Thursday, February 20, 2014

C.S. Lewis / "The Four Loves" / What the Pagan does not conceive--jolly beggars

"All those expressions of unworthiness which Christian practice puts into the believer's mouth seem to the outer world like the degraded and insincere grovellings of a sycophant before a tyrant, or at best a facon de parler like the self-depreciation of a Chinese gentleman when he calls himself  'this coarse and illiterate person'.  In reality, however, they express the continually renewed, because continually necessary, attempt to negate that misconception of ourselves and of our relation to God which nature, even while we pray, is always recommending to us.  No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable.  The Pagans obeyed this impulse unabashed;  a good man was 'dear to the gods' because he was good.  We, being better taught, resort to subterfuge.  Far be it from us to think that we have virtues for which God could love us.  But then, how magnificently we have repented!  As Bunyan says, describing his first and illusory conversion, 'I thought there was no man in England that pleased God better than I.'  Beaten out of this we next offer our own humility to God's admiration.  Surely He'll like that?  Or if not that, our clear-sighted and humble recognition that we still lack humility.  Thus, depth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness.  It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.  Surely we must have a little--however little--native luminosity?  Surely we can't be quite creatures?

For this tangled absurdity of a Need, even a Need love, which never fully acknowledges its own neediness, Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence.  We become 'jolly beggars'.  The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his Need.  He is not entirely sorry for the fresh Need they have produced.  And he is not sorry at all for the innocent Need that is inherent in his creaturely condition.  For all the time this illusion to which nature clings as her last treasure, this pretense that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy.  We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet--or one foot--or one toe--on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf."  (pp. 158, 159)

No comments: