The Weight of Glory—C. S. Lewis Speaks to “Ordinary” People


Peter Kreeft has called it C. S. Lewis’s “golden sermon.” Walter Hooper places it first in an otherwise chronologically-ordered series of addresses by C. S. Lewis, saying that “The Weight of Glory” is “so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place.” This is high praise. And the sermon rises to the high expectations created by such praise.Book Cover-CSLewis-Weight of Glory The sermon was preached June 8, 1941 and published a few months later in the 43rd volume of the journal Theology. Because today’s date is June 8, it’s fitting to recall some cherished lines from this oration that centers on the Christian conception of love and its relation to heaven’s future rewards:

. . . if we consider the unblushing nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. . . . We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis means that we settle for the satisfaction of desires that seem grand to us from the limited perspective of our current lives. Heaven’s rewards outstrip whatever else we could possibly imagine. Some criticize the Christian religion for its mercenary appeal to heavenly rewards as an incentive to Christian conversion and Christian living. But Lewis sorts out this confusion with a comparison to do with marriage. Some men marry for money; others for love. In the first instance, the act is unquestionably mercenary. Not so when a “real lover” enters into marriage. Some rewards are proper to the acts that bring them to fruition. Acting for the sake of our heavenly reward is like this. It is, in fact, the paradigm case of this. There is also this difference. When the saints’ reward is received, it will not be viewed as the effect of a bribe. It will, rather, be experienced “as the very consummation of their discipleship.” In the meantime, when the reward is an expected rather than a lived experience, disciples cannot yet know the fulfillment of the desire natural to it. We can only approximate what it is like to live in possession of our future reward if we obey the revealed will of our Lord. This, I believe, is what the New Testament means by “the obedience of faith.” The faith is rooted in a promise, already the present experience of saints past, and the obedience is a consequence of that faith, an act we perform in the here and now.

. . . longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.

Lewis can write with uncanny clarity when he wants to. And he can write with mystifying creativity when it best serves his purpose.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

Does Lewis mean that our highest finite aspirations—even when these are absurd, shortsighted, or inimical to the fear of God—are signs of a deeper desire we deny or believe does not exist, namely, a desire for God? In this context we come to a wonderfully disturbing paragraph:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter.

What a description of our common experience. Lewis draws out, through his close attention to the facts of our inner life, what we scarcely know to be there. When it is described with such care and accuracy, we finally recognize it. It is a kind of discovery of our true self. What do we do with this new self-awareness? Action of some kind must be proper to this realization. But what action, exactly? And how do we know that we’re not fooling ourselves when we think this very real desire latches onto what really will satisfy? Aren’t we accustomed to the disappointment of our longings? Why should it be any different with this yearning that defines our very selves? Lewis argues from the reality of this desire to the reality of the thing desired. It is a specimen of apologetics that does not feel like an argument. It is, in other words, the best sort of apologetic there is. Some paragraphs further into his message, Lewis contemplates the “idea of glory.”

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means fame, or it means luminosity.

How simple is that? And yet, how true? Fame. A “competitive passion” among those who desire to be better known than other people. Lewis does not say that they desire to be better than other people. No, they want to be better known. This is a kind of glory. This is wickedness. What about luminosity? It is ridiculous. “Who wishes to become a kind of living light bulb?” Lewis’s exploration of the Christian ideal of glory brings together a conception of fame and the absence of vanity. For the details, you must read the sermon for yourself. But here is a morsel to whet your appetite:

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being ‘noticed’ by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know God, but that they will be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3).

To quote one of my seminary profs, Howard Hendricks, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” Toward the end of his sermon, Lewis circles back round to the idea of reward and the kind of reward the disciple of Jesus can look forward to.

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.

Today, the 8th of July 2015, is indeed a Monday! But the seeming dreariness of the weekly recycling of things we do and crave and pursue is overcome with hope. And what seems so routine and ordinary is ignited with purpose.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

We do not construct a world of “everlasting splendors” by thinking positive thoughts. It is there before us, ready to behold, if we have eyes to see.

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Other posts in this series . . .

The Great Dane—Remembering Kierkegaard


Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Today is Søren Kierkegaard’s birthday. He was born May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s been called a Christian existentialist, a fideist, a satirist, and “the melancholy Dane.” He was concerned about the disconnect between Christian profession and the lived reality of true Christianity. He called his contemporaries to a deeper personal encounter with God. And he wrote with penetrating insight about the failure of the purely aesthetic life—what we today might call secularism—which seeks pleasure without discerning its natural and ultimate end, namely, despair. Kiekegaard’s contribution is considerable, even for the evidentialist. In fact, his sermonic style may be of value to the apologist who insists on the value of evidence. E. J. Carnell, mid-twentieth century, did the most to bring Kierkegaard’s insight into an overall “combinationalist” approach to apologetics. Carnell wrote:

There can be no question that Søren Kierkegaard gave a profoundly convincing defense of the third locus of truth.

Carnell was speaking of a “third way of knowing,” which respects the tendencies of the human heart, properly submitted to God, to discern religious truth. In this, Kierkegaard (and Carnell) were like Blaise Pascal, who spoke of “reasons of the heart which reason cannot know.” Carnell’s commentary on Kierkegaard continues:

What Christianity has always assumed, Kierkegaard made explicit. . . . Saving faith is not simply an intellectual assent to objective facts. Faith is cordial trust; it is a concerned, inward response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until the end of time, therefore, men who remember what it means to be a person will defend the supremacy of truth as inwardness. God sent His Son to make us good, not simply to make it possible for us to recite the creeds of the church.

Carnell is saying that few apologists have noted this vital aspect of Christian belief and conduct. But he issues a caveat:

But what must be questioned is the prudence of Kiekegaard’s attempt to secure inward truth by opposing it to objective evidences. It is from his lips, not those of the biblical writers, one learns that faith must believe what understanding finds contradictory—and for that very reason. Scripture’s healthy balance of the loci of truth has been upset by Kierkegaard. Rationality was bequethed by Jesus Christ as a light by which men may penetrate the darkness of error. ‘The true light that enlightens [gives a spiritually rational nature to] every man was coming into this world’ (John 1:9). Being a rational creature, thus, man must proportion his spiritual commitments to what the mind can conscientiously clear. Apart from this distribution of authority edification is impossible. . . . Saving faith germinates only after the mind is first convinced of the sufficiency of the evidences. If Christ taught plain logical nonsense . . . a balanced man would turn aside from Him as one to be pitied, not trusted. The reason why we are able to trust Christ is that He spoke and lived in a way which is congenial with our axiological expectations.

For Carnell, our “axiological expectations” include both what is existentially compelling and what is rationally convincing. “Faith” without the soul’s commitment may not be faith at all. But what is faith if it is not grounded in good reason? For anyone can have faith in anything.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Back in the Saddle


For the past two weeks I’ve been off-blog. Two weeks ago I was in Birmingham, Alabama to debate Michael Shermer on the question, “Does God exist?” Then I travelled to Spokane, Washington for a conference on “Faith, Film and Philosophy,” co-hosted by Gonzaga and Whitworth Universities. The title of my presentation was “Big Ideas on the Big Screen—How Arguments Work in Film.”

When the conference ended, my daughter caught up with me and we flew over to Seattle, then drove to the Olympic Peninsula to do some writing without distraction. I worked on an essay on “Death and Immortality.” She worked on two novels she’s been drafting.

Today was the first day back on my motorcycle, a ritual that comes before blogging. With that out of the way, I’m ready to log on.

With the election past, and the unctuous posturing of the media, I think my blogging in the immediate future will move into other areas. I’ll still find it irresistable to post comments on the media, political happenings, and media coverage of political happenings. But there’s so much more to think about!

Catch ya later!

Faith, Film and Philosophy—The Evolution of an Idea


A book I did with James Spiegel, Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen, was released late last fall by InterVarsity Press. Today I heard from Cindy Gould, leader of a reading group called “Verbivores” (suggesting an appetite for words). Cindy asked about the origin of the book, how we decided on films to write about and how we selected contributors. Here’s the answer to that question.

Jim and I are college professors who teach philosophy and enjoy film. We decided we wanted to bring these interests together into a book. When big ideas are packaged in a compelling film, they have great potential to influence culture. We wanted to test this thesis by inviting other philosophers who like film to share their perspectives. We wanted this to be fun, so we thought about friends of ours who share this interest and asked them to participate.

We had an idea how long we wanted the book to be and decided we could manage about a dozen chapters. We ended up with fourteen. We didn’t start with a detailed structure for the book and then recruit authors to fit into that structure. Instead, we began with a list of people we knew we would enjoy working with. They also had to be people with talent for thinking about cultural trends and a gift for writing with wisdom and an engaging style. With list in hand, we approached each one with the basic idea and asked this question, “If you were to write a chapter for this book, what film or films would you want to write about, and what ideas would you like to discuss?” We picked the authors; they picked the films.

Now I have to qualify. We knew that if we were going to do a book of this kind, we had to include a chapter on The Matrix. Some people think of this film and its sequels as the most philosophical of relatively recent films. A potential reader couldn’t pick the book up expecting to find a discussion of The Matrix and be disappointed. Instantly we knew who we needed to get for this chapter. We just hoped he would agree. He did.

When we had chapter proposals from everyone, we recognized there was this remarkable range of film coverage that included the classic and the contemporary, the familiar and the intriguing, the safe and the edgy. On top of that, our hoped-for contributors had all settled on different topics and issues, resulting in a surprising balance of treatment of themes in philosophy. With chapter ideas set side-by-side, a natural structure for the book emerged. People who liked film could read this book and learn more than a smattering of philosophy—philosophy made (almost) painless.

I’m anxious to hear how the Verbivores respond to the book during their discussion on Wednesday. Maybe some of them will post their comments here.

The Truman Show: A Discussion Guide


The Truman Show (USA, 1998); directed by Peter Weir

Chapter 4 of my book, Faith, Film and Philosophy, is titled “Escaping Into Reality: What We Can Learn from The Truman Show about the Knowledge Enterprise.” Here are discussion questions for the film The Truman Show that I’ve used in conjunction with this chapter.

