13 October 2012

The Peace of God, Dying to the World, and Suffering

Lewis, writing to Warfield Firor, December 1949, on "the peace of God" as referenced in Phil. 4:7--
Our idea of peace expresses only the negative results of it: the exclusion of care, haste, fear etc. but not the positive thing that excludes them. So someone who has never bathed might think of a swim only as absence of clothes, absence of solidity in touch with one, etc.: but not what really counts, the cool, yielding embrace of the water. But (here comes the rub) does it not come exactly in proportion as we have, in some sense, died?

I am concerned about that at present, chiefly as a result of reading William Law. It's all there in the New Testament, though. 'Dying to the world'--'the world is crucified to me and I to the world.' And I find I haven't begun: at least not if it means (and can it mean less) a steady and progressive disentangling of all one's motives from the merely natural or this-worldly  objects: like training a creeper to grow up one wall instead of another. I don't mean disentangling from things wrong in themselves, but, say, from the very pleasant evening which we hope to have over a ham tomorrow night, or from gratification at my literary success. It is not the things, nor even the pleasure in them, but the fact that in such pleasures my heart, or so much of my heart, lies.

Or to put it in a fantastic form--if a voice said to me (and one I couldn't disbelieve) 'you shall never see the face of God, never help to save a neighbor's soul, never be free from sin, but you shall live in perfect health till you are 100, very rich, and die the most famous man in the world, and pass into a twilight consciousness of a vaguely pleasant sort forever'--how much would it worry me? How much compared with another war?  Or even with an announcement that I should have to have all my teeth out? You see? And what right have I to expect the Peace of God while I thus put my whole heart, at least all my strongest wishes, in the world which he has warned me against?

Well, thank God, we shall not be left to the world. All His terrible resources (but it is we who force Him to use them) will be brought against us to detach us from it--insecurity, war, poverty, pain, unpopularity, loneliness. We must be taught that this tent is not home. And, by jove, how terrible it would be if all suffering, including death itself, were optional, so that only a very few voluntary ascetics ever even attempted to achieve the end for which we are created. Dare we gloss the text 'Strait is the way and few there be that find it' by adding 'And that's why most of you have to be bustled and badgered into it like sheep--and the sheep-dogs have to have pretty sharp teeth too'!
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (HarperCollins, 2004), 1007-8


aletheia said...

Hahaha! "...new, and sharp, with many teeth..." Isaiah 41:15

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Just what I needed today.