Soul Killing (Part 4 of “IMUD” Series)

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Soul killing.

This is the term C.S. Lewis used to describe the notion that meaning is relative and personal.  We might add also that understanding that truth is primarily revealed by logic and reason might have been seen as one of the common tools used to steal life away from living, breathing truth.  Logic and reason have a place, no doubt, and are in dispensable tools in the search for meaning just as fiber is an indispensable part of a healthy diet.  A diet of fiber only, though, will cause some serious problems!  Likewise, reason and logic without the accompanying balance of anecdote, story, creativity and imagination can cause serious deficiencies.  When reason and logic become the sole tool of meaning AND this meaning is deemed true only for the individual who reasoned so then that is the death of the soul. 

In the human body every cell carries with it the DNA of the physical body of which it is a part.  This DNA is the “indisputable truth” of the physical existence of the person.  Even in today’s rapidly advancing scientific world where the potential for DNA alterations may exist, it remains true that the DNA of a person must be found identical in each cell all throughout the body.   Should every cell contain a different combination of the amino acids that combine to form DNA, the body will die.  The individual cell does not decide what is true about the body as a whole.  It cannot.  On the universal level, then, we might say that we, as individual cells of a much larger body, cannot determine on our own what is ultimately true and meaningful.

So, meaning is not only beyond ourselves but the way in which we understand, communicate and express this truth must also go far beyond the bounds of mere logic and reason.  This is where the power of Lewis’s fiction comes into play.  His works of fiction—most notably the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy—are full of truth and meaning that flow from a fountain of imagination and creative expression.  In these books we clearly seen the power of story and imagination.

Some have concluded that Lewis, in writing the Narnia books, intended to write a clear and direct allegory of the Christian story; to teach or preach the Christian message through story.  This is not exactly true.  One of Lewis’ primary objective was to “rehabilitate the modern imagination.”  We live in an age of rapid change, Lewis observed (and if he throught it true more than half a century ago, we can only imagine what he would say about the current rate of change in our version of the modern world), and “media’ed experience.”  Even in an age before computers, tablets and cell phones Lewis observed that people mostly live in a world created by humanity rather than the natural world.  Great numbers of people have little interaction on any kind of regular basis with the natural world.  This change of environment from past generation and eras has brought with it massive changes in the default settings of thinking, relationship and the delivery of information.

In a world where everything is written down in words, where important truths are remembered in catchy phrases and soundbites, and where the patient work of thinking through an issues thoroughly is a skill unpracticed and forgotten by many, the power of imagination has been altered and reduced to mere creativity and the exaltation of the imaginary.  Our modern society experiences no lack of creativity and the imaginary—movies, books, internet, and more all provide floods of images.  We inundated with images of what was, is and could be.  Or, better said, what advertisers tell us could be, even if the image they project far beyond the realm of likelihood or even possibility.

But Lewis’s use of the word “imagination” is different.  His intention with his fiction works is not to simply be creative (though the stories are very much so) or to create an imaginary world (which he does so masterfully) but to spark the imagination, the pre-cognitive part of us that creates in us thoughts, images, impressions and reactions long before we have time to use our tools of reason and logic.  The pre-cognitive, or “pre-thinking,” part of our being operates on the default settings of our intellect—opening up doors of understanding in the subconscious.

Rapid change messes with default settings.  Therefore, Lewis’ reasons for venturing into the world or fiction were to (1) resensitize people to what was true; (2) restore a sense of wonder of the ordinary; (3) restore the power of myth and ancient stories that held great meaning; (4) liberate the imagination from superficial excitement that is easily multiplied by technology; (5) liberate the imagination from entrapment to the immediate gratification where the higher and highest is easily lost, stuck in the mundane.

Lewis wanted to grab the readers imagination.  He was uneasy talking about the purpose behind his fiction and steadfastly denied that his intention was to illustrate Christian ideas.  Rather, as he created worlds and the characters he wanted to open the readers imagination to what was possible, not in a meta-physical sense, but to the meanings and deep truths that were our world but so hard to see in the fast-changing media saturated world.  In doing so he was able to share our-world truth through the lens of another world. 

Lewis did not start with a pre-determined end in mind but rather let the moral truth of the story come through naturally as he was in the writing process.  In a sense the moral truths within Lewis shaped the story while at the same the time writing process refined the moral truths that came through the story.  Lewis desired to create a simple story but with such texture and deep meanings that multiple re-readings of the story would continue to reveal new ideas and wonderment.

Where reason and logic work in generalities, stories point to particulars and specific examples of truth played out in the world, whether that world is real or imaginative.  Stories give us experiences we ourselves have never had.  The point of fiction, then, is not to present a book report on life but rather to add a new experiences to life.

