Monday, January 25, 2010

Final Integration Paper

Ae Hee Lee
IDIS 150-02 - DCM – CS Lewis
January 24th, 2010
Profs. Paulo and Adriana Ribeiro

A Little Wiser: Acquiring knowledge through Plantinga and C.S. Lewis

Magic has been since before, and magic never ends. This magic that I speak of is that of learning and knowledge. Taking the class of “C.S. Lewis: Integrating Reason, Imagination and Faith” for the Developing a Christian mind course, I have come to know about concepts and perspectives I never really thought of, and came to understand that there is even more which I have no knowledge of.

Looking back all I have learned, I realize that there is just too much I want to write about. Thus I will go through each chapter of Plantinga’s Engaging God’s world but touching only certain points and grazing others. To this I will add some of the C.S. Lewis readings my class and I went through, and I will make use of the symbolism in The Chronicles of Narnia, also by C.S. Lewis, to support a few ideas.

The first theme in the Plantinga’s book is that of longing and hope. It was in this chapter that I was moved the most. I really could sympathize with the idea of longing for something which one could not recognize. In the end, it was revealed that we all were “seeking union with something from which we are separated” (Plantinga 4). However, many times we tend to have the mistaken feeling that something here, in our world, can possibly complete us. Lewis uncovers the truth: Longing is a “desire which no natural happiness can satisfy” (The Weight of Glory 4). It’s like drinking water, anyone will thirst again. The only thing or One who can quench thirst is God Himself because He is eternal.

In the chapter of Creation, one of the points Plantinga discusses is humanity. He states that though all creation manifests God’s goodness through their beauty, the human being is considered as partly divine for being created “in the image of God.” Lewis describes this act beautifully as “both honorable enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shamed enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth" (Prince Caspian 218). However for this same reason, we have the responsibility to not soil that gracious honor. We are to love like God loved, and to care like God cared. When God gave humans authority over the earth, he meant for us to have a “responsible dominion” over it (Plantinga 31). Instead of conquering and abusing the world given to us, we are to support it and act as proper stewards of the Lord. A precious gift is to be cared for, not trampled over.

Yet sadly, I realize that we do not love like God loves and we do not care like God cares. When God gave, we sinned, and thus caused the fall of goodness. But goodness merely “fell”, it was not annihilated. Evil is only a “spoiling of Shalom” (Plantinga 51); Shalom for itself did not and does not cease to exist. Evil and sin just arises in the wrong ways of pursuing these goods. For example, in We have no right to Happiness, C.S Lewis talks about sex. He compares this activity with a nectarine. He says the he has nothing against the nectarine itself for it is a good fruit, but he is against stealing it; mainly the wrong way of obtaining it (Lewis 2). Plantinga too affirms this idea when he writes that corruption is merely a “perversion” of what God intended for the gifts He gave us (Plantinga 54). Goodness is somewhere hidden by our sin, but nevertheless, there. This is why redemption is possible.

Redemption is something that can be achieved through two processes: Sanctification and Justification. While sanctification means becoming holy, justification means reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Both being signs of unconditional love, were given the name of “double grace” by John Calvin (Plantinga 92).

One of the works of C.S Lewis which I found simple yet most insightful, extends this topic into the controversy of who should grace be given to. Lewis answered the very much asked question of if one could be saved doing good deeds without believing in Christianity. In his work Man or rabbit? he answers that those who do good works and genuinely do not know about Christ might be able to receive grace, but those who knowingly avoid Christianity and do good works because they fear it, wont. God saves because He is graceful, but He saves only those who are honest at heart.

Lastly, there is the chapter of vocation. Even though the theme of longing and hope was my favorite, the chapter of vocation is the one that made me think the most. Plantinga offered many interesting views about this topic, but Lewis also had many things to say regarding education, an essential part of vocation.

