Friday, July 21, 2017

The Apple of His Eye - A poem in an essay

Deuteronomy 32:10 (KJV) “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.”

Psalm 17:8-9 (KJV) “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.”

Zechariah 2:7-9 (ESV)“Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon. For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:“Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me.”
Strong’s Definitions
בָּבָה bâbâh, baw-baw'; feminine active participle of an unused root meaning to hollow out; something hollowed (as a gate), i.e. pupil of the eye:—apple (of the eye).

I am the apple of  Elohim’s eye. He follows me everywhere I go. He sees everything: what is behind me, and what is in front.  I am like his cherished infant, his beloved wife, his greatest treasure. He never lets me out of his sight.  

He sees me from all directions at once- inside and out. What I feel; where I walk. Since I walk in his sphere, his influence is everywhere. Each person I connect with, each object that I touch all exists within him.  If an accident should befall me, it would only be by his permission, in his purpose, and for his glory. 

When I remember the Lord in this life, he is pleased.  The yellow snapdragons that delight my sight are for me.  The lilacs fragrance the air for me.  The warmth of my blanket upon my lap, the light of the lamp at my side, the friend who calls me on the phone - are all his good and perfect gifts.

The mystery is how does God see all the apples of his eye at the same time? When we meet with each other, are we not each chosen and precious in his sight?  It is like a circle within a circle -his eye on me and around me - yet also on all of those he calls his own.   My eyes upon him and upon those I love. So we circle round each other and live in interconnecting rings. Yet we are more than rings - we are three dimensional and full. Like polished stones built upon each other creating a living structure greater than our individual parts.  

How mysterious - how this takes me outside of myself and my own small world - Are we not also becoming transparent - seeing His Spirit in each other? Like glass stones filled with light? Like streets of gold and buildings bright?  Like fruit hanging from a tree? Or Christmas lights hung on boughs and eaves? Like stars flung across the night: we twinkle and dance and build the very structure of the great expanse called space.  Even in the tiniest cell of life, are we not still quarks of light?

So the universe becomes our playground, our building site, our garden bright, our amphitheater.


Praying to Saint Nick

I was thinking about the veneration of saints as practiced by Catholics and Orthodox believers.  To most Protestants, this is a strange custom and practice, but I think I understand its beginnings.
Let’s say my pastor is arrested for the sermon he gave this week.  A rather uncompromising exposition on Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God.”  As you can imagine, not a favored verse by the ‘transgender community.” Reverend Spratt explained that anything that messes with God’s image or human sexuality (which is made in God’s image) is called an abomination by the Lord.  Of course the thought police think that anyone who calls transgenders or homosexuals an abomination are themselves abominable.  Which puts us into a difficult dilemma - Do we believe God’s word or current cultural beliefs and practices?  
Let’s say the thought police have taken over all government offices (or have they done that already?).    My pastor is found guilty of hate speech and (after refusing “reeducation”) “accidentally” dies in prison.  The rest of the church is put on notice.  We would certainly have the greatest respect and reverence for our martyred pastor who basically died for preaching God's Word.  We might even put a photograph of him on a wall in our church.  We might even have a yearly remembrance of his bravery and sacrifice.
I am sure this is how the veneration of the saints began.  Early Christians remembered their leaders who stood firm and loved not their life unto death.  Some of my former Soviet Union students - adults and mostly Baptists - have told me that in their churches in Ukraine and Russia, they fasted on Fridays for all of their loved ones who had been sent to Siberia and were never heard from again. Remembering our brothers and sisters in the faith who have sacrificed much is a good thing.  It puts our lives in proper perspective.  It reminds our children that at many times in history, being a Christian has required great sacrifice. It gives us courage to stand for difficult and unpopular positions.  There is one potential problem with this kind of veneration however.  
Synonyms of venerate include regard highly, reverence, worship, hold sacred, exalt, adore, honor, respect, and esteem.  The multi-faceted definitions of this word are part of the problem. To regard highly, respect, and honor a Christian (and fellow saint) who has lived and died for the Lord is good.  To worship, hold sacred, or exalt this person is not.  We are to only worship our God and creator. We are to only pray to him.  Praying to a fellow servant of Christ is idolatry. Jesus told us and showed us how to pray - we are to pray to our father in heaven, not to our brother who died before we were born.  Worshipful veneration of a human being does not happen in a person's life time. It takes time - at least a generation or two after a person has lived when most of his/her friends and family are dead - before one would consider praying to this person to ask for assistance. Because our acquaintances are well acquainted with their friends and families' many shortcomings. Even though I think my Pastor Spratt is a very nice man, if you actually knew him, it would probably not occur to you to pray to him.  Human beings only get that kind of reverence if no one actually knows them.

