Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The virtue of reading old books (esp. theology)

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H.G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.

For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

No doubt some of you immediately recognized the above quotes as coming from C.S. Lewis's introduction to Athanasius' On the Incarnation. CSL's wise and witty endorsement is a wonderful bonus to what I know will be a rewarding book—one which I'm about to tackle. Though not with a pipe in my teeth.

Monday, June 28, 2010

J.P. and his friends

An illuminating vignette from Howard Zinn's account of the rise of the robber barons:

J.P. Morgan had started before the war, as the son of a banker who began selling stocks for the railroads for good commissions. During the Civil War he bought five thousand rifles for $3.50 each from an army arsenal, and sold them to a general in the field for $22 each. The rifles were defective and would shoot off the thumbs of the soldiers using them. A congressional committee noted this in the small print of an obscure report, but a federal judge upheld the deal as the fulfillment of a valid legal contract.

Morgan had escaped military service in the Civil War by paying $300 to a substitute. So did John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon. Mellon's father had written to him that "a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable."

How did men like Morgan, Rockefeller and Carnegie amass such wealth and power? Did their monopolies arise through competition and the workings of the American free enterprise system? No, not exactly.

And so it went, in industry after industry—shrewd, efficient businessmen building empires, choking out competition, maintaining high prices, keeping wages low, using government subsidies. These industries were the first beneficiaries of the "welfare state." By the turn of the century, American Telephone and Telegraph had a monopoly of the nation's telephone system, International Harvester made 85 percent of all farm machinery, and in every other industry resources became concentrated, controlled. The banks had interests in so many of these monopolies as to create an interlocking network of powerful corporation directors, each of whom sat on the boards of many other corporations. According to a Senate report of the early twentieth century, Morgan at his peak sat on the board of forty-eight corporations; Rockefeller, thirty-seven corporations.

Meanwhile, the government of the United States was behaving almost exactly as Karl Marx described a capitalist state: pretending neutrality to maintain order, but serving the interests of the rich.

Quotes from A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present (pp. 255, 257-8)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How great is our God!

I've been thinking about what theologians call the "incomprehensibility" of God. By this they mean that our knowledge of God is limited by our finite capacities. We will never fully comprehend his nature and attributes though we may spend an eternity trying. He "dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim. 6:16). However, despite our limitations we can possess true and genuine knowledge of God because we are his image-bearers and because he's graciously made himself known. I like how the editors of the Reformation Study Bible explain it:

As it would be wrong, however, to suppose ourselves to know everything about God (and so in effect to imprison Him in the box of our own limited notion of Him), so it would be wrong to doubt that our concept of God constitutes real knowledge of Him. One of the consequences of being made in God's image is that we are able both to know about Him and to know Him relationally, in a true if limited way. Calvin speaks of God as condescending to our weakness and accommodating Himself to our incapacity, both in the inspiration of the Scriptures and the incarnation of the Son, in order to give us genuine understanding of Himself. By analogy, the form and substance of a parent's baby-talk bears no comparison with the full contents of the parent's mind, which might be expressed in conversation with another adult; but still the child receives true information about the parent from the baby-talk, and responds with growing love and trust.

Baby talk is something I understand pretty well by now, and the analogy is helpful in that it also reminds me that God's proper name is Father of my Lord Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus you know the Father. If you don't know Jesus you don't know the Father. The Old Testament often uses anthropomorphic language to describe God. God is said to have a face, ears, eyes, feet, etc. A good example is Isaiah 59:1 (NIV) "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear." The LORD doesn't literally have arms and ears, but the language helps us understand something of his true character. As we delve into these mysteries it's important to remember that knowledge of God is not an end in itself. Theology without doxology is an empty exercise. Again, I like how the RSB sums it up.

We should never forget that the purpose of theology is doxology; we study in order to praise. The truest expression of trust in God will always be worship, and it will always be proper worship to praise God for being greater than we know.