In Plantinga’s opinion, vocation is not a mere job but a calling to become prime citizens of God’s kingdom. These citizens with different talents do not only share the same purpose which is serving the kingdom, but they also have the same methods of serving. Plantinga writes that all prime citizens of God must “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (NIV, Luke 18:17). Because it’s easy to yield to pride, we are to always, like a child, be dependant of God. Another thing the author thinks it’s necessary for the citizens of the kingdom to have is to yearn for shalom. However, he also mentions that we should not stop at longing, but also to fight for it; hence the idea of reform.

But to pursue vocation, the citizen must be trained to do so effectively; this is where education comes in play. Lewis expressed some of his views through this two very thought provoking articles: Our English Syllabus and Learning in War time. Through the first article, Lewis incited me to view education as a kind of leisure. In the second one, I learnt that “All…. Merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God,” even when it’s pursuing knowledge (Lewis 3). By combining Plantinga’s view of vocation as serving and Lewis’ idea of finding enjoyment in learning freely, I realized that serving God with all I have, even with all I know, is all about joy.

As what I just wrote about is the last chapter of Plantinga’s Engaging God’s World, I wish to talk about Lewis a little bit more. I have always felt amazed and dumbstruck when all what seemed complicated turned out to be so obvious, so simple and extremely clear through Lewis’ words. His mastery at weaving suppositional stories also leaves me in awe. This art and skill can be clearly seen in one of his famous works, The Chronicles of Narnia, where he also portrays his own thoughts subtly along the lines and yet expresses them mightily. There are countless of examples of this accomplished deed that I would gladly give, but I will only pick one.

On The Voyage of the Dawn Treader one of the protagonists, Eustace Scrubb, is transformed into a dragon due his greed. However, only after going all the dire hardships and pains of being a dragon, he abandons his priggish and disagreeable ways and becomes a whole “different boy” (Lewis 112). In The problem of pain, Lewis famously says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It’s His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (Lewis 91). Lewis thought that pain, by breaking our rebellious selves, brought us closer to God.

There were many other works my class and I went through and discussed together. They all caused quite an impression on me. The Screwtape letters opened my eyes to the nature of temptation, The Inner Ring brought me awareness of my social life, Mere Christianity gave me a foundation for evangelism, and The Weight of Glory helped me to find joy once more in serving.
This class broadened my view about many philosophies of life and Christianity.

Though I started simple and ignorant, in the end I felt blessed and I dare to say, a little wiser. Through the guidance of Professor Paulo and Professor Adriana, I experienced for the first time beauty in logic and motivation in words. My admiration for C.S Lewis grew every time I read one of his works, and it grew further more when I came to know about his life. Truly, like its name indicates, this class provided me with exquisite reason, it required from me endless imagination, and it strengthened my faith.

Works Cited

The Korean-English Enriched Bible. New International Version. Korean-English Bible corporation, 1999.
Plantinga Jr., Cornelius. Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2002.
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. Harper Collins Publishers, 1994. Print. The voyage of the Dawn Treader. Ser. 5
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. Harper Collins Publishers, 1994. Print. Prince Caspian. Ser. 3
Lewis, C.S. “The weight of Glory.” Calvin College ~pribeiro. N.p.: n.d. Web. 24 January 2010.
Lewis, C.S. “Man or Rabbit?” Calvin College ~pribeiro. N.p.: n.d. Web. 24 January 2010.
Lewis, C.S. “We have no right to Happiness.” Calvin College ~pribeiro. N.p.: n.d. Web. 24 January 2010.
Lewis, C.S. “Our English Syllabus and Learning in War time.” Calvin College ~pribeiro. N.p.: n.d. Web. 24 January 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Problem of Pain

Human pain can be either a sensation caused by nerves or an experience, be it physical or mental, that one dislikes. This can be feelings such as suffering, anguish, trouble, etc. Lewis writes this chapter with the second definition of pain as the base.

