a vision of this reality to counter the one we have acquired from our modern, western environment.

Lets think about how he describes this other spell. He says it is an evil enchantment of worldliness. Now remember that he is preaching a sermon in a church to professing Christians. Worldliness is one of the 3 primary evil enemies of the church, the others being the “flesh” and the devil. Worldliness is conforming our way of thinking and our very thoughts to the pattern and ideals of the world around us, which are based upon ungodliness and thus evil. In effect, Lewis is here seeking to root out the sin of worldliness in his congregation. He wants them to wake up to an awareness of something they have “bought into” which is robbing them of a Christian interaction with our universe and the Reality behind it.

And how did this worldliness creep into their lives over the last century? Through the schools they have attended. You note that in the next sentence he begins to address education. He spends the rest of the paragraph exposing the agenda of modern philosophies which have tried to shut us off from our true selves and the truth of the universe we live in. He wants us aware of this false understanding of the world we have imbibed through our schools so that we will begin to resist it and be open to a truer vision.

Much of this is part of what Lewis writes about in The Abolition of Man. In The Abolition of Man, Lewis speaks of how it was that, before modern times, educators believed in an ideal correspondence between the material universe and a fitting or appropriate emotional reaction to it. In other words, our feelings corresponded to the reality of what is around us. We could thus talk about whether one emotional reaction to an object or event (say a painting or a coronation) were more appropriate than another. A break from this idea occurred when people began to deny any such ordering of our feelings, that there was a human soul that could have such a correspondence with Creation. Instead, humans and everything else in the universe were thought to be simply a random interaction of matter. One could point to the writings of Karl Marx as an important mile-stone for the popularization of materialism about 100 years before Lewis writes his sermon.

In light of the above considerations, I would say, in answer to your question, that his reference to nearly a hundred years is to the past century of education in the schools of England dominated by modern, materialistic philosophy. Materialism kills the ability to recognize what is happening to us when we experience the longing of that “suggestion” or “reminder.” It makes us think that it is only some psychological trick, based on our biological and genetic needs, instead of a spiritual reality, of something that is an indicator of the truth about what humans are and the universe they live in.

Do let me know if you have any other questions and thanks so much for writing!

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