Wednesday, July 25, 2012

C.S. Lewis and the Pro Nobis

I ran across a Luther quotation on Facebook this morning. And to paraphrase, it goes something like this: "It is not enough to believe in the resurrection...but you must also believe that this Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead for you."

As I read that quotation I instantly recalled a portion from C.S. Lewis's Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer that revealed the same personal care that Christ has, not only for his creation, but in buying back his creation from sin and death by his own death on the cross. Lewis calls it special providence in the realm of creation, what Lutherans often call first article gifts. But do we not have the gifts of creation precisely because of Christ's work on the cross in the second article? And we dare not forget the third...not by my own reason or strength, but by the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers and enlightens the whole Christian Church. And the same Spirit who calls, gathers and enlightens you. This is where the Gospel also comes to roost, in the "for you" of Christ's promises, no matter which article of the creed they come from (indeed they come in all three); Christ cares for us in body and soul.

In Letters to Malcom, epistle ten, Lewis addresses what he sees as a deficiency in Alexander Pope's understanding of prayer.

In an essay on the nature of man, Pope writes, "The first Almighty Cause acts not by partial but by general laws."

To which Lewis comments, "How should the True Creator work by 'general laws'? 'To generalize is to be an idiot,' says Blake."

Lewis is on to something here. We do not have a general, generic God. Nor does he create in a generic, general way. And neither does he save in generic, abstractions. God is the God of human flesh and skin and bone. He is the God who weeps and bleeds and grows weary. He is the God who is born of a specific woman, Mary, in a specific town, Bethlehem of Judea. And he is anything but an abstract Savior. For we do not have abstract general sins (although we may call them such); we have real sins for which we need a real, tangible Savior. He takes your sin - every detailed wort, foible and gritty rebellion - and he nails it to the cross. This is the kind of Rescuer you have in Jesus. He may choose to work through ordinary ways and means but he is anything but ordinary or general. Your divine rescue on the cross, too, is anything but general. It is specific, down to the suffering of the very hour. He thirsted. He spoke with his disciples. He prayed for others. He gave heaven away to thieves (on their crosses and on the ground). He sighed. He cried out. He breathed his last. He gave up his spirit. He died. But he also rose, and not from an unmarked grave. There is no tomb of the unknown Savior. There is an empty tomb and what's more, a resurrected Jesus. Yes, it's historical, reliable, fact and remarkably verifiable. And it's also yours. All Jesus does is for you. This specific Redeemer comes to you in specific ways: water, words, bread and wine. Liturgy. Church. Prayer. Vocation. For you! (But don't forget that in the background always moves the hidden, quiet, for-others-through-you manner in which Christ works).

Lewis goes on to say the following:

"I will not believe in the Managerial God and his general laws. If there is Providence at all, everything is providential and every providence is a special providence. It is an old and pious saying that Christ died not only for Man but for each, man just as much as if each had been the only man there was. Can I not believe the same of this creative act - which, as spread out in time, we call destiny or history? It is for the sake of each human soul. Each is an end. Perhaps for each beast. Perhaps even each particle of matter - the night sky suggests that the inanimate also has for God some value we cannot imagine. His ways are not (not there, anyway) like ours.

If you ask why I believe all this, I can only reply that we are taught, both by precept and example, to pray, and that prayer would be meaningless in the sort of universe Pope pictured. One of the purposes for which God created prayer may have been to bear witness that the course of events is not governed like a state but created like a work o art to which every being makes its contribution and (in prayer) a conscious contribution, and in which ever being is both an end and a means." C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 55-56.

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