Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Inner Ring

This was the perfect piece of writing to end the class with. Lewis discusses inner rings- the second or unwritten systems that exist within societies. I'm sure many of us had visions back to middle or high school, because that's where we tend to witness the inner rings-the cliques, the clubs, and the exclusive groups. We all have wanted at one point or another, and might still want, to be a part of something...to belong. Lewis gives advice to students about these rings.

We are never formally admitted into rings by anyone, but we all know they exist and that we are either on the outside or inside of them. "One of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside." This statement is so true. Who didn't want to be a part of the cheerleading squad or the football team in high school? I hated cheerleading, and disliked most of the girls on the team, but I longed to be a part of their exclusive group. They were popular! Everyone loved them! Of course I wanted to be envied like they were. Lewis describes it like this..."A terrible bore...ah, but how much more terrible fi you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your saturday afternoons: but to have them free becuase you don't matter, that is much worse." It's better to be a part of something you hate than to be alone, right? This is how the rings make us think; what would be the point of a club if no one was denied?

So we do all that we can to be accepted into a ring. 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, says Lewis. How many times have we dressed a certain way, spoke in a certain slang, or bought items to make us fit in? This desire to fit in can make us do crazy things. However, as long as we are governed by this desire we will never actually get what we 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." If I had pursued the cheerleading squad, my pleasure would have been very short lived. That's because I wanted to joing simply to be popular, not because I enjoyed the sport. Also, a desire to be a part of the ring is fun in itself. We like to want what we can't have, and once we are given what we want it's lost all it's magic.

"The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." Once we stop looking for rings to join, we will be unaware of the ring we are in. We will become unaware to a real inside that we are in, that we are snug and safe in something that would like like a ring from the outside. However, the secrecy is accidental and people are not inside it by some lure of the esoteric. It is instead a few people who like the same things, like each other, and are genuinely interested in hearing one another's thoughts- not what other people are thinking on the outside.

This is all easier said than done. It's simple to say that we shouldn't look for groups that will make us popular, but it's what we all do. This isn't just describing what life was like a few years ago before college, it still pertains to us...and it will not stop. Even in the workplace we'll want to fit in with colleagues, but we must work to overcome our desire for the ring. We were all created with a purpose, with different gifts, and we have a lot to offer the world...but we won't be able to use our talents if we are wasting time searching for popularity. I pray for ears that hear God's will for me and eyes to see the people around me who love me for me. God will always accept us, and never reject us- I've never heard of a clique with that kind of generosity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Human Pain

This is one of my favorite readings. As college students, I would guess that many of us have parents who are getting old, fast. (or grandparents) It can be hard to watch people grow into such suffering states, but this chapter really helped me to understand why we experience pain, both physical and mental.

Pain is inevitable in a fallen world, and that is because we cause it-not God. With the freedom we are created with comes the choice to do good or bad; unfortunetly many of us decide to partake in evil. "It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs..." Although much suffering comes from men God gives torture too, but why would a loving God allow us to experience pain? If all is well with us, we would have very little reason to surrender to God. Many of us use God like a parachute- only in cases of emergencies. When everything is going according to our own plans, we have very little use for God. He uses pain to show that not everything is well on earth; it is His megaphone rousing the deaf world.

It is hard to think of God allowing bad to happen, because we often associate bad things with bad people. We cannot think this way though. Even the most wonderful people feel pain. Sometimes we don't even notice we are suffering, so God needs to awaken us from our sinful slumber. Pain shatters our illusions that what we have is our own and is enough to satisfy us. "God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full- there's nowhere for Him to put it." He wants us to have all the pleasures in the world, but we deny Him. We cannot live in peace if we are too busy distracting ourselves with earthly things. God takes away our sources of temporary happiness in order to give us an eternity of joy.

I really enjoyed listening to Peter Kreeft in class, and one of the things he said that stayed with me is that so many of us want a grandfather in Heaven, not a father. We picture God as this friendly old man who lets us do whatever we want in order to be happy, but that is not the case. It's not that God doesn't want us to be happy, it's quite the opposite. God wants us to be so happy that He takes away the parts of our lives that are hindering His plans for our joy. When we lose ourselves we can then finally find ourselves. Only through the work of God can that happen, and it sometimes involves the use of pain.

This chapter contains another great analogy. We often behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over-we shake ourselves clean only to run toward the nearest mud pile. We are so quick to fall back into sinful ways even after confessing our shamefulness to the Lord. "And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless."

We must remember that even in our suffering we must glorify God. He puts us in situations for reasons only He knows, so we cannot be quick to curse God. Insted of focusing on the pain we are in, we should be thankful for the joys that are ahead of us. God allows suffering, but He allows us to enjoy great splendors as well. It is only out of love that God uses pain as a way to restore us, and many of us forget that. I pray that I can have eyes that look beyond my pain and toward the redeeming work of the Lord. If I am in pain, there is probably something God wants to fix in my life or something He wants to reveal to me. How wonderful it is that we can rejoice even in our sufferings!

