Wednesday, April 08, 2015

struggling against God

… his defenses against religious belief were going to crumble. And at about this time they started crumbling quickly. … the unbelief he had always thought his protection was in fact his prison.

I don’t think of myself as having defenses against religious belief. I haven’t built great walls, erected desperate barriers, locked doors, or armed myself against faith. Rather, faith puzzles and intrigues me. I wonder about it and look into it. Because I don’t get it.

I’ve heard this formulation before, that the unbeliever rejects God, struggles against the Lord’s intrusion into his life, fights not to believe. The easier thing would be relax and surrender. God will just come right in and take over.

This has not been my experience. Nothing about Christianity makes sense to me. I have to struggle to figure out what it’s trying to tell me. “Sin” is a piece of Christian jargon that doesn’t make any sense. An infant is born out of sin. It is sinful in the womb. Murder is also a sin. As is thinking. What, then, is “sin”? And that’s about as basic a piece of the Christian puzzle as exists. If sin is baffling, how am I supposed to get to God embodying himself as a mortal, then sacrificing himself to himself in order to absolve other mortals from sin?

C. S. Lewis, from Surprised by Joy:
You must picture me … feeling … the steady, unrelenting approach of Him Who I so earnestly desired not to meet. … I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed … the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England … kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting … eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.

The quote at the top of the post is from Alan Jacobs’ biography of C. S. Lewis. A couple pages later Jacobs quotes Lewis himself on the struggle to ward off God. The writing is certainly vivid. The “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting” body evokes a toddler in full-on temper tantrum. But what is it the toddler wants? What does keeping out this god do for him? Conversely, what does allowing this god in do for him? Well, I guess it allows him to stop struggling. Struggling is a lot of work; knocking that off would be a relief.

For me, all the struggling would be the other way. Every time I’ve tried to wrap my mind around the Christian equation it’s been a struggle. It’s a whole lot easier just to shrug my shoulders and say, “It seems to work for them. That’s nice. So long as it’s not hurting anybody. There are even some who say Jesus motivates them to do good in the world. I like good. People doing good is a good thing.” People do terrible things in the name of Jesus, too.

source: The Narnian: the life and imagination of C. S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs


Nathan said...

That's pretty much what I think, too. How could I be in rebellion against someone who probably doesn't exist? And why would belief in God comfort me when it wouldn't change anything bad about the world? Lewis might have considered himself an atheist before his conversion, but it kind of sounds to me like he was non-specifically spiritual.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

It seems to me any rebellion on my part wouldn't be against God, but against the people who present themselves as God's enforcers. They claim they speak for God, and I'm supposed to believe them?

Nathan said...

There's definitely more than a hint of arrogance about such people. "God is unknowable, but I happen to know he wants you to do these specific things."

David Lee Ingersoll said...

I decided that I was an agnostic. The god of the christian bible doesn't make any sense to me, not if he also created the universe. A being that comes up with the vastness between the stars and the breeding cycle of tarantula wasps doesn't seem like a being that would care about sin. To me. But I can't say definitively that there is no God. So I don't worry about it.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I'm with you, D. I like to make a distinction between gods. I definitely do not believe in the God that the televangelists espouse. And I have no sympathy for the god that insists women can't use contraception or makes them wear masks or that speaks in Latin. If there is another, grander, non-petty God-who-is-Love, well, the door to my heart is open.

I sampled bits of a rumpled copy of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters then threw it out. It just struck me as mean-spirited. And, yes, I know Lewis created a demon character who is supposed to be mean-spirited. But it just seemed like angry muttering and who needs that?