What was good before sin was that obedience was actually an enjoyment. It brought happiness since it delighted in the fact that one was serving Someone who loved and was accepted by that Someone. However, later obedience became something one had to do rather than wanted to do. As a spoiled child who hates obligation and would “kill or die rather than giving in,” obedience becomes merely something that’s in one’s way. In my opinion this is due to the eldest of all sins: pride. I remember that when I was a child, I used to quarrel with my little sister. Even if I had been in the wrong, I could not bear the thought of apologizing. However, once I managed to utter a meek "sorry" all the ill matters would be cast aside, leaving only a smile. Redemption is good, very good. But one fails to see how wonderful it's and how much peace it brings only because a pride that has no sense, and stubbornness that offers no future.

The cure for this, Lewis writes, is a sour medicine named “pain”. It is a remedy that “breaks the child’s will” or pride. The pain of punishment reveals the “masked evil” of error and sin. Since it’s loud and annoying as a siren, it’s impossible to ignore. It flashes bright red and cries “DANGER!” And that’s when one can know that there is evil in the house.

The consequences of pain can be divided in two main results. Either the person rebels and succumbs into a bigger evil or it repents and makes amends with God turning towards religion. If one chooses evil, then one would have missed his chance to go to a place where his fears would have melted like ice in face of spring.

Feeling pain in the heart when something precious breaks is also a way to bring one back to reality. It reminds the fact that one cannot attach itself to materialistic goods since they are not eternal and that God is the only One who can offer true satisfaction. The problem is that people do cling to physical goods until the moment everything is broken and then searches for God. But God should not be the last resort; he should be the first one. What seems to be the “shortcut” is actually the detour.

Then why make good people suffer too? One may ask. I asked myself this question before too. I realize now that it’s actually because they have experienced how much pain hurts that they can be kind and considerate. They know how it feels to be down, that’s why they know how to console, they know how it feels to be alone, and that’s why they can be a good friend.

“I am a great coward.” Lewis says almost by the end and I admit that I am too. I cringe at the sound of pain. I want to crawl into a hole when something that hurts me appears and haunts me. What should I do? I asked myself various times in those moments. I found out there is only one answer: Trust. The Lord says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” He asks strength and courage not because we have it within ourselves, but because He is and will be with us.

I believe that God’s prescription is always precise and fair. God gives certain kinds of pains to those who need it, and the right amount of pain to those who can bear with it. This does not mean all unnecessary pain is caused by God. Lewis says so too by writing “It is men, not God who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.” But then sometimes it becomes confusing to identify what part of life was touched by God’s hand and which was distorted by human hand. In my opinion, pondering about this matter will never bring anyone to anything worthy. It might even bring one to a erroneous judgment. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.” (1 Corinthians 3: 19) All one has to do is to put one’s trust on the Lord and live faithfully. It all comes back to faith.

Thus in the end, tribulation cannot cease. It’s a constant reminder of where one is. If the road to hell is with a “gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts”, then the road to heaven is a tiresome slope, one that needs effort, with surprising turns everywhere, with tons of milestones, with millions of signposts. Like a mother’s reproach that shapes a child, our Father’s warning guides his child to paradise.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Man or Rabbit?

“Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?”

The answer to this depends to the answer of this other question, “Are you a man or a rabbit?”

If one is a man, an actual human being, then one would naturally thirst for knowledge. It’s the job of man to try to find out the truth of life. A rabbit, on the other hand, all it does is munch grass and be cute. It does not care (at least not consciously) about how a grass grows or how it provides it energy. It simply needs to know if it fills its stomach or not, if it’s useful to it or not.

When someone asks “Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” Lewis writes that it sounds more like “Is Christianity useful?” The question is one that does not express concern for truth itself but what would come out of it if it’s true.

Apart from the intentions of asking this question, the answer to the first question is no. Certainly one could have leaded a good life with honest ignorance about Christ. There are quite a few men like this. Lewis offers the reader some names: Socrates and Confucius among others. However, it is different to know about the existence of Christ and decide to evade it. Christianity is a choice in this case. And rejecting it despite knowing its truth would be just like “the man who won’t go to the doctor when he firsts feels a mysterious pain, because he is afraid of what the doctor may tell him.” In the end because of cowardice, the man is doomed.