The Fall & Redemption (Plantinga)

I don't remember ever talking about the fall chapter in class, so I think that is why I never blogged on it. That is why I'm adding it to the chapter on redemption.
Creation declares the glory of God, but it also declares the tragedy of fallenness, of chaos, of painful carnivorousness. Although there is so much beauty in the world there is also a lot of corruption; that is the result of the fall. Human life is not the way it is supposed to be, because we choose to live against God, our neighbors, even ourselves. Life has been like this ever since Adam & Eve ate that apple in the garden...
We have chosen to live against our ultimate good, the paradise God offered us, and now "evil lies close at hand." Evil is what is wrong with the world, and it is when we deviate from God. Anything that spoils shalom is evil; it is not shocking that God hates evil. Our sinful acts interfere with how things are meant to be, how God created us to live.
Original sin refers to the tendencies of the whole human race to be pulled into sin. We make wrong uses of God's gifts, we pollute relationships, make false gods , and we often don't even know we are doing wrong. We start with small sins such as lying, and suddenly we cannot tell which are the lies and which are the truths in our life.
So who is to blame for all of our wicked ways? Many think that all evil comes from Satan, but he cannot wreck the lives of those who are faithfully clung to Jesus Christ. Satan only decieves those who are already self-deceived. If we are not in continuous prayer with God we will not be strong enough to combat the Devil. Only with the Holy Spirit in us can we be firm in our beliefs and not be deceived by evil. "The problem is that we humans put our faith in nature or in ourselves instead of in God."
But there is hope!
Human misery does not last forever, for the grace of God grants mercy to the undeserving. As much as God hates sin, he loves to forgive us! We may leave His side but He never loses sight of us, and He never will. We can be free from our sins when we follow the ten commandments. It is not a set of rules humans have to fulfill to be rescued by God but it is besause we are saved we follow them. It seems strange to think we get freedom by obeying rules, but godly obedience liberates us. By following God's will, we are free from sin and corruption; we get to live the life that was meant for us.
Through baptism we become "in Christ" but that is only the start of a lifelong conversion process. We do not automatically receive the golden ticket into Heaven by attending on church service; we must be patient and let God work in us. "We are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them." By living a "good life" we are not necessarily living a holy life, pleasing to God. According to Lewis, we must act like children dressing in our parents' clothes. It's not an act of pretending, but an act of prepartion: we are to prepare to clothe ourselves in Christ. By expressing the image of God we are restoring shalom. Just as we are changed when we are "born again" we must also change the world around us. Everything needs restoring. The whole world belongs to God, so we cannot restore ourselves without reforming all of creation.
Many of us have said Plantinga is not inspiring, but we have to look at the messages he is trying to reveal to us. We are fallen beings; we are born into sinful lives. It is a tragedy, but it has a happy ending. By faith in God and living according to His plan, we are redeemed. There is hope for us all! No matter how many times we sin against God, He never leaves our side. He is always eager to restore us, to give us a second chance. What a wonderful Savior we have!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Man or Rabbit

I really enjoyed this essay! Lewis uses such genius analogies, and this piece contains some of my favorites. They make understanding his points so much easier.

"Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" Lewis starts by asking this question, and his answer is basically no. If you are asking this question, you have most likely heard of Christianity and thus are rejecting God on dishonest terms. What it really means is that you do not want to know whether it is true or false but just if you should bother with Christianity or if being good is fine enough. Lewis says this person is like the man who won't look at his bank account because he's afraid of what he'll see or the man who refuses to see a doctor for the pain he's feeling because the doctor may reveal some terrible answers. Some of us are so afraid to really dive into Christianity and study it, because we know it will uncover truths in our lives that we aren't ready to face.

"You may not be certain yet whether or not you ought to be a Christian, but you do know you ought to be a man, not an ostrich hiding its head in the sand." This analogy is wonderful. So many of us choose to hide under the sand of our lies because we know we are only lying to ourselves; we refuse to acknowledge the truth and end up living in denial.

I will not doubt that there are honest, moral, just people out there who are not Christians. They may lead "good" lives, but that is only good according to their definitions. Nonetheless, the question of living a good life is not really the question. If people knew what life was truly about, they would know that "a decent life is mere machinery compared with the things we men are really made for." The divine life is not indispensable like morality is; living a good life does not allow you to be re-made. As Christians we are given the chance for the rabbit in us to disappear. The cowardly, sensual, ethical, intellectual parts of us will go away, only for us to find something we have never yet imagined: "a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."
This goes back to our discussion of the difference between happiness and joy. We can live decent lives, filled with happiness, but we do not experience joy without the love of God. The point of our existence is not to live a 'good life' but to live a life that pleases God and follows His plans for us.

