Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on.
What cannot be preserved when fortune takes
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief."

~from Othello by William Shakespeare~

Monday, October 15, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity began as a series of radio talks C.S. Lewis gave during World War II while he was at Oxford. He was invited to give these talks by James Welch, the BBC Director of Religious Broadcasting, after he read Lewis' book The Problem of Pain (which I have not read yet but it's a strong contender for my 2019 book list). The talks were gradually published in three separate pamphlets entitled Broadcast Talks (in 1942), Christian Behaviour (in 1943), and Beyond Personality (in 1944). Later, all these talks were put into the single volume we now know as Mere Christianity, easily one of the most influential theological works of the last century. In these talks, Lewis succeeded in defending Christianity and explaining its fundamental beliefs. He chose to avoid denominational controversies and focused instead on what core beliefs all Christians have in common. 

This was my first time actually reading the complete book, cover to cover. I've started it several times (there was still a bookmark in there from a previous attempt). I've read excerpts, quotes, even full essays. But this was the first time I started from the beginning and read to the end. And, unsurprisingly, I found Mere Christianity to be an invaluable resource. Lewis was the master apologist, and it never ceases to amaze me how he could use the most mundane objects or activities in the most beautiful and helpful spiritual analogies. Lewis wrote for every man, and that is what makes his writing so profound. He wrote for the bricklayer and the philosopher, the ditch-digger and the intellect. As I was reading Mere Christianity, it was clear, it made sense, it seemed simple. And yet I know that if I tried to articulate or defend my beliefs in the way that Lewis did, I would trip over my tongue. Reading books like Mere Christianity make me thankful for men and women like C.S. Lewis who broaden my understanding of spiritual matters and give me resources I can pass on to others. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and, much like The Weight of Glory, this book instantly earned a spot on my "To Re-Read Again and Again" list. 

What's your favorite non-fictional work of C.S. Lewis? I've still got a ways to go, but what should come next? As mentioned above, I'm really leaning toward The Problem of Pain but how do I choose?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"'But how? How can you just get over these things, darling?' she had asked him. 'You've had so much strife but you're always happy. How do you do it?'

'I choose to,' he said. 'I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget.'

'But it's not that easy.'

He smiled that Frank smile. 'Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.' He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow. 'I would have to make a list, a very, very long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic! No'—his voice became sober—'we always have a choice. All of us.'"

~from The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman~

Monday, October 8, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by Australian author M.L. Stedman was first published in 2012, and this will probably be a short post because I don't want to spoil anything. I finished this novel way back on August 16th, but I still feel heartsick over it. 

First of all, after my last 10 minutes of extensive Google research, I could only figure out that the "M" in M.L. Stedman stands for Margot. This was the author's debut novel, and she has managed to maintain a level of anonymity despite the overwhelming success of her novel which sparked a bidding war between publishers and was adapted into a movie in 2016 starring Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz. 

Set on the fictional island of Janus off the western coast of Australia in the 1920s, our main character Tom has just served in World War I and is living the isolated life of a lighthouse keeper on one of the most difficult posts of the time. He meets and marries the vibrant Isabel Graysmark and the novel details the moral conflict they face when a boat washes ashore with a baby after Tom and Isabel have struggled unsuccessfully to grow their family. 

I found the moral and ethical difficulties raised by this story compelling, and, as is often the case in real life, there was no clear or satisfying resolution to the heartbreaking circumstances faced by different characters in the book. If you're looking for a book with a sweet happy ending tied up in a pretty ribbon, this would be the one to avoid

The writing was beautiful. Her descriptions of rugged Australia were breathtaking, and her accounts of lighthouses and their keepers were well-researched and interesting. The historical implications of post-WWI life and human sentiment was also well-depicted. My biggest bone to pick with this book was the author's inconsistency between past and present tense. She would switch randomly and unexpectedly for no apparent reason. It was just enough to really annoy me, but not enough to make me stop reading. 

Based on internet reviews I've read of this novel, it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of a book. While I would hardly classify my feelings for this book as "love" (the content was personally and morally difficult), I found it compelling, well-written (excepting the whole past/present tense issue I mentioned above), and worth the read. 

