A LOVE SUPREME

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

When faith won't release you

In C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape is a tempter who is the uncle and mentor to another tempter named "Wormwood." Screwtape writes to him the following advice on dealing with Wormwood's human "patient," i.e. how to keep him away from God, the Kingdom, and Church. God, in this context, is the "enemy" spoken of by Screwtape, and the discussion is how to deal with humans when they go through "trough" periods - periods of emotional and spiritual dryness....



He [God, the enemy] cannot tempt to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk, and must therefore take away his hand. And if only the will to walk is really there he is pleased even with their stumbles.

Do not be deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our enemy's will looks round upon the universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken: and still obeys...
[C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters]



My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
- Jesus



The most mysterious thing about faith that I have discovered thus far in my life is how faith can hold on to God and continue in humility and obedience when all incentives are stripped away, and when the feelings of God's presence have vanished. Faith, in these cases seems to continue despite God: A stubborn refusal to relinquish faith and to remain steadfast. What is the basis for such faith? It transcends rational explanation. It is a conviction that comes from the deepest part of the soul, and dominates and permeates all aspects of our being. It is a faith that does not have the ability to be non-faith. It is as though one could not do otherwise. Even though the faithful one would like to let go and be relieved of this burden, their faith is too strong - it is compelling them and they cannot do otherwise. It holds on without reason. It is intangible and mysterious. And many of us will never encounter it.

To some they would see a faith that is shaky and faltering. The doubts are plaguing the mind and heart, and yet faith holds. It seems to those watching, and even to the person themselves, that such faith is faltering. But it is not faltering. Despite the doubts and turmoil the faith is actually solidifying - growing strong like a rock, or a tree whose roots spread out wide across the land and deep into the soil of the ground.

Should we even begin to speak of Job? Job's faith persisted despite the fact that God, himself was the enemy. Job was crushed by God. When Job desired a reason for his pain God only overwhelmed him. "I will question you and you will answer me." (Job 38:3) Rather than provide Job with peace and blessed assurance God only made Job tremble and say, "I despise myself." (Job 42:6) How does faith hold on when the object of faith is also the source of pain?

I have no desire for a Job-like faith. I would have to relinquish too much. Give too much. Fight too much. And, quite frankly, I don't know if I have what it takes. No one knows, of course, until they feel God's hand pressing them down. Few of us ever have to encounter this, though. So, it is easy enough to just live life.

But what Job gained was priceless. It was one of the most rare glimpse of pure faith that a human mortal can achieve. Job's faith in God shifted from a Job-centered perspective to a God-centered view, and this shift was complete. Job has no reason and nothing to gain by holding to his faith: "Curse God and die!" he was told. What a bizarre kind of faith that still holds on??? To hold on to the object of faith when the object of faith is the oppressor: I marvel at this.

My faith has been built in large part over the years on reasons, but what would keep me walking the faith when these reasons are painfully peeled away? This is the mystery.

5 comments:

Dawn said...

That's a great post. I've gotten the modern-day version of Job's wife, of "curse God and die" fame.

My work friends think I should marry a non-Christian, because they think my requirements are a bit too high. Basically, I've been told that until I give up the goodies, I'll be single.

Yikes.

I guess I'm staying single. It's that faith thing you're talking about. But I know it's not me, but God who actually strengthens my faith daily.

John said...

I'm about halfway through Screwtape now. The object so far seems mostly to keep Wormwood's "patient" from acting virtuously. There remain the personality quirks enshrined as virtues, and also a kind of general distaste for human company, be they the simpletons in the pew or the sophisticates in the world. Generally, though,I agree with the "Enemy's" position, Still, for the most part this could be a Stoic tract just as easily as a Christian one, no?

Anonymous said...

You say "It is a faith that does not have the ability to be non-faith. It is as though one could not do otherwise. Even though the faithful one would like to let go and be relieved of this burden, their faith is too strong - it is compelling them and they cannot do otherwise. It holds on without reason. It is intangible and mysterious. "

I can testify to this first hand. I would say I have this, but more truly IT has me. I have, at times, cursed the golden thread that has kept me tied to it when all of my being wanted to be released. When I thought I could bear no more. But that was before, and the mercy of it's refusal to let me go would be deemed the greatest of ironies.

I cannot explain, or even come close with words. I can only testify to the voracity of this 'faith', this force, this purpose.

Thank you, I have enjoyed your writings ~

Jonathan Erdman said...

I appreciate your testimony. That is an encouragment.

Thanks.

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