Chris Tomlin's lyrics express well this connection between knowing God and praising God.

How great is our God,
Sing with me
How great is our God,
And all will see
How great
How great is our God!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Golden Goal

Well, here it is. The goal by Landon Donovan that literally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and sent the USA to the knockout round of the World Cup. It came in the dying seconds of a match full of agonizing twists and turns for the US side. I'll admit it, I broke down and cried. Truly one of the most amazing sports moments of my lifetime. As an added bonus the Americans ended up first in their group which means they'll be playing on Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday morning during church.

Ian Darke of Sky TV has the call . . .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Favorite Movie Dads

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, and especially to mine, whose years of hard work and sacrifice made it possible for me to enjoy the blessing of being a father myself. Here's a little fun something I put together in 2008 . . .

In honor of Father's Day I've compiled some of my favorite portraits of fatherhood at the movies. Some of these pater familias are seriously flawed, but I find redeeming qualities in all of them.

The Ideal: Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

The Patriarch: Don Corleone (Marlon Brando), The Godfather (1972)

The Suburban Superhero: Bob Parr (the voice of Craig T. Nelson), The Incredibles (2004)

The Heroic Single Dad: Chris Gardner (Will Smith), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

The Regretful Old Man: Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), Wild Strawberries (1957)

The Dreamer: Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

The Loveable Rascal: Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Working Class Icon: Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Who is your favorite movie dad?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Revival or reformation? (Sproul)

R.C. Sproul has a good article in Tabletalk Magazine called "Fueling Reformation". He makes three main points.

1. You can't schedule revival
2. Revival that doesn't lead to reformation has little lasting effect on society or the church
3. Reformed theology, or Calvinism, is far more than five points

On this last point Sproul writes:

In our day, we have seen the rise of what has been called the “New Calvinism,” which tends to focus primarily on the so-called five points of Calvinism. This movement within the church has attracted a great deal of attention, even in the secular media.

Yet it would be wise to not identify Calvinism exhaustively with those five points. Rather, the five points function as a pathway or a bridge to the entire structure of Reformed theology. Charles Spurgeon himself argued that Calvinism is merely a nickname for biblical theology. He and many other titans of the past understood that the essence of Reformed theology cannot be reduced to five particular points that arose centuries ago in Holland in response to controversy with the Arminians, who objected to five specific points of the system of doctrine found in historic Calvinism. . . . Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire worldview. It is covenantal. It is sacramental. It is committed to transforming culture. It is subordinate to the operation of God the Holy Spirit, and it has a rich framework for understanding the entirety of the counsel of God revealed in the Bible.

So it should go without saying that the most important development that will bring about reformation is not simply the revival of Calvinism. What has to happen is the renewal of the understanding of the gospel itself. It is when the gospel is clearly proclaimed in all of its fullness that God exercises His redeeming power to bring about renewal in the church and in the world. It is in the gospel and nowhere else that God has given His power unto salvation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Killjoy quote of the day

"We don't want our people to be preoccupied with seminude, crazy men jumping up and down who are chasing an inflated object."

Sheik Mohamed Osman Arus of Somalia, where watching the World Cup is banned

Quote via ESPNsoccernet

Photo via The Big Picture

Thursday, June 17, 2010

North Korean rent-a-fans, etc.

Adding a bizarre subplot to the 2010 World Cup is the participation of North Korea for only the second time in that sad country's history. Their first appearance was in 1966. Since the DPRK is a giant gulag with no freedom to travel for its citizens, it was questionable whether they would have any fans present for their first match against Brazil on Tuesday. As it turned out there were several dozen identically dressed Koreans (or were they?) looking like a red dot in the sea of green and yellow Brazil supporters. It was an odd sight. ESPN announcer Martin Tyler speculated on-air that they were handpicked Chinese actors.

Tyler wasn't far from the truth as Kevin Baxter reports in the L.A. Times:

In South Africa, a soccer game is a thinly disguised reason to sing, dance, scream and blow on a vuvuzela for hours. The North Korean fans handpicked to attend their country's World Cup opener Tuesday displayed all the joy and spontaneity of accountants attending a seminar.

That the game — played in a wind chill of 24 degrees — ended in a 2-1 victory for Brazil was predictable. That several hundred North Korean fans were on hand to watch it was not.

China's state-run news agency has reported that North Korea had offered tickets to sporting officials and tour agencies in China, which does not have a team here. Chinese journalists in South Africa had adopted the North Koreans as their own and, the news agency reported, about 1,000 Chinese dancers and musicians were recruited to cheer for the North Koreans.

But shortly before Tuesday's game started, a five-row block of seats on the second level at Ellis Park Stadium filled up with more than 40 men and a woman, all dressed in identical red shirts, jackets and scarves, wearing identical red caps and waving small North Korean flags. Across the way there was another similarly sized red dot of fans in grandstands that were otherwise filled with the green and yellow of Brazil.

Kim Yong Chon, 43, one of the North Korean fans, said the group, which numbered 300, was not Chinese, but he admitted they had been carefully recruited by the North Korean government to make the trip. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the group had left Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, and traveled through Beijing the same day and they would stay in South Africa as long as their team does.

Maybe when this is over they can fill empty seats at University of Miami home games. While I'm still on the subject of football/soccer -- tomorrow's match with Slovenia is huge for the American side. It's not as sexy as last Saturday's USA v. England tilt, but it's more important. A win is crucial. A draw or a loss might well prove fatal to American hopes of advancing to the Round of 16. Go Yanks!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Berkhof on the decrees

Reformed theology stresses the sovereignty of God in virtue of which He has sovereignly determined from all eternity whatsoever will come to pass, and works His sovereign will in His entire creation, both natural and spiritual, according to His pre-determined plan. It is in full agreement with Paul when he says that God "worketh all things after the counsel of His will," Eph. 1:11. For that reason it is but natural that, in passing from the discussion of the Being of God to that of the works of God, it should begin with a study of the divine decrees.

Though we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural, yet in its own nature the divine decrees is but a single act of God. This is already suggested by the fact that the Bible speaks of it as a prothesis, a purpose or counsel. It follows also from the very nature of God. His knowledge is all immediate and simultaneous rather than successive like ours, and His comprehension of it is always complete. And the decree that is founded on it is also a single, all-comprehensive, and simultaneous act. As an eternal and immutable decree it could not be otherwise. There is, therefore, no series of decrees in God, but simply one comprehensive plan, embracing all that comes to pass. Our finite comprehension, however, constrains us to make distinctions, and this accounts for the fact that we often speak of the decrees of God in the plural.

The word "counsel," which is one of the terms by which the decree is designated, suggests careful deliberation and consultation. It may contain a suggestion of an intercommunion between the three persons of the Godhead. . . . There may be a great deal in the decree that passes human understanding and is inexplicable to the finite mind, but it contains nothing that is irrational or arbitrary. God formed his determination with wise insight and knowledge. [cf. Eph. 3:10-11, Ps. 104:24, Prov. 3:19, Jer. 10:12, Jer. 51:15, Ps. 33:11, Prov. 19:21]

Quotes from Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (pp. 100, 102 & 103-4)

Friday, June 11, 2010

This is why we love it

ESPN's Chris Jones reporting from Johannesburg:

They are outnumbered, but Mexican fans have shown up in force for Friday's opening World Cup match against South Africa. Inside the stadium, their red, white and green outfits and costumes -- complete with sombreros, wrestling masks and the occasional Aztec warrior headdress -- stand out against the sea of yellow host jerseys.

Two minutes before the opening ceremonies began, they started chanting in their section in the upper bowl at Soccer City -- "Mexico! Mexico!" -- loud enough to be heard over the constant drone of vuvuzelas. The Mexicans countered with drums and rattles. The sound was incredible.

