Hello dear readers!
It’s been a while since we last chatted, but interestingly (and appropriately), ‘chatting’ is what I want to talk about.
My friend Ciaran has started a bible-study podcast called ‘Bible and Banter‘, which takes the form of a very informal discussion about a particular bible passage. The four people involved in the first show, which looked at Philippians 1:1-11, were Ciaran, Russell, Tom and myself. It was great fun and we hope to produce a new one every month or so. Comments have already started appearing at the bottom of the podcast page, and it’s because of that that I’m writing this.
The first comment is from me, by way of apology – Tom was quite right when he suggested that HG Wells was the author of The Invisible Man. I thought he wasn’t, which means the only literary question on the entire podcast was the one the literature student got wrong. If any prospective employers hear that, sorry, it’s not how it usually works…!
The second comment is from Philip, my younger brother, who, among other things, asks
2) Gavin, you say at around 20mins 20secs [he means 21:20] that “…that’s not to say that we should expect to feel fully within God all the time. I think there are periods in your life when you don’t feel particularly close to God and I think it’s important to be realistic about that…that’s part of the normal pattern of things.”
In the time honoured phrase, would you care to expand on that? Particularly the phrase ‘the normal pattern of things’. I’ve got no objection to it, I just wonder what precisely you had in mind when you said that.
So, to expand and expound a little…
What I had in mind were CS Lewis’s comments in Letter 8 of the Screwtape Letters, which I would quote at length but don’t have to, since somebody else has already quoted the relevent portions here. This idea of peaks and troughs, which Lewis refers to as the ‘Law of Undulation’, surely makes very good sense. It makes very good sense for two reasons: firstly, it conforms to what we all know by experience (what I referred to as ‘the normal pattern of things’); secondly, it conforms to what we are taught by the Bible, namely that while Christ may ‘never leave you nor forsake you’ His actual proximity (or at least our perception of it) may vary greatly, and sometimes for the most mundane of reasons – it is hard to spend quality time in prayer or bible-reading if one has just eaten an enormous meal and one is feeling drowsy as a result.
The Law of Undulation, incidentally, is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to self-examination. It is useful because it guards one against the dangers of what I have, in the past, referred to as ‘cappucino Christianity’ – all froth and very little substance. Acknowledging the presence of troughs takes the pressure off the peaks – the idea that all Christian endeavour and experience ought to be tremendously exciting and thrilling all the time. (This idea, which is pernicious and can be supported with the misapplication of the Bible – Psalm 16:11 is a good example of the type of verse often used in this regard – seems often to be the focus of Christian Youth events). There is a tremendous danger here, in that this idea does nothing so effectively as weaken the faith of those who adhere to it. You see, if we, as Christians, expect a peak-based experience of God all the time, any trough (and there will inevitably be troughs) will seem all the deeper, all the harder to get past. We will feel abandoned. And it is precisely because we feel these things that we must be careful. Lewis, again, though this time writing in ‘Mere Christianity’, says:
…Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off”, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train in the habit of Faith.
The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time each day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?
CS Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity’ (London: HarperCollins, 2002) pp 140-141
So acknowledgement of the Law of Undulation, the differing perception of our proximity to God, is important in terms of maintaining a strong faith, a coherent belief not subject to the whims of one’s present mood.
So that, more or less, was what I was talking about. Hope my explanation makes things a little clearer!
And here is today’s moment of Zen: