Ouch!

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.

Screwtape on Confusing The Churchgoer

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do—if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’ You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

From The Screwtape Letters

 What more can I say? Perhaps this: Complacency is conceit’s first cousin. If I’m satisfied with my present spiritual condition, it follows that I think myself good enough to satisfy God. But perhaps I haven’t been taught the gospel properly. If that is true, my teachers will be judged more harshly than I. Nevertheless, with such an attitude as mine, God will judge me for my vain pride, and that judgment will not be enviable.

I can’t thank my Savior enough for allowing me to begin that scenario with an “If.” I have countless areas in my life where I need to grow more like Jesus, but at least I have a handle on that—at the moment, anyway.

Eye Test, or I Test?

Aren’t I Gorgeous!

So, would you prefer the “Eye” test, or the “I” test? But that’s a trick question; you’re scheduled for both. Don’t worry, though, if you fail it only hurts for eternity. I’ll give you a crib-sheet for both exams, and don’t worry about that; they’re both open-Book tests.

So here’s the complete skinny, the straight dope, the inside story:

First, the “Eye” test, and it starts in front of a mirror. What do you see? Is that mirror-image God’s gift to the human race, as in the photo above? Or do you see all the faults, both big and little? (Hint: Both extremes fail this question.)

Next, we move to the man/woman on the street portion. How do you see the people around you? Are you glad you’re not them? Or do you wish you were them? Do you feel satisfaction when they look to you with appreciation? Or do you wish you could hide? (Hint: Both extremes fail this question, too.)

Finally, we switch to the showroom, and the particular product on display doesn’t matter. Do you want that shiny, new Mercedes-Benz SL500, knowing your fine-running Rover will catch a good price? Is that Maytag laundry set just the cat’s pajamas, even though your old Whirlpool set still works well? Does your old Macintosh stereo wall-shaker seem a bit long-in-tooth when you catch sight of the new Manley Steelhead equipment? (Man, you deserve a Manley! And, “yes” answers fail this question.)

Now, for the “I” test, and it begins with the “Big I, little u” question. Do you require people to earn your approval before favoring them with your acceptance? That’s actually a trick question, because if you are the “Big I,” you won’t admit to treating people that way. In fact, you’re sure to think of at least a dozen others with that problem. (Hint: Each person you know to whom this applies counts against your score.)

The second half of that question is: Do you grudgingly defer to those in authority over you, deeply believing that if you were in charge, you wouldn’t make their stupid mistakes? Do you feel deference should flow only one way: toward you? (Hint: Please answer “no,” and mean it.)

And the third half(?) of the “I” test: Do you feel you actually deserve to always know the complete skinny, the straight dope, the inside story, of whatever you involve yourself with? (Hint: Do you want the straight dope? If yes, you failed this one, too!)

These tests are pass/fail, and they’re not graded on a curve. As I suggested above, you probably won’t know your excuses haven’t worked and you’ve failed the test, until you find yourself running the fifty-yard dash into the pit designed for the devil and his angels.

But, if you’re among the fortunate few who correct your spiritual vision in time to turn away from your self-centered perspective, the fifty-yard dash you run will be straight into your Savior’s arms. And don’t worry, you won’t knock him over.