This extends to all the saints who have passed before me.  Even the Lord’s mother - who perhaps I would be tempted to kneel before if I ever met her - but I am most certain she would refuse this kind of attention as do the angels from heaven (Revelation 22:9).  “Look to my son,” she would say.  “Pray to our father in heaven.”

The Great Tribulation

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

The term tribulation comes from an ancient agricultural tool that was used to separate the wheat from the chaff. The tribulum is a thick rectangular board that has sharp razor like blades which are used to cut up the wheat so when it is winnowed, the wheat kernel is easily separated from the straw or chaff.  The Greek word thilipisis is used 42 times in the New Testament.  The King James Bible usually translates it as tribulation, but other translations often use the terms affliction, anguish, burdened, persecution, pressure, and trouble instead. Besides wheat and barley harvest, thilipisis is also a term used for the grape harvest when the grapes are pressed down to release their juice.  Breaking up grains and crushing grapes is what humans do to increase their enjoyment of these crops. However people do not usually want to experience any breaking or crushing in their own lives because that sounds painful!   Very few among us volunteer for afflictions, burdens, and troubles except maybe those headed to the mission field.   However, if we view our Lord as the harvester who wants to enjoy his crops (his followers), perhaps we can see our problems in a better light.
When Jesus told John that in the world we (the followers of Jesus) will see tribulation this is an observation for all believers in all times.  Life itself is filled with trouble and pressure that beats us down.  When burdens, affliction, and persecutions are added to this we can feel the metaphorical blades of the tribulum cutting us up into small pieces.  The greater the trial, the more superfluous the worthless chaff in our life becomes.  We experience a divorce - how important is the steak we planned for dinner?  We find out a parent is dying - Do we even think about whether we can afford to buy the latest gizmo in those times? Sometimes it is not a sudden problem but a small trial that has been festering for a long time.  When unexpected troubles hit our faith either grows or shrivels up.   Has the word of life been planted in good soil or in rock?  If our faith grows, then we trust that when God is done winnowing us there will be something of value left behind - some wheat that can be ground into flour to make bread that nourishes others.
The most difficult affliction may come from circumstances out of our control.  Tribulation for believers is now occurring throughout the world.  Christians are being persecuted in many countries and even in the US, many see increased persecution in the near future.  However without the tribulum, we get no wheat.  The winnowing not only works within our life but also in the greater body of the church.  Tribulation separates the casual Christian from those who are willing to give up their lives.  And persecution gathers together those who claim to follow Jesus Christ.  When the chaff is blown away by the wind, I expect we will be delighted and surprised at who remains - especially those who worship in a different houses on Sundays.
Tribulation is a gift to the church and in our own life.  Tribulation tests our faith. It spots our weaknesses and our sins that yet need to be burned.  For the chaff that does not get blown away gets burned in the fire.  This shaking of the church is leaving behind what is true and good.  Yes, an occasional stone is left in the wheat, but this too will get picked out before the final grinding.  That grinding when flour is turned into bread and our lowly bodies are transformed into something beautiful and eternal.

