Tag Archive: C.S. Lewis


One fact which each of us must face is the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. This is undeniable – we all recognize that bad things happen, that bad things happen to good people. accident-2-1474589-1599x1066We have to make sense of this somehow. Often this is presented as a problem for Christianity: something along the lines of, If God is good (as you say he is), how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world? If he was real, there wouldn’t be so much. So, he must not really exist. In essence, the argument says that the presence of evil means that the God Christians proclaim can’t exist because he is either unable (and therefore not all-powerful) or unwilling (and therefore not all-good), since he has not eradicated evil.

Identifying the Problem

Of course, there are really two issues when considering an answer to the problem of evil. The first and most immediate is that when this issue is brought up, it isn’t usually academic, but a response to a personal tragedy. Christian apologetics will almost never be helpful or appropriate here; compassion and empathy are by far what is more called for at this time.

But there is also an academic side to this problem as well, and that is worth considering in more quiet and stable times. Having worked through the problem in one’s mind ahead of time will give a bit of stability when the pain comes and the emotions are high. That is what I hope to offer here.

A Contradiction Without God

I cannot see any philosophical justification for the category of “evil” without God; not that God is somehow the source of evil, but that without an objective standard for good, how can we even know what evil is? Evil is not a “thing,” it’s an absence or corruption or something else. Just as a shadow cannot exist without light, evil cannot exist without good. The objection against Christianity doesn’t even make sense to me without an admission of objective moral standards, and as I pointed out previously, objective morality cannot be adequately explained without the existence of God. We cannot judge a line to be crooked unless we have some idea of what a straight line is. For these reasons, it seems to me that the problem of evil turns out to be one of the best evidences in favor of God, not against him!

But what of God’s attributes in the face of evil? Does the existence of evil mean God is not good or not powerful? Those who argue against God in this way make an assumption that all evil is gratuitous and unnecessary. But what if there is another category of evil which an all-good and all-powerful God allows to happen, both natural and moral evil, which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting? God’s purposes in this world are not to maximize our comfort, but our character, and draw all mankind to him. Perhaps hardships are the only way some may have their attention drawn to the issues of ultimate importance in life.

A Problem for Everyone

As I see it, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. We all have to live with evil, and cutting God out of the picture doesn’t explain it, it only removes any hope to relieve it. We can resign ourselves to purposeless evil with no justice and no comfort, and so we should, if there is no God. But if there is good reason to believe God is real and better explains the problem of evil than does alternate explanations, there is justice and comfort from a transcendent God who also took on humanity and experienced very real pain and suffering. In God we have someone able to offer ultimate justice for the evil and comfort for the victims, one who not only understands, not only sympathizes, but empathizes with our hurts.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Are faith and reason opposed? Clearly God expects us to have faith, but what is that, anyway? Is Mark Twain correct in his definition that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” or is there something more to it? Are the new atheists correct in their assessment that faith belongs to religious zealots and reason belongs to sensible atheists?

What is Faith?

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S. Lewis [1] CS-Lewis

Biblical faith is not blind, or in opposition to reason. Thus, “strong faith” is not upholding belief in spite of overwhelming evidence against belief.  Faith is different from belief.  Belief is mental assent to a set of propositions, which may not produce a significant change in the life of the believer.  Faith, in contrast, adds to belief trust, and involves an act of the will to commit to those beliefs in a way that does significantly impact the life of the believer.  Faith is similar in nature to the commitment of marriage: while dating, a man and woman may believe that the other partner would make a great spouse, but it is the wedding which demonstrates the commitment of the participants to change their lives for the belief.  There may not be complete certainty, but the weight of evidence is strong enough to responsibly bridge the gap.  As Christians, we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, supported by reasonable propositions concerning his existence and miraculous works.

Reasonable Faith vs. Blind Faith vs. Certainty

(I heard this illustration many years ago from Richard Simmons III of The Center for Executive Leadership.)

Suppose I reach in my pocket and pull out something in my closed fist. What is in there? My father, who has known me all my life, says, “It’s a quarter.” I ask if he is willing to bet $100 that it is a quarter. Logically, it could be a quarter, but if he is willing to bet on it at that point, he is exercising blind faith.

Now, let’s say I tell him it is a 1921 silver dollar in good condition. If he believes and bets on that, it demonstrates reasonable faith, based on his belief in my trustworthiness.

Finally, I open my hand and give him the silver dollar so he can inspect it and verify all the information about it. At this point, he has certainty concerning his knowledge about it, and no faith is required.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Gailey on faith in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.” Sam Harris [2] samharris

Time for a New Word

All too often in our modern parlance, when people hear the word “faith,” they mentally attach extra words in front of it, such as “blind” and “leap of,” and so “faith” comes to be incorrectly defined as in the quote above from Miracle on 34th Street. When a word comes to mean something in the popular usage different from the concept that it originally conveyed, it is time to use a different word that is more accurate. In the same way that we don’t anymore use the words “gay” to mean “happy” or “gentleman” to mean “an upper-class landed aristocrat,” the word “faith” has come too much to mean belief in something in opposition to evidence and reason. Therefore, I more often want to use the word “trust” to express how Christians hold belief.

