Jan 28, 2013

The Great Divorce and Plato

by Matthew McEwen

Books like Howard Snyder’s Salvation Means Creation Healed or Steven Bouma-Prediger’s For the Beauty of the Earth have done much to reframe a theology of the physical world, replacing a more common Platonic world view that considers matter and the stuff of earth to be worthless or even evil. Although C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite authors, I used to be concerned about his use of Plato in his writings. A clear example of this Platonic influence can be seen in his work, The Great Divorce. In that story, souls from hell are granted an excursion to the outskirts of heaven. What they left was a Gray town (with shops that sold the works of Aristotle), and what they came to was a place alive with colour. The crowd from hell, or the gray town, felt like ghosts and shadows once they arrive in a place that is described as being solid. A single blade of grass would not bend under the feet of the ghosts, and even water in the river nearby was solid enough for a ghost to walk on it.

According to The C.S. Lewis Reader’s Encyclopedia:
Lewis had a high regard for Plato, the great Greek Philosopher. In his final Narnia Chronicle (The Last Battle) Lewis had the professor say, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!” What Lewis admired most about Plato was his metaphysics. Plato believed that there are two real worlds, not one. There is the world of changing physical things that we apprehend by means of our senses, and there is the world of eternally true ideas that we apprehend by means of our minds. Plato was looking for stable things in a world of change; he found this stability in Being in contrast with becoming, in forms or ideas in contrast with matter or particulars, in the invisible and eternal in contrast with the visible and the temporal.

I found a blog with an article called “Unshakeable Reality” that considers this contrast between the shadow and solid reality in The Great Divorce with teaching from the Scripture. From that blog:
“Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:26-29). We dwell among “things that are being shaken,” but are receiving “a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” St. Paul does with shaking what Lewis does with solid. It is the less solid, the less stable, which can be shaken. Or, as St. Paul says, “the things that are made.” It is the things that are merely “created” that can be shaken. Only the uncreated remains. It is beyond understanding, but the promise of the fathers (and here in the Scriptures) is that in Christ we are to become “uncreated by grace.” God alone is “uncreated.” But by His grace, we become partakers of His uncreated life (which alone is unshakeable).

This blog made me re-think my understanding of what Lewis was trying to communicate in The Great Divorce. The contrast between shadow and solid reality in that story was not to reject or despise the created order or physical realm. The opposite is true. In the preface Lewis writes:

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

Creation is included in the description of the landscape of the Heavenly realm, including details such as grass, apples and a river with a waterfall. Near the end of the story there is a procession that came from a nearby forest, and at the centre of all the commotion was woman named Sarah Smith. She was a person of no importance on earth, but someone special in Heaven. In addition to angels in Saint Sarah’s procession, there were also children singing a song of beauty, and animals. Among the animals were dozens of cats, countless number of dogs, birds and horses. Confused, Lewis asks his spiritual mentor if this woman kept a zoo. His teacher answers, “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.” (Musician Phil Woodward has set this scene to music: http://www.ghostsandspirits.net/the-album/saint-sarah/). Far from denying or rejecting the importance of the created realm, The Great Divorce affirms the beauty of the earth and presents a picture of salvation as being creation healed.


Jan 14, 2013

Forgiving Ourselves?

by Beverly Kay

Over the summer months I have been wrestling with a concept that is very prevalent in current secular thinking, trying to see if it matches up with Biblical Truths regarding the power of forgiveness. The concept that I am grappling with is that of forgiving ourselves. As people in our world strive to deal with guilt or self-loathing, very often they are encouraged to not be so hard on themselves, after all being human means making mistakes. Nobody is perfect, so they are told to simply forgive themselves and move on. Somehow, this teaching just doesn’t sit right with me. It seems to smack of self justification. If I have the power to forgive and justify myself, then I don’t need a Saviour to pay my debt and to reconcile me with my Maker. As I have searched scripture there seems to be only two types of forgiveness mentioned.

The first is the forgiveness that comes from God Himself, made available to us through the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Lord. We receive this forgiveness when we agree with God about two things. First we must agree with God that our action or attitude is truly sinful, it has broken the law of God and it bares the weight of penalty. This is just as real in our lives as breaking a traffic law and having to pay the fine. If we lie, or steal, or covet, or walk in pride, etc. then we are guilty of sin. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23) Secondly, we must agree with God that the penalty for our sin has been paid for, that the death of Christ on the cross is sufficient payment for our sin. It is in agreeing with God that we are forgiven, cleansed, made new because of the gift of grace offered to us in Christ Jesus. In receiving this gift of Grace we find freedom from guilt and condemnation that had been ours because of sin. That is the good news of the Gospel that Paul shares in Romans 8:1&2, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” We cannot short cut to forgiveness of self. We have no authority apart from Christ Jesus to be set free from the law of sin and death put in place by God in the garden.

The second form of forgiveness comes only after we have received the first. This is the authority in Christ Jesus to forgive others who have sinned against us. As children of God, through our faith in Christ Jesus (John 1:12), we are to become like our Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:1&2). As we live out this life of love, we are called to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” As God’s children we are to extend to others the same grace and mercy that we have received from our Father. We cannot absolve someone else of their sin, but we have the joy of refusing to hold their sins against them, extending to them love rather than seeking revenge or hating them in our hearts.

It is so easy to allow the subtle twisting of God’s truth by the world to enter into our thinking and our council of others. Let us strive to remain in alignment with the truth of scripture, and remember there is only One who has the power to forgive, and that is God Himself. It is only by His power at work in us that we have the authority to forgive others, and to revel in the joy that comes as we receive freedom from our sin through faith in the work of Christ Jesus on the cross!