25 November 2009

Leaky vessels, filling with God's love

CS Lewis speaking on Old Testament Scriptures:
“The human qualities of the raw materials show through [referring to the content of scriptures]. Naivety, errors, contradiction and even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God, and we… receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message.
To a human mind this working-up (in a sense imperfectly), this sublimation (incomplete) of human material, seems no doubt, an untidy and leaky vehicle. We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorized and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and [even] envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best ofr us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done—especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.
   We may observe the that the teaching of Our Lord [Jesus Christ] Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped by some degree by their context. And whne we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but He does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even…the “wisecrack.” He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be “got up” as if it were a “subject.” If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, “pinned down.” The attempt is...like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

It may be indispensible that Our Lord’s teaching, by that elusiveness (to our systematizing intellect) should demand a response from the whole man, should make it so clear that there is no question on learning a subject but of steeping ourselves in a Personality, acquiring a new outlook and temper, breathing a new atmosphere, allowing Him, in His own way, to rebuild in us the defaced image of Himself.

…it seems to me that from having had to reach what is really the Voice of God…in the cursing Psalms..through all …the distortions of the human medium, I have gained something I might not have gained from a flawless, ethical exposition. The shadows have indicated (at least to my heart) something more about the light.
…of course these conjectures as to why God does what He does are probably of no more value than my dog’s ideas of what I am up to when I sit and read.

[The final] reason for accepting the Old Testament [is] simpl[e] and… compulsive. We are committed to it in principle by Our Lord Himself.
[Still, it] is…idle to speak here of spirit and letter. There is almost no “letter” in the words of Jesus. Taken by a literalist, He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man’s whole heart nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.”

  • CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, pp.112-119