To the second question about usefulness: yes, Christianity is “useful.” It brings salvation. But becoming a Christian because of its usefulness will not make one a true Christian. What that person wants is not salvation from Christ, it’s to avoid hell. These two are very different goals. It doesn’t really matter if it’s useful or not, what should matter is if it’s true or not. Christianity “gives an account of facts.” And I can tell you that Christianity is very true indeed. Like C.S Lewis wrote, I also “believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

This whole topic reminded me of the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia. There is a scene where a soldier, despite being Carlomene and not Narnian, is accepted by Aslan because he withheld the morality held by Narnians; mainly courage and loyalty. He was saved not only because he had led a good life but because he had an honest ignorance about Aslan since he had grown up in another country that knew nothing of him.

There is a whole other point to this argument though. No one can truly lead a good life without Christ. It simply can’t be possible. If one does, but had put “a good life” as a goal, then one would had missed “the very point of [one’s] existence.” Everyone’s life was created for God and only for God. Where is the point of living a good life when one has no one to offer it to?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The inner ring

Basically, the inner ring is an onion; an endless, big, onion. When one has the desire to get inside, the terror of being outside, the desire to peel it until the end discarding everything that’s really important only to obtain false acceptance… this kind of person is called a ‘snob’. But there is a reason Lewis compares the inner ring to an onion. It’s because if one peels and peels an onion to get to the inside, nothing is left eventually. Nothing.

The inner ring is specifically “second or unwritten systems.” It’s a non-constant group of people that play a game of in and out. A kind of inner ring can be society itself, or in a smaller scale, the “cool” group of kids in high school or even the group of children in grade school who have a Wii.

But the inner ring for itself is not evil. An onion is not evil either. It’s actually tasty if you cook it in a certain way and serve it with others. But when one peels it endlessly just for the sake of peeling and does not make use of it in any worthy way, it makes the person cry pointlessly until the whole kitchen is flooded. The inner ring and the onion are just “unavoidable” (the inner ring will always exist; the onion will always make you cry unless you have some strong tear glands). Yes, the inner ring for itself is not evil. The way one pursues it, the way one desires to get inside it is what may be dangerous since it may be badly intended, and could end up hurting others and one’s own self.

C.S Lewis asks, “In your whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction?”

My reply is a fortunate yes. I remember back in my high school years that I never let anyone pull me into their influence. In Peru, for example, drinking and partying with drinking was what’s “popular,” and though some classmates made fun of me for not doing any of these, I remained steady on my ground. People would not associate with me because I was “no fun”; I was out of the inner circle. Yet soon I found something more worthy to have out of that circle: God’s grace which came in the form of a true friend. But that's yet another story.

Resisting the inner ring was and is still certainly hard. I want to do something grand, but sometimes I strive for it for the desire of being “known” and not for itself. Then the joy and the fun of it ‘poofs’ like magic and I lose the motivation of keep going. I understand now that if I keep doing that, I’ll never get anywhere and I’ll never get something worth getting.

Lewis instructs that just like the house in Alice through the Looking Glass, “The true road lies in quite another direction.” If one wants to attain happiness, instead of drifting towards the ring pulled by desire, one should just break the mere thought of it (since one can’t break the ring itself). Friendship, one of the good rings of life, is not to be chased down. Instead one should put an effort to be prepared for it and to walk along it; never chase it down. If one remains faithful,the onion will not cause tears of bitterness but instead it will evoke tears of happiness, for an excellent meal would be to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Plantinga: Vocation

Plantinga puts it this way: We have a kingdom and this kingdom is within other larger kingdoms, and all these kingdoms are within this major kingdom, which is God’s. Everyone is part of this gigantic kingdom where God is the supreme ruler. As each one has its own kingdom to rule, each one has to take “responsible dominion” for it and share it. By sharing it, the kingdoms overlap and intersect each other and it becomes one. Becoming one is what’s called “communion”.