Some of the Mexican fans traveled more than 60 hours to be here. One wig-wearing group outside the stadium -- led by 25-year-old Edgar Gutierrez -- had arrived just in time for the kickoff. They had flown from Mexico City to New York, from New York to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Cape Town, capping their journey with the 14-hour drive to Johannesburg.

"This is our soul," Gutierrez said. "I guarantee you, there will be more Mexicans here than any other country. We love to party."

Game on!

The inconvenient truth

From a good editorial in our local newspaper:

In January 2001, as the Bush presidency began, with Republicans controlling Congress as they would for most of Mr. Bush's two terms, the national debt was roughly $5.7 trillion. The budget was running a surplus, though most economists considered it temporary. Over the next three years, Mr. Bush and the GOP did three things - by choice, and with Democratic help - that conspired to push the debt to about $10 trillion by the end of Mr. Bush's second term.

First came the tax cuts of 2001, based on Mr. Bush's premise that, given the surplus, the government had to "give people their money back" rather than pay down the debt. A study by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution concluded that when the cuts expire this year, they will have cost the government $2.34 trillion. Sixty-one percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest 20 percent of U.S. households.

Next came the October 2002 vote in Congress that authorized Mr. Bush to invade Iraq. The most important cost has been 4,402 American lives and the lives of at least 100,000 Iraqis, but the mistaken war also has cost the treasury $1 trillion and counting. As late as 2006, Mr. Bush and the Republicans still were paying for the war on an emergency basis, fudging the impact on the deficit as the debt kept rising.

Finally, in December 2003 Congress passed and President Bush signed the Medicare Part D prescription drug bill. Like the tax cuts and the Iraq War, it was not paid for. Former Comptroller General David Walker, the nation's top accountant, called it "the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s." Packed with subsidies for insurers and drug companies, the bill's cost over 75 years was pegged at more than Social Security.

The bottom line?

The country can't move ahead from here without understanding how we got here. It wasn't just Democrats or Republicans or Wall Street or the government or consumers. It was all of us. To believe anything else diminishes the country.

As for my Tea Party friends -- I share their concern for out-of-control spending and debt. But I'd be more impressed with their vocal fiscal conservatism if it hadn't suddenly appeared on January 20, 2009.

Are you ready for some football?

I mean the other football. The one we Yanks call soccer. I admit it, I'm psyched about the World Cup -- a month-long extravaganza of sport, nationalism and cheesy pop anthems. It's the world's favorite sport played every four years on the world's biggest stage. To try and get you in the mood here's the clever Nike Write the Future ad starring Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Wayne Rooney (England) & Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), along with a few of their friends. It was directed by the talented Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

David, the repentant priest-king

I'm reading 1 Chronicles. King David looks really good until you get to chapter 21, then the narrative abruptly shifts gears.

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (v. 1)

You probably know the story. David goes on to conduct a census of the people after overriding the vehement objections of his right-hand man Joab. Being a loyal servant Joab carried out David's wish, but not without some civil disobedience. He refused to number the tribes of Levi and Benjamin ("for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab").

On the surface it's not obvious why God was displeased with David's act. The Mosaic law didn't prohibit a census, in fact Exodus 30:11-16 gives instructions for one. Some commentators see a clue in Joab's refusal to count Levi. Perhaps David had it in his mind to draft Levites into the army, which would have been a clear violation of the law. Others ascribe David's plan to pride and hubris. Maybe all the military success had gone to his head. Whatever the case the consequences were drastic. Through the prophet/seer Gad David is given a chance by the LORD to "pick his poison", either three years of famine, three months of military defeat, or three days of pestilence from the angel of the LORD. David chooses the latter with these remarkable words.