The uniting factor of tribulation is perhaps the most exciting aspect, for although we strive for unity, it is really a work of the Holy Spirit.  Our unity will not be found in church affiliation, but in our our love and obedience to Jesus Christ.  This love and obedience is most evident when we stand together on his word and his creation.  In our day and time both marriage and gender seem to be the defining issues that bring us together or divide us.  For the Christian the issue is not political or cultural  but a matter of trust in God’s good and perfect design and in his word.   The instruments that the Lord uses to thresh us are different in different ages and cultures, but these instruments help us to grow in faith.  Faith in the final work of our bloody savior, his resurrection from the dead, and his glorious ascension to the right hand of the father.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Enormous Benefits of Fasting at Lent: How & Why

Did you know that the older you are, the more cancer cells there are right now lurking in your body?  The decay that we see as a whole when we age - less muscle, more aches and pains, poorer vision and teeth, etcetera etcetera - this decay is happening first on a cellular level.  Apoptosis is the technical term for programmed cell death. This is a good thing because our cells become old and junky - like food that has been sitting in the refrigerator for too long, it needs to be thrown away. Physical health problems and diseases can begin to develop in our bodies when the rotten food in the refrigerator is not thrown out.
The older we get, the more these bad cells accumulate.  The more bad cells we have, the faster we age and the greater our odds of getting sick.  We can assist in getting rid of these bad actors by encouraging autophagy  (which means self-eating).  The most effective way to promote autophagy is to fast.  Fasting is the absence of eating.  Our first meal of the day is called break-fast.  Most people go at least 8 hours a night without food, so in a sense we have all fasted.  However the most effective fasting lasts 24 hours (which is how long it takes to burn up most of the energy present in our liver and intestinal tract).  Fortunately  fasting is flexible - there is more than one way to go about it.  I will define fasting as going without any food, certain foods, or severely limiting calories for a specific period of time.  
The benefits of fasting are being rediscovered by science and health practitioners.  “The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine recently went to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries into the mechanisms of autophagy. .. His work has already led to a better understanding of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and type 2 diabetes.  Pharmaceutical companies are trying to produce drugs that imitate autophagy, but the easiest and quickest way to get your cells to eat themselves is through not feeding them food.   Although the biological mechanics of autophagy  have not been previously well understood, the benefits of autophagy by fasting have been known for millennium.  Fasting is the original method of healing and is more than likely intuitively practiced by your pets and children when they are sick.  When I googled “testimonies of diseases cured by fasting” I got 380,000+ results.  If you are part of a religious community, you might be surprised at the stories people can tell you from their experiences fasting.  For example, a girlfriend of mine had been trying for many years to get pregnant.  She had a severe case of Endometriosis which is very painful and often prevents conception.  Her husband and her fasted and prayed for three days for her to get pregnant.  God answered their prayers; they got pregnant (3 times in the following years - all boys), and her endometriosis was cured - it never came back.
Many religions practice some form of fasting.  In the past decade the Mediterranean Diet has been touted as the best for health and longevity.  However, most of the studies proving its effectiveness have failed to mention that fasting plays an important role of life of these people.  It is possible that it is the fasting which has more health benefits than the diet. Three of the four original studies were conducted in Crete, Corfu in Greece, and Dalmatia in Croatia.  The researchers studied what the people ate, but they neglected to note the importance of the fast in their Greek Orthodox lives.  The Greek Orthodox calendar has numerous days for fasting. There are short term total fasts from all food and drink before communion and special feasts or holy days.  Lent and three other extended time periods during the year have partial fasts from meat and often from dairy products, olive oil, and wine - also the size or number of meals can be decreased during those times.   Partial fasting is also encouraged on Wednesdays, Fridays, and other special days.   This adds up to over half of the calendar year!  I think it’s safe to say we are all slackers in the fasting department compared to Greek Orthodox.  Not every church member participates in every fast, and exceptions are made for children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and people who do hard physical labor.  Abstaining from sex and worldly entertainment are included in the fasting.  Fasting is (or was in the 1960’s) a part of their community.  However, feasting and celebration with large groups of family and friends are also integral parts of their life and religion.  Both fasting and feasting are good gifts from a good God.