To achieve communion, every person in each kingdom must become prime citizens of God’s kingdom. A prime citizen is active in the church, is a follower of Jesus (who represents God’s kingdom), “strives first for the kingdom”, yearns and fights for shalom and is a good giver and humble receiver. I add to all this that a true prime citizen loves God with all his heart, soul and strength (Deutronomy 6:5) and that’s why it wants the Kingdom to come: to be with God.

A prime citizen of God’s kingdom also has a vocation. Vocation is the calling of God, a mission of reform that makes a difference in the world, no matter how little. But when people try to accomplish the mission, they tend to either become proud or just despair and give up. Everyone is born for a vocation that is naturally suited for him or her, and everyone has a different vocation. I believe that the relationship God offers us is social but also especially personal. Lewis writes in “Learning in war” that “We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation.” God gives each person a joyful talent for this vocation, and each person must shape their talents so they grow to serve the Kingdom and not for one’s own selfishness.

Many times I have wondered, what’s my vocation? What’s my mission? Since young I would ponder impatiently and worry, what does God want me to do or be? I still feel this question unanswered, however I came to learn from my mother that all vocations are like stars; stars that shine ever so brightly, that are a light to the world. Sometimes these stars are covered by night clouds, but nevertheless, they still are there, and they will be revealed by God when the time is ripe. Mine has simply not come yet.

But one must be ready to follow the star once it shows itself, thus one must prepare oneself. One of the essentials is education. Plantinga describes Calvin College as an education center that has a “redemptive purpose” and that prepares students for their true vocation, which is in general, becoming prime citizens of God. Seeing prelude, DCM, chapel, and others, I would agree with this statement. However, I think redemption is not something that can be forced. Maybe these activities can influence a person into becoming a prime citizen of God, but it is up to the person itself to decide if it’s going to imprint all these teachings in its heart and truly prepare itself to become part of God’s kingdom.

There are different parts in Calvin education though. One of them is knowledge. It helps to “indentify and address human need” and it contributes to forming a Christian worldview. The second mentioned is skill. It’s the practice of knowledge, which objective should not be to impress but to serve. And finally, Virtue: diligence, patience, charity, stewardship, all the fruits of the spirit, etc.

The formula of a well rounded (or educated) student for Plantinga then would be something like this:

Knowledge + skills + virtues to pursue God’s call.

However, for me the proper formula is this:

(Knowledge + skills + virtues to pursue God’s call) *prayer

Though I don’t think there will ever be a person who will come to posses all these fine qualities completely (for then it wouldn’t be human), I think that one can get close enough if one tries hard, prays for blessing, and God grants it. After all, “Man proposes, God disposes” (Thomas a Kempis).

The four loves: Eros

I know from Greek mythology that “Eros” is actually the name of the Greek god of love and sexual desire. However, Lewis clearly states that the Eros he is referring to is the love of a lover. A love both described as unconditional and pure, but at the same time extremely mortal and fickle. The sexual part of this love is given the name of “Venus.”

The difference between Venus and Eros is quite clear. Venus wants what the other person has to offer; mainly pleasure. What Eros wants, though, is the person itself. Eros is a romantic feeling that regards pleasure as a “by-product.” It’s a love that wants nothing in return but maybe the same kind of love. It doesn’t aim for happiness, it prefers to have the other person’s love and be miserable in life, rather than not having that love at all and have everything else in life. From another perspective, it’s Eros itself what makes a person happy regardless the consequences of it. For a truly enamored person, The pain of the consequences fades in front of the blinding brilliance of love.

There is danger in Eros, however. People tend to forget that as strong as it is in its best moment, it’s fickle. In fact, it’s the most fickle between all passions. But some people end up regarding it as a god when it’s not (Yes, God is love, but that’s another kind of love: agape (divine)). God is pure goodness, but Eros can either lead to good or evil. Having romantic feelings for someone can make one feel kind, helpful and loving but also if not careful, jealous, possessive and greedy.