And not just Christians. I am referring to a tool we use all the time. In my last post, I explored a bit the depths of skepticism that a bit of reflection can raise, and showed how few things we have actual certainty about. This means that we must exercise “faith” (trust) about pretty much everything in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. This includes Sam Harris and the other New Atheists!

Whether it’s life’s more philosophical questions – the reality of our conscious experience, why science works, the existence of other minds – or whether it’s just the mundane everyday realities of life – flying on a plane, undergoing a medical procedure, sipping a latte, using my credit card – every day I exercise faith in numerous little ways.” – Andy Bannister [3] andybannister

What About Child-Like Faith?

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

As I have laid out in previous posts, the Bible models and expects a faith based on reason and evidences. In light of this clear teaching, any ambiguity of this Matthew 18 passage should be resolvable not as a guide on the definition of faith, but of the commitment based on that faith. After all, children place trust on the reasons and evidence they have available, just as adults do. Their faith is no more blind than anyone else’s. No, what is being instructed here is not blind faith, but a fearless and confident trust that our justified beliefs are truths that should be acted upon.

Next up, I’ll define reason and describe how we use it to arrive at truth.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.

[2] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 65.

[3] Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 196.

Avoid Word Abuse!

The Faith of an Awesomely Tolerant Gentleman

Read again the phrase above. Do you feel confident that you even know what it likely means? I wish to submit a mild rant/lament/observation about the abuse of and change in use of words in the English language, as exemplified by this phrase.

As generations rise and fade into the next, new words are added into the lexicon of the language, and others fade from common use and knowledge. Others are redefined entirely. Since information and knowledge are best communicated over time through the written word, accuracy in word choices helps ensure that the author’s meaning can be known (postmodern language deconstructionists notwithstanding). So when words are redefined to a non-constructive purpose, they often lose their usefulness as meaning-carriers, and then must be scrutinized for what is really meant. Don’t get me wrong, context and authorial intent should always be important to charitable and honest individuals seeking to know the intended information being communicated by some writer; this is especially true the further removed in time a document is from the reader. Still, I feel a sense of loss when words change meaning with no enrichment to the language as a whole.

Using the first phrase above as an example, and taking the main words in reverse order, I’d like to explain further what I mean.2014-09-22 09.41.42

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity describes the re-defining of the word “gentleman,” and indeed was the one who originally got me thinking along these lines:

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?” They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

Consider also the word tolerant. Defined by dictionary.com as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own,” this seems quite at odds with the way it is most often used today. More often it is used as if it meant if you have an opinion, practice, race, religion, nationality, etc. that differs with someone else’s, you must not say or imply that they are wrong. You must “accept” their views (another misused and abused word, there), and if you don’t, it is immoral and unloving for you to express that. Oddly, this turns out to be a usage of the word (I’m referring to tolerance again now) that is exactly the opposite of its original meaning. Besides, those who use tolerance in this way are not being tolerant, under this new definition, of those they disagree with. No, tolerance is not about agreement, it is fundamentally about disagreement and how one is to treat those with whom he disagrees. Without a disagreement, there can be no tolerance, and no need for it.

In my use of the word awesomely, I am referring to the overuse of superlatives. These are words such as excellent, magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, outstanding, etc; all are useful words with specific meanings. But can you (or even I) define these words distinctly from each other without using a dictionary? As with gentleman above, they all seem to be used anymore to express that “I like this.” Similarly, negatives are often used in this way, such as starvingdying (“I’m dying of heat!” “But it’s only 80 degrees”), addicted (as, “addicted to chocolate”) and hate (as in “I hate gassing up my car”). It seems to me that the overuse of superlatives and other such strong language is to give extra emotional weight to the words of the speaker to his audience. The trouble is, if we use the word awesome to describe our positive feelings about a sandwich we just ate, and then use the same word to describe God, it has made the concept rather tepid, has it not? And if we in one breath say “I hate gassing up my car” and in the next say something like “God hates sin,” we reduce the impact of the concept of hate, and make it something like an arbitrary taste or preference. As for words like starving, dying, and addicted, cavalier use of these words make light of those people who are facing actual starvation, addiction, and death.