As far as our discussion in class today goes, I just want to confess that I am struggling with becoming jaded and cynical. I did not grow up in a Christian home, and my friends were not Christians. Scripture and doctrine were not embedded in me throughout all of my education, yet God still showed His face to me. It has been hard for me to come in from the outside and listen to so many Christians who are very judgmental.
I do not think we can judge those who do not live in places like West Michigan where most of the population is Dutch and Reformed. It is very hard for me to believe that God would not make His existence known to every man. Lewis discusses an honest error of simply living a good life due to not ever knowing God; I am not sure if that is possible. Salvation is a mystery, and who are to try to pinpoint it down to a science? Just because we see people who may be "evil" in our eyes doesn't mean that God isn't using them somehow, and just because someone was immersed in a different culture doesn't mean they won't find their way to Christianity.

The Abolition of Man

This was again one of the more difficult readings for me, and it is hard for me to form a deep opinion on something I have not fully comprehended yet. (It may not have helped that since it was hard for me to understand, I ended up skimming most of it...) Nonetheless, I think this piece displays Lewis's intellect and his passion for truth. He discusses the idea of the Natural Law and in what sense us humans have power over nature.

I like the second paragraph where he uses three examples to describe men trying to control nature: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a way, we excercise our power by flying when we are not naturally equipped to fly, to access the entire world wide web anywhere and anytime, and deciding when to have a child and when not to on our own terms. However, by using our power we become either the subject or the possessor of the power. By flying we may be exposed to bombs, and by surfing the web we are exposed to ads and spam messages. "What we call Man's power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by." This "power" is obtained not by man only but with nature as the instrument.

I really enjoyed this quote: "Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger." This statement is so true, because any power we create on our own will never truly give us power. God has control over all, and when we try to establish control over someone or something withouth Him guiding us, it will inevitably fail. The moral code is written on our hearts, so anything that goes against that may bring us temporary strength but it will only make us weak in the long run.

"It is the magician's bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls." I think many of us try to have it both ways: we try to follow the natural law and we also try to act like mere nature and follow our own impulses. However, Lewis says this is impossible, and I agree. We cannot try to exert our own power in earthly matters while also claiming that God is all powerful.

During the discussion in class I just kept thinking of Karl Marx and his theory on how we are all living in a constant power struggle between the class systems. We all have this innate understanding of right and wrong, but it seems that the elite no longer believe in an objective truth. We are not striving to know the truth but instead what is 'right' or 'wrong' according to our own ideals. Thus, when something is not right to us we try to exert power over it and manipulate something to fit into our idea of right. The people with the most resources have the most power over people so the elite end up in power over others teaching a 'truth' that does not correlate with the truth written on our hearts.

Although we are created with a sense of what is right and what is wrong, we do not follow it due to the fall. Thus, we cannot only have knowledge of the truth, we must pair it with a desire to follow the truth. We have to want to do right, because the law often gets hidden and if we don't have a desire for it we aren't willing to dig it out again.

I'm not sure how correct my interpretations of this chapter are, but I tried to understand the best I could. Basically we have this objective moral code that transcends time and culture but struggle to obey it. Without God by our sides, we will continue to struggle with right and wrong because we are tainted by sin.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Four Loves: Eros

I am a visual learner, so today about drove me crazy! I apologize to you Adrianna and Paulo, but I found it very hard to follow Lewis when he was speaking on the recording. Maybe if he was reading exactly the words from the chapter, and I could read as he spoke, then I would have gotten more out of it. Nonetheless, I was able to follow his ideas when I was reading it alone. It amazes me that Lewis can write profoundly on a topic such as the Law of Human Nature and do the same on the topic of love and sexuality.

By eros Lewis means the state of 'being in love.' It is the appreciative part of love, compared to the animal element venus. Venus is the need-pleasure of love. Without eros, sexual desire wants the thing in itself; it doesn't want the woman, it just so happens that pleasure comes from the woman. On the contrary, eros wants the beloved, the woman, not just any woman.

Without eros, sexual desire is a fact about ourselves. The opposite is true with eros; sexual desire becomes about the beloved, it includes the other person involved. That is why with eros pleasure is a by-product. We do not seek sexual pleasure when we are in love, it just happens to come along with the whole package.

I really like when Lewis talks about the need for laughter, and how we cannot be completely serious about venus. 'Banish play and laughter from the bed of love and you may let in a false goddess." "Sensible lovers laugh." "It is a bad thing not to joke, worse, not to take a divine joke. Lewis even goes on to suggest lovers act in baffoonery. Only love that is short-lived doesn't include comedy, play, and even buffoonery.