In the Western church, Lent is the best known time for fasting for Christians, and I think it is the best time for people to learn how to fast.  There are a couple of reasons for this: First our ancestors naturally ate a little less this time of year.  In farming societies, there is less food available at the end of February and March.  There is naturally less of the vegetables, grains, and meat that were harvested in summer and fall.  The second reason is it’s also a little warmer.  It is very difficult to fast when it is very cold outside - our bodies want to eat more to stay warm.  And even though much of the US is still quite cold at this time of year, it feels warm compared to December and January.  The third reason is that millions of other Christian are fasting around the world during Lent.
I remember back in my New Age days a saying - “There is no spiritual hitch-hiking.” This meant that just because people around you, for example, were meditating, it doesn’t mean you will reap their benefits if you are not meditating as much as they are.  However in Christianity, we do have spiritual hitch-hiking.  Jesus said when two or more are gathered in his name, he will be there too.  I think the Holy Spirit is more noticeably present in people who are fasting, and we can receive this blessing into our life.  So if you have never fasted, Lent is a great time to begin.  Even if you go to a church where Lent is not observed, some of your fellow parishioners are more than likely observing some form of the fast.
The easiest way to begin fasting it to extend your time of not eating.  If you usually finish your last meal at 8 pm and begin your first meal at 8 am, you are already fasting 12 hours a day. You could eat dinner an hour earlier and breakfast an hour later.  Then eat the same meals as usual, but without meat and sugar.  That is a fast day.  If you want to try going completely without food, start with the biblical day which is evening.  If you eat lunch - skip dinner and breakfast the next morning and eat again at lunch, that is a 24 hour fast.  Congratulations, it wasn’t that difficult was it?  I would encourage people new to fasting not to start a fast in the morning.  If you don’t eat for a full day and night, it is actually a 36 hour fast when you begin eating again which is more difficult.
Many of the medical studies on fasting actually allow 500-600 calories a day during a fast day.  When I do this, for example, I have a whey protein shake (120 calories) for breakfast.  Soup broth with a little meat and vegetables or two small baked potatoes with salt and vinegar for lunch and/or dinner add another 350 - 400 calories. If I get especially hungry, I can add another whey shake or a couple of nuts with salt for an afternoon snack or for a dessert after dinner.  The advantage of this method of fasting is that your hunger hormones (ghrelin) are programmed to increase at your usual eating times. So by putting something in your stomach at these times, you experience less hunger.
Children (girls under 16 and boys under 18), pregnant and nursing mothers, people who have physically demanding jobs, and severely sick and underweight individuals might prefer to try a few partial fast days during Lent.  A day without meat, sugar, and flour would be beneficial for health and for spiritual discipline.  Beans and rice are classic stand-ins for meat (and are the major foods gratefully consumed by most of the world’s citizens). Some people prefer liquid or juice fasting - although too much juice from fruit and sweet vegetables (carrots, beets) raise insulin levels and hunger.  I like bone marrow and vegetable broths during a fast, and these keep insulin levels lower.
So far I have discussed a little about the health benefits of fasting, but there are also spiritual benefits. Protestants have generally been negligent on the spiritual discipline of fasting.  In recent years, however, fasting has in Charismatic circles.  Fasting was not discouraged at the beginning of the reformation.  Even our esteemed teacher and prophet John Calvin promoted the benefits of fasting.  “A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him,” ( Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, xii, 15).  I believe there are even more reason to fast than this.  Jesus told his disciples that they would fast when the bridegroom was gone (Matthew 9:15).  He also said “when you fast” not “if you fast.”  When we replace food and eating with bible study and prayer, we can reap a closer relationship with our Lord.  Two of the most significant spiritual events in my life (30 years apart) occurred during or right after three days of fasting. I wasn’t expecting these gifts from the Holy Spirit - and it actually took me a while to recognize what they were, but an increased sense of the presence of the Lord is often reported by people who fast.  Insights, the breaking of harmful bonds, and direction or clarity of vision can also come from fasting.
It is important to break a longer fast carefully.  It is natural to be hungry when breaking a very limited or no calorie fast.  You might eat an extra 100 to 300 calories for a meal or two following a fast, but don’t break a fast at a potluck or you might have trouble trying to stop eating.  As with anything, practice makes perfect.  Start with small fasting goals and slowly graduate to more difficult goals.  Some of the physical benefits you will experience from limited calorie fasts will be increased energy, less pain, and a sense of joy.  
Fasting is a great gift for a healthy body and a healthy spirit.   However, it is only been in the last week or so as I was thinking about writing this article that I realized the connection between some spiritual experiences I have had and fasting.  Now I am feeling joy and anticipating what good thing the Lord will do the next time I fast.   The health benefits of fasting are very good, but what I really look forward to are the spiritual benefits.