  1. What is Christof’s purpose in “designing” a life for Truman? What kind of life does he want for Truman? And what is Christof’s purpose in televising Truman’s life?
  2. There’s The Truman Show that is the TV show the movie is about, and there’s the movie called The Truman Show that we see in the theatre or on DVD. We’ll call the TV show TS-1 and the movie TS-2. In TS-2, viewers of TS-1 are depicted in various ways. Presumably, they enjoy watching TS-1. What is it about TS-1 that keeps them watching? Why do they like watching? What does this say about them?
  3. Those watching TS-1 seem to have opinions about the quality of life Truman has on “Seahaven.” What are they supposed to think about Truman and his quality of life? How does this compare with Christof’s attitude about Truman’s quality of life? Now think about how we are supposed to regard Truman’s life as we view the film, TS-2. Is there a difference between what we’re supposed to think or feel as we watch the movie and what the TV viewers are supposed to think and feel as they watch the TV show? Describe whatever differences you think of.
  4. Truman falls in love with Sylvia, who is kicked off the show (TS-1). Later she calls in to speak with Christof during a rare interview on television. What is her thesis about what Christof is doing? Do you agree with her? Are we supposed to agree with her? Does she make a good argument? Can you think of ways to strengthen her argument?
  5. What is this movie about? Do you think the filmmakers are making an argument? If so, what is that argument? What is the thesis and what evidence is presented in support of that thesis?
  6. What kinds of freedom does Truman exercise while living in Seahaven? What kinds of freedom is he lacking? How is he presented from exercising these freedoms?
  7. Are you more free than Truman? In what ways? Are you sure about this? Can you be sure? [This question was suggested to me by David Hunt, a contributor to Faith, Film and Philosophy.]
  8. Some critics see Christof as a god-figure in this film and suggest that the film is actually a critique of the Christian worldview. If that’s true, what do the filmmakers assume about the Christian worldview, and especially about the Christian or biblical conception of divine sovereignty and human freedom? Based on your understanding of what the Bible teaches about such things, how is Truman’s life in Seahaven like, and how is it unlike, human existence in the actual world? Support your answer from the Bible and from evidence in the film.
  9. In his chapter in Faith, Film and Philosophy, Geivett claims that this film illustrates how a person may be able to acquire knowledge that is important, even when much of his community is determined to deceive him or her. Is this a plausible claim about the film? How could this claim be challenged?
  10. What does this film “say” about the responsibilities people have toward each other when it comes to seeking the truth and tracking the evidence? Can you describe some contemporary attitudes about truth, the objectivity of truth, and the possibility of knowing truth? How are these attitudes reinforced socially?

Run Lola Run: A Discussion Guide


Run Lola Run (Germany, 1998); directed by Tom Tykwer

Chapter 7 of my book, Faith, Film and Philosophy, is titled “What Would Have Been and What Could Be: Counterfactuals in It’s a Wonderful Life and Run Lola Run. The author is Jim Spiegel. Here are discussion questions for the film Run Lola Run that I’ve used in conjunction with his chapter.

  1. Are there any elements in the film that you didn’t understand or can’t explain? Write down what comes to mind?
  2. How would you explain the following: (a) the red hair, (b) the use of black and white, (c) the use of animation, (d) the rapid-fire photo shoots of people Lola encounters, (c) the breaking glass when she screams at different times
  3. The film depicts three possible scenarios. Between the first scenario and the second is a scene when Lola asks Manni a series of questions. She begins with the question, “Do you love me?” What is funny about this scene? What is the logic of her questioning? How does Manni respond? Do you think he should have answered her differently?
  4. Who are the people that Lola encounters during her race to catch up with Manni? What technique is used to portray their respective futures? Why are they portrayed in different ways from one scenario to another? What bearing does this have on the message of the film?
  5. Is there humor in this film? If so, what is its significance, if any, for the message of the film? Is this a comedy? If not, is the humor accidental (not intended by the producers or director) or incidental (not salient to the main message of the film)? Explain your answer.
  6. Between the second scenario and the third, Manni asks Lola, “What would you do if I died?” She thinks his question is stupid. Do you agree with Lola? Why would Manni ask such a thing? How is this bit of dialogue appropriate to the film? Is there anything significant about placing this scene here, rather than between the first and second scenarios?
  7. Does the fact that this movie is in German make the movie more enjoyable, or less? Explain your answer. What would be lost, if anything, if it was in English? Do you think you would enjoy it more, or understand it better, if you understood German?
  8. In the last scenario, while Lola is running with her eyes closed, and she doesn’t have the money, what is she saying? Whom is she addressing? Think about what happens next. Is this supposed to be related to her plea while running? If so, how?
  9. At the Casino, Lola gets incredibly lucky. At this point in the film, is that a surprise? Why or why not?
  10. There are places in the film where a group audience tends to respond with laughter. It’s as if there are cues in the film to laugh at these moments, and most people respond on cue. How does experience of a film in a group situation help in the process of understanding what a film is about, or what a viewer is supposed to believe or feel in response to a scene?
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