Returning to the topic of Venus, Lewis gives an interesting point of view. He says that sex should not be treated too seriously. At first, this startled me. But later I came to understand what he meant by this. He meant that one should “not find an absolute on flesh.” The only thing or One that can give a person an absolute is God himself, nothing else; not Venus nor Eros. Venus is a gift of pleasure and entertainment, a merry game that should only be played between married couples, a game which can be used to distract them from the sometimes burdensome domestic worries of the house. It brings pleasure, it brings laughter, it helps to keep matrimony together, and it may bring a family.

The part I best liked about this whole theme about Eros is when Lewis writes that Eros, just like all other passions, is not self-preservative. Instead, the duty of preserving this romantic love is that of the couple. Love is not something one lets to be, but a joyful and sometimes painfully beautiful play between two people. Just like a beautiful garden that needs a gardener to keep it alive, Eros needs constant caring and nutrition from both of it gardeners. In that sense, one can say that Eros can grow! And how much more wonderful and satisfying is a love that has overcome storms thanks to those who share it and protect its beauty through effort and prayer!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Plantinga: Redemption

Creation was first, fall was after, and what’s next in the list is: Redemption.

The first sin brought shame and guilt to humanity; however God did not abandon humanity. Having loving mercy and not mere pity, he brought grace upon all people and formed a covenant with them. He also gave them laws, the Ten Commandments, not only to restrict evil but to free and flourish (shalom) humanity. Though rules restricted some things, it’s because of them that the gift of life could be merrily enjoyed without chaos and unfairness. But chaos seemed more appealing than merriness to humans, and thus they foolishly broke the rules. Yet once more because of love for creation, God sent the Messiah.

The Messiah, also read as “the anointed one”, is described as the “King of kings” but also as the “suffering servant” who came to die for all sins and save what was lost, but not perished; basically all creation. After dying, He resurrected, and His resurrection is what all Christians have to and must offer to the whole world. The empty cross is the evidence of the defeat of human stubbornness in sin, and the triumph of God’s grace.

God’s grace was able to change people’s life since the beginning of all. Even in the Old Testament one can observe how it changed all Israelites lives by freeing them from slavery. In the New Testament, his grace is manifested through Jesus. Baptism becomes the new covenant: a symbol of “death” of the old sinful self, and “resurrection” of the new self which lets the redeemed person become "one with Christ". I believe that Plantinga uses the word “resurrection” and not “birth” because good has always resided inside everyone since God created them. It was covered by sin, yes, but through forgiveness it was restored.

Talking about restoration, there are two steps before it, something combined called “double grace.” This “double grace” is formed by two acts of grace: Sanctification and justification. Sanctification means “lifelong conversion” and signifies a miracle which can only be realized by God. Justification is the acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners through Jesus Christ. Both are truly undeserving, that’s why their second names are “grace.”

God loves His people and thus offers salvation. He gave each person a will, not because he wanted to just make it harder for the people to come to Him, but to permit them reach true love worthy of having; not a robotic kind of love, which is programmed and halfhearted. I believe that this will is what makes forgiveness even more graceful and loving.

Once redeemed, a person’s mission is to have faith in Jesus and in his plans. But “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26)”. One is to perform good works not to show off Christianity, but to demonstrate “God’s grace in a person’s life” and to reform what one can with the help of God. This is why scripture is important. It’s because the Word is the measuring stick for all deeds. I would say it’s like the representation of the moral law that C.S Lewis defends in his articles, it is a guide to discern what is good and what is evil. Because everyone’s mind is already tainted with sin its thinking is “twisted” and deceiving, it must depend on a pure and truthful guide. However the measuring stick has only numbers and not formulas, it’s up to humans to find ways of applying the Word of God to our world, and this is where education comes in handy.