In the following excerpt from The Problem of Pain, Uncle Jack (C.S. Lewis, for the uninitiated) plows a bit too close to my own fence, and I hope, yours as well:

Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. For about a hundred years we have so concentrated on one of the virtues—“kindness” or mercy—that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good or anything but cruelty to be really bad. Such lopsided ethical developments are not uncommon, and other ages too have had their pet virtues and curious insensibilities. And if one virtue must be cultivated at the expense of all the rest, none has a higher claim than mercy. . . . The real trouble is that “kindness” is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbour’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease.

Folks think I’m a nice guy, an impression I don’t try hard enough to discourage. Instead, I’m a counterfeit, a fake.

“What’s wrong with being thought of as nice?” you may well ask.

“Nothing,” I may well answer, if I weren’t a Christ-follower. You see, anyone can be nice with the proper motivation; maybe she’s singularly gorgeous, he holds your promotion in his clammy hands, they’re well-connected, or you just want to be liked. Under such circumstances your niceness is for your own sake.

Uncle Jack pointed out a painful truth, “… though in fact he has (or I have) never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.” Here’s a personal example: I know a sister in the Lord who possesses both inner and outer beauty. I used to help her with the yard work on her large, corner lot. My motivation was both selfless and selfish, er, mostly selfish, as I wanted to be close to her and make brownie-points. Was I kind? Or was I simply cunning?

Apostle John, in his first letter to his children in the faith, said a lot about godly love.
1Jn 2:15-16 NASB
(15) Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
(16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

While that is all truth, allow me to focus on, “the boastful pride of life.” When I actively seek to be liked, I indulge in that sort of pride; I think I’m a nice guy and want others to think of me in the same way. That has nothing to do with love of my Father God or any of His children, and is instead, worldly. For a Christ-follower, that is a solid no-no.

Some may feel that I am overthinking this issue, but if my concern brings me closer to embracing godly attitudes I’ll overthink everything I read in the Scriptures.

C.S. Lewis on Kindness

The Good Samaritan

Uncle Jack frequently took an “out of the box” position on issues of common consent within the Christian community. One such issue was kindness. He wrote in The Problem of Pain:

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly”, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.

Ouch. Lewis differentiates between active and passive kindness. Leaving others alone is not kindness, even though you do them no harm. Conversely, neither is inserting yourself in others’ business a kindness, even for the most benevolent purpose, unless, that is, you are invited. Jesus is the prime example of that sort of wisdom, illustrated in Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. That was the Lord’s offer to the Laodicean church, after he said they were lukewarm and about to be vomited out of his mouth.

To be redemptive people, we must follow Jesus’ example; he showed kindness to “sinners,” but was aggressive toward the self-righteous. He healed lepers, but told the lawyers they were like whitewashed tombs, full of corruption. And most of all, he showed kindness to us, carrying our sin-guilt to the cross so we could live eternally.

C.S. Lewis on The Worst Kind of Sin

Uncle Jack must have been a carpenter, as he continually “hits the nail squarely on the head.” From Mere Christianity:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

I’m afraid Uncle Jack was a smidge off hitting this particular nail squarely. The generalization with which he opened this excerpt is wrong; most Christians do regard unchastity as the supreme vice, completely missing the the attitudinal sins Lewis mentions later on. Even if you’re reborn into a new person by faith in Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, you still have to deal with the sin-habit you’ve developed over the years before you came to faith.

When we’re first saved we all marvel at the sensation that freedom from sin-guilt gives us. But just as all changes become mundane after a while, we begin taking the freedom that Jesus so dearly bought for granted. The sensation fades, as does our revulsion to sin, and   (name your poison)   doesn’t seem so bad after all.

I love Lewis’ categories of sin: Animal, and Diabolical. Or, maybe I should say I hate them, as I recognize their icky feelers trying to creep into my life. All that stands in the way of those embryonic buggers is God’s Holy Spirit working through his Word and prayer; no Word, no prayer, no protection.

Any sin, regardless how slight, if unconfessed, will open the door for those buggers. And diabolical sins of attitude are the worst because they’re almost invisible.

Do you think you’re free from attitudinal sin? That’s the primary symptom of having a bad case of them. Think of homeowners; termites are never a problem until the homeowners get their house inspected by the pros. Attitudinal sin is even more destructive than termites, and God’s Holy Spirit is the Pro you need to consult for finding those diabolical, soul-chewing sin-buggers.

