A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Again and again it [the world] has thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without and corruptions from within, by the rise of Mohammedanism, the rise of the physical sciences, the rise of great anti-Christianity revolutionary movements. But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again (p. 222).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Do your hopes for Christianity rise and fall with major events? A celebrity or “big name” athlete professes faith in Christ publicly and we think, “That’s a big boost for our side.” A scandal breaks in the news about popular church leaders and we think, “Who will want to come to church now?”
I don’t want to condemn that rise and fall; partly because I ride that roller coaster, but also because that is the nature of being fully engaged with something. If you are really committed to someone or something, then its gain and losses will affect you.
Admittedly, I feel a bit of a double bind. I don’t want to be unmoved by the good or bad fortune of God’s kingdom, even if it’s only temporal. I want to be moved to praise or pray as needed in every circumstance. But I don’t want to be so moved that my sense of hope ebbs and flows with daily events.
How do we have one without the other? The short answer is (in my opinion) we don’t, at least not perfectly. I’m not going to care as much as I want to care about the things of God and be as dispassionately objective as I want to be in the midst of (at least perceived) challenges to His kingdom.
The better question (again, in my opinion) is how concerned should I be that I won’t strike this perfect balance? The answer to that question would be “it depends” on whether in bad times my instincts move towards prayer or despair and whether in good times my instincts move towards pride/complacency or praise/proclamation.
Sometimes we think God’s sovereignty should make us stoics (emotionally unmoved by the significant events of life); that holiness was the muting of emotion. Other times we think that we can only honor God with the emotions at the pleasant end of the emotional spectrum; that unpleasant emotions (i.e., grief, fear, sadness, etc…) are inherently impure.
These kinds of beliefs make it very hard for us to do anything practical with the kind of truth contained in Lewis’ quote. It is only when we acknowledge that God made us emotional creatures who can honor Him on both ends of the emotional spectrum that we can respond to the kind of dark events that Lewis references in personally-authentic, faith-filled ways.
It is only then that we can pray with the Psalmist, “When I am afraid [honestly acknowledging bad times and having the appropriate emotional response], I put my trust in you [expressing a faith that can be measured a “great” because it is bigger than a real fear].”
So when I watch the Kentucky Wildcats or St. Louis Cardinals, my hope and fears rise and fall with the uncertainty temporal concerns entail. When I observe with the advances and setbacks of God’s kingdom, my hopes and fears still rise and fall (because I am passionately engaged), but with the trust that God’s power and track record deserve.