Addressing the subject of the crucifixion can be difficult for a pastor. It is such a gory ordeal that speakers either just gloss over it so as not to offend or delve into each of the gruesome, ghastly details to tear at the emotions. Even those who do not attend church are familiar with the whole horrible process through movies such as The Passion of the Christ.
In March, 1998, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in Israel on a study tour. I recall one place we visited had a facsimile of the cross of Christ between two other crosses as described in the gospel accounts. What surprised (and confused) me was their height, or lack of it. The crosses were relatively short. Someone nailed to one of them would only be a few inches off the ground, not the 10-12 feet pictured in my children’s Bible.
As I thought about it, it dawned on me that just as someone can drown in an inch of water, so they can die crucified an inch off the ground. But the thought that really captured my attention was that I would be almost face-to-face with someone nailed to a cross at that height. I suddenly had a different understanding of Mark 15:27-30,
“And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’” Continue reading
You ever know someone who was not well, or at least did not look well, but would not see a doctor? Their symptoms are evident to everyone, and sometimes they have deeper symptoms you can’t see. And yet, when you ask them if they’ve been to a doctor, or suggest seeing a doctor, they dismiss it with an “I’ll be fine.”
Such a response is frustrating and unsettling. Clearly there is something wrong. And if the individual is someone close to you, it can be heartbreaking. You know that if they would just go see a doctor and get a diagnosis, the condition could be treated, if not cured. But there they sit, getting sicker and sicker, until it’s too late.
In his book the Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis has a chapter entitled “Human Wickedness.” As one might expect, it’s a chapter on the doctrine of sin. Lewis opens the chapter by stating the obvious; it is remarkably difficult to get someone to see or acknowledge their sinful state. He observes it wasn’t always this way. He writes, Continue reading
It remains one of the strangest moments in the history of the Catholic Church and it happened to its greatest theologian. One authority describes it this way,
“On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273, Aquinas] was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the Summa Theologiae unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, ‘The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’ When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, ‘I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.’”1
Three months later Thomas Aquinas died while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons. Continue reading
If going to church services has been part of your upbringing, you’ve no doubt experienced a wide range of the ways people pray. Some people pray loudly, others softly; some stand up and others sit or kneel; some have their hands folded while others wave their hands in the air.
I’ve been with people who cried while they prayed and others who, yes, actually laughed. I’ve smiled when someone was confused and prayed for a wife when it was the husband who had the need. And I’ve been with children who prayed for a sick pet. Continue reading
It can be an unsettling passage. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman . . . so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7). I’ve seen the bumper sticker that reads “Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.” It turns out prayer is equally fragile.
I don’t profess to understand all this passage means; how much ununderstanding can I get away with without gumming up all things vertical? Certainly differing over what we have for supper or what we watch on television is not the same as where we invest our life savings. Or is it? Continue reading
Among the many remarks made famous by C. S. Lewis, one of the most famous is what became known as his “Lord-Liar-Lunatic” argument. It goes like this,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”1
His reasoning has been evaluated, scrutinized, praised, and criticized.2
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that Lewis made another three-point argument earlier in life.
In his book The Problem of Pain, Lewis harkens back to his days as an atheist. He testifies that one of the reasons behind his atheism was the condition of the world. There was so much evil in the world he wondered how anyone could believe in a good and benevolent God. He writes,
“If you ask me to believe that this is the work of the benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.”3
But Lewis follows this observation with another point. It was this point that undermined the other three. He writes,
“There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists’ case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.”4
Though Lewis is well known for his “Lord-Liar-Lunatic” argument, he should also get some credit for coming up with the “None-Numb-Nasty-Never Thought of That” argument as well.
“How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!” – Psalm 92:5.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952), 55-56.
- For a summary, see http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2016/02/01/is-c-s-lewiss-liar-lord-or-lunatic-argument-unsound/
- C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HaperCollinsPublishers, 1996), 3.
- Ibid., 3-4.
It’s a phrase we’ve all either used or heard. We talk of having “skin in the game.” The term can be used in almost any context. The meaning is simple enough. This time the problem is personal. This one is hurting me.
It’s remarkable how different people are when they have skin in the game. They can be sympathetic when you lose your job, but they’re depressed when they lose theirs. They can put a hand on your shoulder when your kid is in jail, but their hands tremble when it’s their own. They know just the right thing to say when expressing their condolences, but they are numb when you express yours.
In his book A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis bares his soul on the sorrow and torment experienced at the loss of his wife. It is not an easy book to read. It was not an easy book to write. Continue reading
The argument goes something like this. Humans are inherently good. Therefore it is unjust for bad things to happen to them. Why doesn’t God do something?
But the bad things being done—the bullying, ridiculing, greed, and child abuse—are being done by humans. What is God supposed to do?
We don’t have two kinds of humans. The Hellish and the Heavenly. God can either wipe out all of us or He can remove our ability to choose. Either one will work. As one author observes, “They might as well say that since we are so good, God shouldn’t allow us to be so bad.”1 Continue reading
People come to faith through seemingly numberless avenues. Many come as children. They grew up in a home where matters of faith made sense. They still had to make the belief their own, but it was a natural development.
Others believe as children in spite of their home. What they saw going on between their parents was enough to make them look for something else. Something better.
Others come as a result of their own suffering while still others come as a result of the suffering of others. They are impressed by the calm and confidence and want to know more. Continue reading
It’s not as well known a hymn as “Amazing Grace.” I did not grow up singing it. But somewhere along the way someone suggested we sing “I Am His, And He Is Mine.” The words and music were both written in 1876. The second stanza caught my attention:
Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.1
As I thought about what we were singing, it dawned on me that everything — everything — was evidence of God. Suddenly all the arguments for the “evidence of God” became little more than a matter of simple faith. One person believes it. One doesn’t. One person sees Him. One person doesn’t. Continue reading