If you’re not read-up and prayed-up, you’ll soon become fed-up with your lackluster Christian walk. You may hang onto “a form of godliness,” but your profession will be a lie.

Don’t be a moron … an oxymoron, that is.

I’m an official Old Guy. And speaking of “morons,” according to a young feller of somewhat questionable character whom I happened upon in my neighborhood the other day, I’m only a Fat Old Man who has nothing of relevance to say to him. Of course he didn’t use the word relevance during his tiring tirade. Not being one to make snap judgments, I only suspect he couldn’t define relevance on a bet.

Oh, he didn’t hurt my feelings, any more than a rattlesnake shaking his tail at me would. But he made a valid observation.

As a card-carrying Old Guy (the trusty, AARP card), I no longer suffer the world-shaking, hormone-stimulated temptations I once did. Don’t get me wrong; they’re still here, making me miserable at times, but the extreme, young-buck-urgency has passed. So another compulsion has replaced it: That being the pressing need to preach chastity at today’s young bucks. No, I wasn’t very good at chastity, but I can surely try and guilt-trip these terrible, sinful, whoremongers.

But I won’t. I had enough of that for an entire generation of young men, courtesy of my Catholic upbringing.

The good news is, I survived, more-or-less sane, though damaged for life. Now, that’s my only excuse for being the messed-up seeker I am today, so don’t knock it!

More Good News!

Turns out I never had to worry too much about Jesus shuttling me off to perdition for an impure thought or two. He’s good that way; it’s called, Grace. And He made infinite portions of it available at the foot of the cross where He died.

“Why,” you ask, “would any self-respecting God demean Himself to be born into a working-class family, only to ultimately be vilified, purjured, slandered, tortured, humiliated, and murdered in the worst way the Romans could invent?”

You didn’t ask that? Well you should. The bulk of Christendom can’t answer that essential question with the authority of one who has experienced God’s Amazing Grace. Jesus’ cross is where I found it, and so can you.

The World Taxi Company

When Jesus’ disciples asked how to get to the Father, He told them, and us, that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Sounds simple enough.

Trouble is, while we’re stuck in the world, finding the one, true way among all the distractions, detours and delays can be a problem. So most of us call on the World Taxi Company to take us where we want to go, but the taxi fare to that glorious place can be awfully expensive: Broken relationships. Guilt feelings. Trust issues. And for Catholics, fear of dying in our sins. That stuff can mess with even a sound mind. Imagine what it did to mine.

Unfortunately, the taxi driver(Name’s Beelzebub, or something foreign like that) won’t be stiffed. That old demon must’ve had a difficult childhood, ‘cause he’ll lie, cheat, steal, and murder to keep you away from that Old Rugged Cross. Thing is, despite his slick demeanor, he despises that cross with a red hot, grinding ferocity. And he despises you nearly as much, though you wouldn’t know it from that comely grin he keeps flashing in the rear-view mirror.

I hate to press such an ugly topic, but I gotta warn you about his favorite detours. They seem like world-class destinations, to hear him tell it.

The Scenic Route
Here’s the itinerary he planned for me. The particulars may vary somewhat for you, but you’ll get the idea.

First Stop: Religion. My family was Catholic, so a Catholic rearing was in store for me. And not just any Catholic rearing. I’m talking the parochial school, seriously guilt-tripped Catholic rearing. By the time I was confirmed, I knew I was all washed up, and not the clean kind of washed up. If I didn’t make Saturday-evening confession I couldn’t take communion(Holy Eucharist, for today’s Catholics) Sunday morning, which would tell everyone that I was a nasty, nasty boy. I actually thought I was unique in my urges, and my feeble, messy attempts at assuaging them.

I knew I was in deeper than I could ever swim out. That’s because I knew I was a condemned hypocrite … just as condemned as those Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus cursed. And the Sacrament of Penance, instead of restoring my relationship with God, served only to deepen my depravity, because at some elemental level I knew I was trying to use the Church to manipulate God. Let’s see, I know there’s a Bible verse about messing with God … Oh yeah. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us, Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Guess I didn’t have the strength of will to play the sanctimonious, Catholic Game. So I gave up for a few years, until I met Christ for real, which is another story, and the best one of all in my life.