One of the statements I liked best from this chapter is when Lewis uses a carton of cigarettes to describe how men seek pleasure. A man does not want a cigarette; he wants the pleasure that he obtains from a cigarette. If the pleasure come through some other medium, then he would desire that item instead. Lewis also mentions that men do not keep the carton after the cigarettes are gone. This is how many of us treat the opposite sex. Men seek the pleasure that comes from intercourse, so they engage in sex with many women, but afterwards the women are thrown out. They constantly want to be fulfilled but they need more and more to fill that longing. It goes back to this longing that we have for our Lord. Only He can satisfy us, but we are too busy looking for earthly ways to fill our voids. Sex is just another commodity these days, sold all over the media, so it is not shocking that sex is taken so lightly. So many of us are after venus when we should be after eros. I know that we all have this animal instinct in us, but we must learn to supress it. We can only do that with the help of God, and the help he brings us in other believers. I do not think we can use will power alone to combat lust and impurity, but we need it paired with guidance from our Lord. I pray for the courage to confess to God when I am weak in my desires and the strength to get back up when I am beaten down with my sins.

Is There Sex in Heaven?

This piece of writing was discussed over dinner at the Ribeiro's home Saturday, but I did not attend that day. I was disappointed to see that no one commented on this, because it was a very interesting article.

Peter Kreeft gives seven reasons why the question of sex in Heaven is a good question, and it is mainly because they are both two great mysteries. Sex and Heaven are both things we desire, but we know very little about them. (This surprised me, because how much is there to know about sex?). Additionally, Kreeft thinks we ought to question both, since sex and Heaven are both taboo topics. We often think sex is an inappropriate, "dirty" topic, and Heaven is the opposite-it is too religious to talk about. What I really liked was when Kreeft said that we should never stop answering childish questions, and he gives an example of his daughter inquiring about her cat going to Heaven. I have found that children often ask more profound questions than adults; we should never ignore a question simply because the person asking is a minor. Another example of a silly question that is worth pondering is "did Adam and Eve fart before the fall?" I definitely laughed out loud after reading that.

Like I said earlier, I do not think there is much to know about sex. However, Kreeft says that we actually do not think about sex at all. "Dreaming, fantasizing, feeling, experimenting-yes. But honest, look-it-in-the-face thinking?--hardly ever. There is no subject int he world about which there is more heat and less light." I never thought about sex this way! It's so true; we partake in the action frequently but we do not actually think about the act itself ever. Another funny point is that we apparently don't think about it nor do we know how to do it. "It is when everyone's pipes are leaking that people buy books on plumbing." There are hundred of how-to books on the subject, so clearly we do not know much about it.

One principle Kreeft states is that sex is something you are, not something you do. The example of a nun having a sexual life was an unusual one, but it worked. Nuns cannot have sexual intercourse, but they are still indeed women. Their sex is a part of them just like age, race, and sense of humor. What Kreeft means is that we have triviliazed sex into a thing we do instead of a quality of our inner being. Sex is now a thing of external feelings rather than internal ones. If this principle is true, that sexuality is of our inner essence, then there is sex in Heaven. (This however does not mean that we will 'have' sex or if we will have sexually distinct social roles.)

A contrary principle is that sex is spiritual. "Sex is between the ears before it's between the legs" Kreeft suggests that we have sexual souls. This means that sex is not socially conditioned or environmental. It is instead hereditary; biological sexuality is innate, natural, and pervasive to every cell in the body.

"God is a sexual being, the most sexual of all beings." This should not be surprising, because if God is fully love, kindness, joy, and every thing that is good, why would He not be fully sexual? He created sex, so it is indeed good. Kreeft suggests that God is a sexual being because the triune relationship is a sexual one. I am not sure I fully understand how the trinity is a sexual...

So if there is sex in Heaven, what will be it's purpose? It will not be for baby-making or for marriage, so there must be another function. Intercourse on earth is a shadow of intercourse in Heaven, but what does that mean? This is where I get a little confused. Kreeft speculates that monogamy is for earth, not Heaven. On earth our bodies are private, but they are not in Heaven- we share each other's everything with no shame. "Promiscuity of spirit is a virtue." Since we have bodies on earth, and Jesus was ra,ised in the body, it is safe to assume we will have bodies in Heaven. Thus, we could speculate that there will be physical sexual intercourse in Heaven. Howver, Kreeft suggests that maybe if there's no intercourse in Heaven it's because there's something better to do. We cannot compare earthly sex with Heavenly sex since none of us have experienced the latter (yet?).

I found this to be very entertaining, but I'm not sold on all his ideas. I find it hard to believe we will have promiscuous sex in Heaven, and to be honest I am not sure if we will have physical sexual intercourse after we die. It seems that there would be much better, great, more fulfilling acts to experience in Heaven. If God is neither male nor female, how is the trinity a sexual relationship? If we will be neither male nor female in Heaven, how would we partake in sexual acts? I would be curious to read other pieces about this subject, since this is the first I have ever seen. A good read nonetheless.