Finally, the poor word faith. If any word needs to be taken in to an abuse shelter, this one certainly should have a place there too. Biblically, this word means something like “a reasoned trust” or “believing in what you can’t see based on the evidence of what you do see.” Unhappily, it seems that when people use the word faith now, all to often (even in the church) it has extra implied and unspoken words along with it, such as “leap of…” and “blind…,” and this causes a great deal of confusion about what true biblical faith really amounts to. It is for that reason that I agree with Greg Koukl that it may be time for Christians to jettison the word faith when speaking of the biblical concept, and instead use the idea of earned trust, as this word more accurately carries the meaning originally intended.

In what way can we reliably communicate with others the specific meaning of the information in our heads? The written or spoken word is the first, best, and most accurate tool we have available.  If we water down all our language so that words have no clear meaning, or worse, may be used equivocally to mean one meaning and its opposite, we have done violence to our ability to convey meaningful propositions and interpret the written or spoken words of others.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? What other words have you come across that have been abused like these?

Photo by By imagerymajestic on freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by By imagerymajestic on freedigitalphotos.net

A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Longing, beyond” in which I expressed the feelings that were gnawing at me, and that I still come back to at times.  The insatiable desires within seem to point to something beyond ourselves, beyond the capability of this world to satisfy.

Not the least of these desires is justice, and mercy for my world and my family.  At my low points, I fight despair about the culture that my innocent kids are being raised into, seeming inevitable and irreversible downward moral slide of man.  Politics, economics, immorality.  I can’t very well barricade my family in to keep the bad world out.  Can I?  Should I?  I feel angry and impotent.  I am weary when I fall into bed, and I can stuff down the ache for a while, long enough to fall asleep.  In the morning, yes, I will feel better, but it is like a ratchet effect; “better” is only somewhat better.  It’s like a new low-tide level, higher than the last wave’s recession.

The original post ended with a lukewarm affirmation that I hold to Christianity, if for no other reason than, what other, better, path is there? John 6:67-68 “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'”

In the intervening time since I wrote this, I have thought and fought with this despair.  I believe that the problem, then, is twofold: an emotional (and surely understandable) response to injustices for which my short view cries out against, and an insufficient trust in God, who does have the long view, whose justice and mercy are perfect and in whom the longings inside me are fulfilled.

Proverbs 12:25  Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 13:12  Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 14:10  The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.

Proverbs 14:13  Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.

Proverbs 14:30  A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

Proverbs 15:4  A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 15:13  A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

Proverbs 15:14  The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

Proverbs 16:2  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.

Proverbs 18:14  A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Proverbs 28:1  The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.

“When the real want for I Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.  I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers.  I am speaking of the best possible ones.  There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality…”

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed  under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.’ ”  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.  And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”  C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Photo by  Gualberto107 on freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Gualberto107 on freedigitalphotos.net

 

Isaiah 53:5 –
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Does this last line refer to physical healing, or spiritual?

Could healing not occur before the stripes?  Yes, God healed in the old testament as well as during Jesus ministry prior to the crucifixion.

Is this intended as a promise to believers for an assurance of healing?  It does not seem to be the case – there are many Christians with physical ailments, and some of them die.  Indeed, since “old age” isn’t a legitimate medical cause of death, everyone (including those previously healed) who doesn’t die of violence will die of some physical ailment (rapture notwithstanding).

Taking the view that this is a healing promise from God is dangerous in that expectations are built up for disappointment and disillusionment if healing does not occur.  The false doctrine of the “health and wealth gospel” or “prosperity gospel” asserts that Christians should expect financial prosperity and physical health as guaranteed sign-on perks, and that if one does not possess them, then one’s faith is deficient.  This is a false view of the purposes of God; his objective is not to make us happy in this life, it is to perfect our character.  For most of us, luxury and comfort foster complacency and self-reliance; for some few others, wealth and health is properly used in selfless generosity.  When the clock runs smoothly, we often forget the clockmaker.  In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I will not deny that God can and does heal; I know of many cases where miraculous healing makes the best explanation.  But I think the context of the phrase in the verse, as well as the evidence of our Christian life experience seems to indicate that this is intended to mean the spiritual healing of a restored relationship with God through Christ’s sacrifice.

Why be moral?

I’ve been thinking over the years since I read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis about whether objective morality is possible without the existence of God.

The best answer I could come up in favor of morality without God as a standard was the Social Contract model, in which morals developed as part of an evolutionary …survival tool as societies formed for the protection of the masses.

The problems I have with that though is that it’s too arbitrary – whose society gets preference in a conflict? That is, how do you define a society? It could be a country, an ethnic group, a minority group, a family, or even perhaps an individual.

The other issue that follows from this is whether or not living with “positive” moral values is really in my best interests without an afterlife in which I must account for my actions. That is, if I think I can get away with it, why not lie, cheat, and steal to improve my own condition?

The attached link is a paper (not mine) which develops this argument.

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/clark_kelly_j/why_be_moral.pdf