22 November 2008

Rich man, poor man – Wisdom Sunday

On this, the 45th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, I can’t help but post yet another one by him.

Anyone who’s been around knows that some Christians are pretty awful people and many non-Christians are pretty good. Lewis cautions us: some people are good in the same way they might have blonde hair, and have, therefore, nothing really to boast about. Their goodness is a gift from God, just like their hair color. They are rich. Their contraries are poor.

Christ said, “Blessed are the poor: and “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom,” and no doubt He primarily meant the economically rich and economically poor. But do not His words also apply to another kind of riches and poverty? One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply be signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on Gd. Now quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temp. Everyone says you are a nice chap and…you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered, In other words, it is hard for those who are “rich” in this sense to enter the Kingdom.

It is very different for the nasty people—the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and following—or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came specially to find them. They are…the “poor”: He blessed them They are the “awful set” he goes about with::and of course the Pharisees say still, as they said from the first, “If there were anything in Christianity those people would not be Christians.”

There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily to you—beware! Much is expected from those whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.

But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched up-brining in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to dive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day…he will fling it on the scapheap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all—not least of all yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last.) Mere Christianity, 180-82.
We poor can take comfort. But let’s not overlook Lewis’s exhortation: Do what you can.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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