"Reading is a conversation. All books talk, but the good ones listen as well".
I guess we've all read people we would love to meet in person and share some time with. There's plenty of folks who would no doubt like to know how William Shakespeare or Michelangelo or Albert Einstein were so inspired, but there are some people who really seem to be very close because of what they have left us in their works.
On Sunday morning, I found myself sitting in a church pew waiting for the service to begin, so I opened C S Lewis' 'The Problem of Pain' and began to read the latter part of his first chapter on the subject of human pain. The book does a brilliant job of unpacking why we live in a universe marked by such suffering and what has brought this about, particularly in respect to ourselves.
The section I was reading was examining the nature of good and evil, and Jack (as he liked to be called) was seeking to show how what is genuinely good derives not from some arbitrary determination by a higher power, but because of the vital and defining nature of God Himself. The greatest good, therefore, we can know is when we willingly give ourselves to His counsel in regards to what directs us. In this, he notes, we begin to reverse the tragedy Adam has brought upon us, retracing, if only in a small way, the path back to the garden.
This raises the importance of our not merely thinking something is true, but acting upon this (Lewis refers to the example of Abraham being willing to offer up his son) - such obedience conveys to us, teaches us, to choose aright, however arduous it may be in the moment to do so. Our will, he notes, truly becomes free in such events, for it as we 'loose' ourselves in this fashion that we truly 'find' a nature and character that is far stronger than what we normally convey.
This is the manner of action - collaboration - that needs to mark and define us. It is, he notes, what quells that foul spell placed upon our first parents and what drives Christ in His continual journey to the cross.
Here, the chapter plunges into the depths of Gods astonishing work of redemption - the yielding of the Son as victim, broken and forsaken - before noting how God has writ large the vital necessity of this offering in nature and why religion so often seeks to faintly mimic the astonishing truth of Christ's death and resurrection. It is truly eternal in meaning and scope.
By now, the writer, as he always does, had me thinking deeply about the height and depth of this staggering drama that surrounds us, clothes us, and continually speaks to us.
I had but a few minutes before the Trinity Sunday service would begin, but I was eager to read more...
The shock of Christianity is made clear. It isn't about an abandonment of the material, as in other beliefs, but a correction of it - a placing it back on the road it was intended to take, and at the heart of that remedy is sacrifice.
Lewis had done it again.
As I read that line, I found my thoughts taken to that moment in the opening of history in the book of Revelation, where heaven must resolve the question of who is worthy to unfold what must be, and it first appears that there is none (Revelation 5: 1-4), but then, as John weeps, there comes amongst the eternal congregation the one who can do all that is required - "I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain"(verse 6).
At the very heart of the Godhead is a love and willingness so deep that it readily gives itself fully to another - Father to Son and Spirit, Son to Father and Spirit, and Spirit to Son and Father. This is the true nature, the true goodness of our Creator and Redeemer, and it is this we see so fully expressed in the nature and work of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who came to take the sins of the world. This is why there is a goodness found within the suffering and pain of those who look at what is behind the nature of our present realm.
What a thought to take me into the service... one which continued to work on me for the rest of the day. No wonder Paul encourages us to have such a mind within us (Philippians 2:5-11).
Some 'conversations' will stay with us.
I'm looking forward to another visit very soon.