I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man. (v. 13)

It turned out to be severe mercy. The chronicler tells us that 70,000 men of Israel fell, and the angel's sword was poised Damocles-like over Jerusalem. In great repentance David becomes the righteous priest-king that God intended him to be. I'm struck that some of David's greatest moments come immediately after his greatest failures.

Then David and the elders,clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, "Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O LORD my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people." (v. 16-17)

The LORD relents, the sword is put back into its sheath, and Jerusalem is spared. David builds an altar on the future site of Solomon's temple, and his offerings are answered with fire from heaven. Clearly this is a watershed moment in the history of David and the people of God.

When reading about the life of David it's good to stay alert to the ways in which he shines light on the Son of David, Jesus. In David's intercession for Jerusalem we can see a matrix of meanings that foreshadow Christ's priestly work. He would speak of his body as a temple, and on a hill outside Jerusalem would offer himself up as the sinless (unlike David), once-for-all atoning sacrifice for his people's sin, turning aside the judgment of God for all those who accept him as their King.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Is Barack Obama a Christian?

If you judge his public statements as charitably as Glenn Beck and Peter Lillback judge George Washington's, then yes he is. At least Obama has spoken explicitly about Christ, the cross, the resurrection -- and by implication -- his belief in the Incarnation and Trinity -- none of which show up in the speeches and writings of our first president. After parsing some of the quotes trotted out to prove that Washington et al. were orthodox, Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ Daryl Hart concludes:

If you were as inclined to read Washington’s generic affirmations of providence as charitably as Lillback does, wouldn’t you also be inclined to view Obama as an evangelical Christian? Well, the reply might be, “Obama tolerated Jeremiah Wright and so that indicates the flaws in his devotion.” But Washington’s associations were not always so clean or holy. As the folks over at American Creation have explored, Washington made favorable comments about the Universalists. One could also point out that Washington was a Freemason. So it’s not as if Washington’s faith is squeaky clean compared to Obama’s.

In which case, the reason why Washington gets an orthodox grade and Obama fails has more to do with politics than religion. Why a Federalist is more attractive to Republicans than a Democrat is not entirely obvious since the political antagonisms that divided Federalists from Democratic-Republicans during 1790s about how to be a republic free from European political pressures are a long way from issues that divide today’s Republicans and Democrats over how best to be a superpower – an entity that the founders would hardly recognize. I for one would prefer Washington’s politics to the current convictions that dominate the city named after him. But Lillback’s point is not supposed to be about politics. It’s supposed to be about taking religion seriously. So then shouldn’t we take Obama’s religion seriously? And shouldn’t Obama’s assertions indicate that the bias of secular, liberal America is not nearly as partial as Lillback and Beck assume? Or that there is plenty of bias to go round?

As always, for the full context read the whole thing! For what it's worth I hope I run in to George Washington in the new heaven and new earth, but I'm perfectly comfortable with honoring him as the great man he was without having to transform him into a Christian icon, or spiritual leader of a movement to take our country back from the Godless Democrats.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Six times in the Bible Job is described as a man of integrity. I can't think of a higher aspiration than to be a man or woman of integrity. Living with integrity means more than not stealing or not telling lies. Here's a helpful definition of integrity, and what it means to live a life characterized by integrity.

Integrity, while sometimes used simply as a synonym for honest or good, has much deeper connotations. Webster's tells us that integrity is "the quality or state of being complete; unbroken condition; wholeness; entirety." A quick look at its root confirms this central meaning. An integer, for example, is a whole number, and to integrate is to make "whole or complete by bringing together parts." Likewise, if something is integral, it is "essential for completeness." And integrated is the opposite of "disintegrated"—broken into fragments.

In other words, a person of integrity is whole, complete, and sound. Integrity in the human person is the integration of the spiritual life with the life in the world, the unity of our words with our deeds, and a consistency, rather than an inconsistency, between our thoughts and beliefs. Our profession and our confession work together rather than against one another. This is the integrated person, the sound man, the complete woman—the person of integrity.

