15 September 2010

Lewis: The Inner Ring

In a 1944 lecture at the University of London, C. S. Lewis reflected on the universal human desire to be included. He called the object of this mysterious craving the 'Inner Ring.' The lecture is now included in the collection of essays The Weight of Glory. It's fascinating, and illuminating of my own heart and much of the remaining Self there.

'I believe,' he said, 'that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.' Lewis spoke of 'the delicious knowledge that we . . . are the people who know,' 'the delicious sense of secret intimacy,' and the way 'the world seems full of "insides," full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities.'

'Of all passions,' he writes, 'the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.' A desire simply to be on the inside—whatever that inside may be—is a core motivation that propels us in all sorts of ways and is the root of a host of different sins. A desire to be on the inside may lead to stealing if the inner ring is wealthy, immorality if the inner ring is the promiscuous, cheating if the inner ring is academically superior, legalism if the inner ring is scrupulously moral, or duplicity if the inner ring is really, really, really, really nice.

'It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons,' remarks Lewis, 'but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.'

He goes on to say:
The torture allotted to the Danaids in the classical underworld, that of attempting to fill sieves with water, is the symbol not of one vice but of all vices. It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had. The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.
Lewis says there are certainly legitimate reasons to want to be an insider. If one loves playing cards, it is natural to want to be part of a Bridge club. 'But,' he says,
if all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short-lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. . . . You merely wanted to be 'in.' And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you.
So true to life, and penetrating. I am instructed and helped. I do wish, though, that Lewis had closed not with his exhortation to avoid seeking to be in the inner ring, but with the gospel.

The gospel is the only yard tool whose blades go deep enough to uproot the inveterate craving in each of us to be inside. For those who belong to Christ are, finally, gloriously, 'in.' Really in. (Yes, I just compared the good news to a shovel.)

Jesus is the one person who ever lived who was, on his own steam, an insider. But he went outside the camp. Outside. On the cross, he allowed himself to be made an outsider so that outsiders like us can be in for free, so long as we admit our out-ness and look to him.

In the terms of biblical theology: Adam and Eve sinned and were kicked out. Ever since we've been trying to get back in. In mercy God established the tabernacle and then the temple, but even then only a handful of priests were allowed in. But Jesus showed up and said he was the temple (John 2). Believers, those who are in Christ, are part of that temple (1 Pet 2). And in the new city there will be no need for a temple (Rev 21:22).


Anonymous said...

I pray these things encourage:

"If one loves playing cards, it is natural to want to be part of a Bridge club."

Sometimes, our desires hint of a greater, redeemed reality that we are meant to occupy.

On being "in":

"Abide "in" me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides "in" the vine, neither can you, unless you abide "in" me." John 15

Jesus speaks of those who abide "in" Him. So there is this thing that is also possible, of not "abiding in Him." If abiding 'in Him," produces much fruit, then "not abiding in Him" will have the opposite effect.

He tells his disciples that they are to abide "in" Him, and His words "in" us, and by doing so will bear much fruit.

But, there is a caveat. He says-
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as it's own."

grace and peace,


Anonymous said...

And, it is a good desire...to want to be with others in that ground of being "in" Christ, as well.

And listen to the net effect...of being "in" Christ:

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be "in" you, and that your joy may be full."

"That your joy may be full..."

grace and peace,


Gavin Ortlund said...

Interesting post Dane. It reminds me of the character Mark in That Hideous Strength - he's almost the personification of this desire for the inner ring.