For more ways to encourage autophagy besides fasting read

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wrecking Ball: Why President Trump is not Hitler

“[You] came in like a wrecking ball
[You] never hit so hard in love
All [You] wanted was to break [my] walls
All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you wreck me,” (Lyrics to Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball" with some reversed pronouns).

The hysterics against President Trump are more than annoying.  President Trump is not the AntiChrist and not Hitler. (It is, however, possible that he is a “wrecking ball.”*)  He is a real estate mogul who is inexperienced as a politician - which is exactly why millions of people voted for him.   Presidential political campaigns tend to make us all a little extreme in our rhetoric. However now we have a president and the time for wild acclamations or paranoid denunciations is past. President Trump doesn’t act or talk like a politician which many find refreshing.  When Trump says he wants to make America great again, I believe him.  When he says that he wants to restore jobs, have secure borders, and make America a good place to run a business again, I believe that too.  I certainly hope that he succeeds.

Trump loved the campaign trail.  He loved making speeches about how to make America great, and he loved the adoration of the crowds.  Obviously Donald Trump likes the limelight. He has a personality like many actors: he wants to be admired.  There is nothing wrong with this, but I think he will find politics and the presidency are not conducive for those sensitive to criticism and desiring affirmation.  Any politician of either party today is going to be loathed by 40% of the populace just because he or she is a Republican or a Democrat. On the plus side, 30% of the voters are going to love you no matter what - the remaining 30% are more fluid in their affection.  Unfortunately the 40% who loathe you are going to be louder than the 30% who adore you, especially since they include most of the television and newspaper media.

Unlike some of Trump’s more crazed critics, I think there is a good chance that President Trump will not try to grasp more reigns of power beyond the office of the presidency.  He might even decide that a one term presidency is enough for him.  As many people have observed, Trump is not an ideologue. He does not have a partisan agenda (unlike, for example, President Obama). Trump’s a “big idea” type of person.  There is no Mein Kampf ** that he secretly wrote and forgot to publish.   Trump wrote The Art of the Deal to explain how to succeed in business.  This is Donald J Trump’s life focus and mission; he wants to export this “let’s get down to business” philosophy to the US government.  This is not fascism folks!  In fact it is downright refreshing.

I can’t help but think when a president makes the extravagant promises that Trump made for his inauguration speech that this is a man that wants to be loved by the masses.  He said he would stop violence in America, eradicate Islamic terrorism, and get rid of inner city poverty.  I think that Trump makes promises like this because he has never been in political office before.  He will soon find out that this country is not like a private business that he owns and can direct at will,  This country is like a massive ship and taking her in new directions happens incrementally and slowly.  In his own businesses, Trump can say “Jump,” and his employees will say, “How high?”  The government worker will reply to the same demand with something like this.  “I apologize but form 15206C section 3481.3 clearly states that I only have to move an inch to my left or an inch to my right.  Jumping is not in my job description.

I worry a tiny bit that the president seems to think that he has the power to carry out his promises.  I am a little nervous that the prosperity preachers with which he has often surrounded himself have made such inflated prophetic pronouncements over him that it might have gone to his head - that he might really think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Isn’t there a rule somewhere about not believing your own hype?) Perhaps encouraging the president in Christian virtues like humility would be a better form of discipleship?