Michael P. Schutt, Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007) pp. 91-2

For followers of Jesus, living a life of integrity means a fundamental commitment to bring all of life under the lordship of Christ. It means resisting the temptation to compartmentalize, or disintegrate, our lives. In addition, the author suggests a Christian life of integrity requires "a continual pursuit of life in and through community" (primarily through the fellowship of the visible church) and a commitment to truth as God reveals it in creation and scripture.

This is a great book! I'll have more to say about it in the future, including why I'm reading a book written for lawyers even though I'm not one.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Marriage in its entirety (C.S. Lewis)

In addition to being a snapshot of one man's fear and doubting A Grief Observed contains some wonderful musings on marriage at its best, as God intended it. I especially like this bit . . .

For we did learn and achieve something. There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them. It is arrogance in us to call frankness, fairness, and chivalry 'masculine' when we see them in a woman; it is arrogance in them, to describe a man's sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as 'feminine.' But also what poor, warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible. Marriage heals this. Jointly the two become fully human. 'In the image of God created He them.' Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes. (p. 62 in the 1989 hardcover edition)

Lewis' phrase "entire marriage" I take to mean a complete or fulfilling marriage. Even though his marriage to Joy was all too short, he considered it "entire" and not truncated.

Friday, June 4, 2010

James Cameron on BP's "spillcam"

Director James Cameron -- who knows something about submersible movie making -- commenting on BP's underwater film project:

"The government really needs to have its own independent ability to go down there and image the site, survey the site and do its own investigation and monitor it. Because if you’re not monitoring it independently, you’re asking the perpetrator to give you the video of the crime scene."

via Amy Davidson

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grace on the diamond

If you're a baseball fan at all you probably know about Armando Galarraga's almost perfect game last night in Detroit. The Venezuelan pitcher was one out away from the first perfect game in Detroit Tigers history when umpire Jim Joyce made an incorrect call on what should have been the last out of the game (see video below).

Manager Jim Leyland, players and fans reacted with outrage. Everyone, that is, except for the one most offended -- Armando Galarraga. Umpire Joyce said of Galarraga after the game, "I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me." In interviews Galarraga refused to criticize Joyce, and accepted his apology with a hug. In a word, he extended grace. How like our God! He's the one most offended by our sin, yet in Christ he offers us grace and forgiveness if we'll accept it. And what's more, our awareness that we've "blown the call" is owing only to his initiative. He made the first move. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom. 5:8

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The test of belief

C.S. Lewis was a picture of contented bachelorhood when he met Joy (Davidman) Gresham. Their romance and marriage—dramatized in the play and film Shadowlands—was about as unlikely a match as one could imagine. Though he was a buttoned-up Englishman and she an outspoken New Yorker, their's was a sublime meeting of minds and hearts. Lewis described the few years they had together before Joy's life was cut short by bone cancer: "we feasted on love. . . . no cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied." Lewis was delighted to find in his 60's the happiness that eluded him as a young man.

When Joy was taken Lewis experienced a crisis of doubt. It was as if everything he believed had collapsed like a house of cards. As he grieved Lewis jotted down random memories, questions and meditations in some old notebooks he found lying around the house. In modern parlance this is Lewis "venting", some times with barely concealed rage. The diaries were published in 1961 as A Grief Observed. It's a singular book in the Lewis canon. I've been reading and enjoying it again, though it's a gutwrenching read.

Here's Lewis on the true test of belief:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But supposed you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? The same with people. For years I would have said that I had perfect confidence in B.R. Then came the moment when I had to decide whether I would or would not trust him with a really important secret. That threw quite a new light on what I called my 'confidence' in him. I discovered that there was no such thing. Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. (pp. 34-5)

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand. (p. 37)

I'm thankful "Jack" left us this brutally honest account of his wrestlings with doubt. At the end his questions remain mostly unanswered, but I hear the echo of that prayer: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!"