And....that's it. I'm not sure how to wrap this up. Have you read this book or seen the movie? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history 
at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world. 
And if we cannot picture even the atoms of which our own world is built, 
of course we are not going to be able to picture this. 
Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, 
that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be—the inconceivable, the uncreated, 
the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning. 
You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it. 
But that is easily answered. 
A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. 
A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: 
indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Monday, October 1, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God

Y'all. It's October (what?!) and I still haven't recapped books I finished in August (oy). And the book I'm recapping today, I just finished last Thursday. So obviously my priorities are completely whack and this whole blog is going to pot. Whatever. There's a pumpkin spice candle burning, and I've discovered the goodness of Cherry Vanilla Pepsi. We'll survive. 

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson was first published at the end of 1999 and provides a compelling perspective on the nature of God and His complex love for the world. 

I know what you're thinking: What does the "D.A." in D.A. Carson stand for? I can't be the only one who has an irrational need to know what initials stand for. I'll answer: Donald Arthur. Bless him.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about this slim power-packed volume before everything I just learned falls back out of my head. 

To start, let me give you a piece of the publisher's blurb about this book:
"The only aspect of God's character the world still believes in is His love. His holiness, His sovereignty, His wrath are often rejected as being incompatible with a 'loving' God. Because pop culture has so distorted and secularized God's love, even many Christians have lost a biblical understanding of it. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God seeks to restore what we have lost."
This 93 page treatise (84 pages if you don't count the endnotes and indexes) on the love of God was originally a series of four lectures that Carson has given a number of times at various colleges and churches around the world. I thought it would be a quick Saturday read, but it ended up taking me a week to get through. And just like the book took longer to read than I anticipated, so this blog post will probably be longer than you'd expect for such a short work of non-fiction. Stay with me. We'll take it chapter by chapter.

In the first chapter "On Distorting the Love of God", Carson outlines why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult in the first place, five different ways the Bible speaks of the love of God, and some preliminary observations on the distinctive ways of talking about the love of God. I personally found the first chapter to be the most interesting and helpful section of the whole book. As Carson explained five of the different ways God loves and how absolutizing and defining God's love in only one way is detrimental to a right view of Him, I found myself appreciating how vital it is to abide by the whole counsel of God and realizing anew that the only way to even begin to understand any attribute or aspect of God is to take it in context with every other attribute He has. Just reading this chapter alone would be worth your time.

The second chapter, "God is Love", goes over how not to proceed vs. how to proceed with the topic at hand, namely: context is key. We can't just pick one verse out of the Bible, John 3:16 for example, and get a complete picture of God's love from that one sketch. We have to view God's love in light of His justice and sovereignty and His many other attributes. This chapter was the most difficult for me as Carson delved more deeply into the intra-Trinitarian love of God. I felt that I was swimming a bit out of my depth with a lot of this chapter, but that's to be expected anytime you start to study the nature of the Trinity. God is so infinitely high above us that some most things about Him will remain a mystery that we will never understand. If we could comprehend Him fully, He would not be God.

In the third chapter, "God's Love and God's Sovereignty", Carson expounds more on God's love for humanity and argues the point of whether God's love is emotional or impassible. The answer, as you might imagine, is complex, but I found this chapter to be extremely interesting and educational. I ought to note that throughout the entire book, I found nothing to disagree with Carson on, and I appreciated the way he handled tired Christian clichés and even certain Christian terminology. It's rare that I agree with every aspect of a theological work of non-fiction, but in this instance, I did. 

In the fourth and final chapter, "God's Love and God's Wrath", Carson tackles the tough question of the compatibility between the two. He builds on the ideas he introduced in the previous chapter regarding the emotional aspects of God's love which naturally would translate to His wrath as well. He works out the intent of the atonement, and he also brings everything together by talking about our response to this difficult doctrine. 

This book is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive look at the doctrine of the love of God, nor does it claim to be, but it is an intelligent, rational, and biblically sound introduction to it that I found exceptionally helpful. I would recommend this with fair warning that you may need a dictionary in hand to get you through. I think I'd eventually like to read The Gagging of God, but over 600 pages of Carson does seem a little daunting after the dense 84 I just read. 

Have you read anything by D.A. Carson? What book was intellectually challenging but ultimately highly satisfying for you? What does the love of God invoke in you?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. 
A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. 
Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. 
He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, 
or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. 
There is no other. 
That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way 
without bothering about religion. 
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. 
There is no such thing."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~