I am thankful that President Trump wants peace between the nations and doesn’t want to rush into change the political systems of foreign countries.  This is truly a humble foreign policy.    I am thankful that the president has a heart that wants to help the poor - that he wants less poverty, crime, and better educational choices. These are wonderful goals for him to have.  However, he would get more assistance in reaching his goals with an attitude that says “please help me to accomplish this.”  An attitude that ignores his most aggressive critics because they are never going to like him no matter what he says or does.  He could assuage some fears if he acts like he knows that the office of the presidency is truly too big for him or any one person to handle.  It takes a team as President Obama recently said.  And that he understands that former presidents and the leaders of other countries also had and have great hopes and aspirations for their countries.  We all want peace and prosperity.

*“I heard the Lord say: ‘Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness,’” Wallnau wrote in an Oct. 5 Charisma News article titled “Why I Believe Donald Trump Is the Prophesied President.”

**The autobiography and political treatise where Hitler defines National Socialism (Nazism),  and which contains such gems as “For as long as a people remain racially pure and are conscious of the treasure of their blood, they can never be overcome by the Jew,” (Chapter 11).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Outer Darkness

Perhaps this is Hell.   I am watching a beautiful feast - in a shining city filled with glorious light. The Holy Angels are singing hymns of liquid praise, and some of these Sons of God are serving the wedding guests angel food. I am on the outside looking in through a gossamer fence of finest gold, solid yet transparent. I desperately want to taste the angel food, to eat the fruit of the tree of life, to drink the living waters.  Only one thing keeps me from joining the laughing radiant guests; only one thing keeps me from joining my Grandmother Grace, my Uncle Judah, and various other friends, neighbors, and coworkers that I have known throughout the years.  Even Dreadlock John that dirty panhandler that I would give money to is seated at the table.  But now he isn't dirty.  Now he smiles and shines with a mysterious glow, and he is dressed in robes of purest white.  
Dreadlock John must have been a prophet, for once he told me - when the rain was pouring down and I, feeling sorry for him, put a ten spot in his hand as I hurried on my way to the office -
“Just confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the gates will open wide,” he said quietly in an unusual display of sobriety.   
I realize that this - right now - is what he was talking about.  There are real gates here, and they look like pearls.  But I had been annoyed beyond belief at his comment. I had thought “How dare Dreadlock John give instructions to me?”  
What I really believe is that I am my own God.  I am the arbitrator of what is right and what is wrong.  I suppose this makes me an existentialist, for I have never been one to accept easy answers. I have been searching desperately for another entrance into the feast. I have walked as if forever looking for a secret passage, a forbidden ladder hanging down over the wall. So far, the only way I see to enter is by the gate.  Occasionally I see others outside the walls in even worse shape than I.  Once I saw a woman pounding on the door howling in grief and rage.
“Lord, Lord,” she screamed.  “Let me in.  Let me in.”  I wondered what was her sin?  And as soon as I thought it, I heard the answer.  “Disbelief.”
Once again I stand outside the gate, once again I see a magnificent being in white holding a flaming sword.  He speaks to me.  It is like he can read the secret thoughts of my heart.
“You are created.” he said with a voice like thunder.   “He is Creator.  He is Almighty - you are not.”  But I was given a raw deal in life.  Memories flood my mind of the cruelty of others, of broken relationships and bitter disappointments.   Where was God when I needed him?  Where was God when my wife died of breast cancer?  Then there were my little lusts and desires: things I had to have even though my conscience said “Stop.”  Sure I did some bad things -I am not perfect after all!   The silly young girls who couldn’t say “no” to me.  The money. The lies to get the money to get the things to get the status to get the silly young girls.  It seems like my whole life was one brief affair with one lust after another.  Yet on the whole, I was not a bad person.  I worked hard, I volunteered, I gave to charity - but now I stand outside the pearly gates dressed in filthy rags.  Ten times filthier than the clothes Dreadlock John ever had to wear.  I don’t understand.  Why am I out here, and he is inside? In my heart, there is still this stubborn disbelief.  I still can’t actually see this Lord.  Does he even exist? Maybe this golden feast is a facade.  And if he does exist, who does this Jesus think he is to tell me what to do and how to live?  What human being can possibly live up to his standards of perfection and righteousness?
So I turn away from the shining party. In the distance, in the dark is a campfire  where I see someone dancing or jumping like on hot coals.  “I will have my own party,” I tell myself, “my own food, my own drinks, my own companions.”  I walk away from this piercing light which reveals way too many stains on my rags feeling desperate - feeling very very alone.  And I hear wailing in the distance.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Review: The Great Divorce