Second Stop: Possessions. Since I could never be accused of possessing significant wealth, I had to worship them on a more modest scale. Still, I put nearly as much effort into manipulating my stuff as I did at trying to manipulate God. After all, it made a truly convenient idol, with the added benefit of its being all mine … and the bank’s.

My success rate wasn’t improving. Neither was my temperament. Instead of owning my stuff, it owned me, and stuff can be a demanding master.

Third Stop: Power. Yes, Possessions and Power are Money’s paternal twins, but I listed them separately for clarity. Personally, I didn’t have Power’s steep admission fee. Not by a long shot. But lusted after it just the same. Even worse, I hated those who wielded power over me.

The problem with Power is, it can make all the other stops deeper, longer, and even more muddy. I’m talking quicksand muddy. One of mankind’s most predictable desperations is the panic to maintain power once it is attained. Digging into any state or national government, or even corporate, religious, or nonprofit organizations, will reveal more entrenched worms than a bait store.

And entrenchment isn’t half the problem. Add to that the abuse of power and things get ugly fast. Yet, true to the Human Condition(spelled s-i-n), even revolutionaries bent on reforming government soon fall into that same quicksand.

Fourth Stop: For the benefit of those who are a bit queasy about the “S” word, I’ll euphemise it to, “Biological Urges.” To clarify it even further, I’m referring to the three-letter “S” word. That infernal taxi driver had lots of help at this stop; my youthful hormones made me a most willing tourist.

Don’t get me wrong; these specific “Biological Urges” are perfectly natural. In fact, they are God’s gift to His creation as long as sating them doesn’t become mankind’s first priority. Or second, or third, etc. And because God had His most special plans in mind for us, He told us to satisfy those “Biological Urges” only within the context of marriage. What a God we have, to make a such a laborious process so much fun. And He didn’t have to.

As my devilish driver was showing me this appealing world system, however, he neglected to mention the last two planned stops.

Fifth Stop: Judgment. As Jesus explained His plan to those gathered around him, He described His final court date, as related in Matthew 25:31-45: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

No way do I intend to stand before the righteous Judge on His left. Have you ever noticed how, when you stand before someone, if you want to be on his right, you must move to your left? His right is your left, and his left is your right. Why do I belabor this obvious fact? Because, as with directional right and left, moral right and wrong are most easily confused. Often, what seems right and expedient at the moment is exactly wrong from God’s perspective.

Sixth Step: Perdition. As with all righteous judges, Jesus hates to sentence even the worst of offenders to their just deserts. He said as much, as recorded in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world–that’s you, me, and everyone who has ever inhabited Planet Earth–that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” I’m very much afraid that well-known Bible passage has lost much of its meaning to God’s church. And I doubt I can correct that tragedy within these lines, as better writers and smarter brethren than I have penned volumes trying to bring the message home to the church.

So, speaking of those who rejected Jesus’ offer of reconciliation with the Father, Judge Jesus continued His pronouncement: Matthew 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Sinning Saints
Back to the above referenced Oxymoron.

But first, a message from our dictionary:

Noun: oxymoron
1: Conjoining contradictory terms (as in ‘deafening silence’)

Get the picture? It’s like … well … sinning saints. You and I can’t be one and the other at the same time.

Endless non-oxy-morons–the alleged, human variety–cheerfully preach and teach that Christ-followers must  necessarily continue sinning, even after their sin-nature died on Christ’s cross. Worse, they actually seem to believe their garbage. To say it is unscriptural is an understatement of galactic proportions. In fact, the Bible says the exact opposite. I could list many Scripture passages to support my allegation, but I won’t bother, as this debate has raged within Christendom for centuries.

Besides being unscriptural, teachings that encourage Christ-followers to continue their worldly lifestyles violate my knowledge of who God is. For instance, all orthodox Christian sects accept the fact that believers are in Christ, as part of God. What logic would suggest that chronic sinners, and their sin, could ever be part of the holy God? “Holy” simply means “separated unto” God. If I enjoy the occasional tidbit of gossip or immerse my mind in porn, how am I separated unto God? To do that makes me an oxy-moron, with the emphasis on moron.

If the possibility that your ongoing sin–secret, or otherwise–might bring a reproach on your loving Savior doesn’t matter as much to you as doing your own, sinful, thing, I urge you to reexamine the faith you profess. When we “follow” Christ more to cop a plea into heaven, than to impact our world for Him, we are indeed morons, oxy, or otherwise.