Review: The Great Divorce

I have finally read the Christian Classic - The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis - first published in 1946. Obviously it has been reviewed, studied, and received many accolades before.  I add my 2 cents worth in the spirit of admiration and because of the self-revelation this book afforded me.

Lewis goes to great lengths in the preface to state that this story was not based on a dream or a vision of heaven and hell given by divine revelation.  He calls The Great Divorce a fantasy.  I believe he emphasizes this because the book contains so much profound insight into God’s design that it seems like a vision.  The reader would easily have believed Lewis if he had told us that an angel had taken him on this bus ride to visit the suburbs of heaven.  

The story demonstrates how the heavenly realms are much larger and more substantial than both hell and earth.  Lewis seems to have put the Book of 2 Corinthians into a fictional form.  “if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. “ 4:3.  The passenger on the bus are visitors from Hell (or Purgatory)on an excursion to the suburbs of heaven.  But even in heaven, the passengers are blinded by their paltry little sins which keep them from the glory which is all around them.  

The heaven dwellers (called the bright people) have come to meet the visitors (who are called ghosts) from the bus in hopes to lead them to heaven.  Each visitor has his or her own teacher or guide that s/he knew on earth.  The bright people constantly tell the visitors “now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation,” 6:2. Yet each of the visitors has some problem that keeps them from accepting this salvation.  What blessed me is seeing how some of the problems of the visitors are also my problems that keep me from experiencing joy and heaven even now.

I cringed when I heard the once well dressed fearful woman fight against the Spirit’s guidance.
“Friend, said the Spirit, ‘Could you only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?’” (62).
Self obsession, it seems, is one of the major obstacles in seeing heaven. Then there is Hard Bitten Ghost who is negative and suspicious about everything.  And Grumbler who is a very unhappy creature.  “Ye’ll have had experiences begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it; perhaps criticising it.  And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it.  Ye can repent and come out of it again.  But there may come a day when you can do that no longer.” (77-78). I have had many dark hours and grumbling moods.  And I can feel this truth in my soul - that there is a point when I may no longer be able to repent of my grumbling - a point when I become a grumbler for good - bereft of the comforts of the Holy Spirit - stuck in my own small dark sad world.

Then there is the ghost who carries on his shoulder the lizard Lust.  And the dwarf who is manipulated by his own marionette Tragedian. So many sins, so little time.  What the Great Divorce helped me to see is how easy it is to be free of these unclean attitudes and sins that cling to our souls.  The Bright Lady admonishes the dwarf, “But now can set all that aside.  Never think like that again. It is all over” (122).  And the reader wants to shout,”Yes, Just believe what the bright spirits are saying!”
The Bright Spirits are models of heavenly citizens. Always forgiving, kind, loving, and serving those they hope to guide.  They patiently point out to the ghosts the problems with ghostly thinking. The sin areas that they hold onto.  Yet most of the ghost ignore the admonitions of the Bright Spirits.  They love their own sins more than light and freedom.

It is a rare book that sheds such a light on both the dark nook and crannies of our souls and the brightness and joys of heaven.  Which is what makes the The Great Divorce a classic that one will want to read many times and share with many friends.