For example, in the Narnia series Aslan is not a fictitious representation of the doctrine of God or an abstract picture of God.  Aslan is Aslan.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Yet, in the character of Aslan shines forth something that reminds us of God—a God who is good, but not safe.  It would be going too far to logically align every word and action of Aslan to the Biblical understanding of God.  That’s not the point.  But through Aslan the imagination is able to circumvent a dry and worn-out familiarity with known doctrinal statements about God and recover the sense of amazement, joy, and wonder that comes with a new, unsuspected realization of a truth about God revealed through an imaginative creature, like Aslan.

In the human characters, such as Edmond and Lucy, we see people very much like us; people with quirks and imperfections that remind us of the same things that trip us up.  One of the most powerfully exciting features of Lewis’ Narnia stories is that the main characters are primarily children.  These children find themselves in the midst of amazing adventures of discovery, new experiences and danger.  Children love discovery, newness and danger!  Where adults hesitate, wait, evaluate, and contemplate while children will run full steam ahead without fear in full confidence that their parents are watching out for them and will be there when needed.

Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you can have no part in the kingdom of God.”  Maybe this was not an admonition to be simple or immature but rather full of the wonder and excitement that comes with being a child.  Maybe Jesus was telling his disciples to go!  Discover!  Experience!  And stand with wide-eyed wonder at the world even in the midst of the unsafe situations of our world.  For again, Aslan was not safe…but very good.

Perhaps what we need in our hyper-media’ed world of hyper-speed change are not more logically reasoned statements of faith and books of doctrine that attempt to address every possible situation is a constantly changing world, but rather a commitment to the two laws that Jesus gave—Love God and love your neighbor—and lots of wonderful stories that speak to our imaginations, showing what that kind of love looks like.

Meaning and Understanding (Part 2 of “IMUD” Series)

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The opposite of “meaning” is not “untruth”.  The opposite of “meaning” is “nonsense” also known in some circles as nonsensical, gibberish, baloney or gobblygook.  In other words the opposite of “meaning” or “meaningful” is that which has no clear meaning.  Meaning is the pre-condition for both truth and falseness.  In other words, if there was no clear meaning then one could not judge a thing to be either true or false.  By the same token, we could also say that when a person does not understand a thing (so therefore there is no meaning) they cannot be expected to make a genuine decision about that thing.

  • A mathematics student that does not understand the meaning of fractions may have much trouble deciding whether it is best to accept 1/3 or the chocolate pie or 1/9 of the pie.
  • A young husband may foolishly answer his wife’s question, “Do I look fat?” with an honest, “Yes, you’ve put on a few pounds,” because he has not yet learned to understand the question behind the questions.
  • A Hindu or Muslim who does not truly understand the meaning of the Christian faith, person of Jesus Christ and the deep truth found in Christian Scripture (which are often hidden behind Christian platitudes and hit-and-run evangelism techniques, unfortunately) cannot truly make a judgment on the truth or falseness of the Christian faith. If they reject Christian faith without understanding it’s meaning, then have not rejected Christ, but rather a false and/or deficient understanding of him.  We should not force anyone into anything that they do not understand, nor keep them from rejecting what they do fully understand (though, it would seem, this is less often the case).  In the same way, we should not encourage people to accept something they do not fully understand without the opportunity for continued growth of understanding.  

Lewis understood Imagination to be the organ of meaning.  By imagination he did not mean what we often mean by imagination, that is “make believe.”   For Lewis the term imagination was more like a dream or vision of something that wasn’t, but could be.  Imagination could also come through a fictional story that, by use of imagination, could point to a real truth.  Lewis’ Narnia series—and even moreso the parables told by Jesus—all worked through the imagination to help people find meaningful truths.  Sometimes these truths were visions of what would be, could be or should be.  Through imagination, reason and will are transformed, as unseen truths become clear and visions for what can and will be come into focus.

Doctrine, for example, is not the foundational truth about Christianity but rather translations and succinct statements that digest the much wider truths of what God has revealed to us through the “lived language” that is recorded in the Christian Scriptures.  This “lived language” of God is not the Bible, properly understood, but rather the real, historical and personal story of God and life of Jesus Christ that was actually played out in history and time.  Christian Scriptures, inspired by God, are not exhaustive of this “lived language” (they don’t tell us every story and every event than happened) but they do tell us—using rational power of history, the affective power of prose and the imaginative power of story—all that God needs to tell us about Himself and his work throughout history.

Doctrines and systematic theologies are developed from the wide breadth of Christian Scripture for the purpose of helping us understand.  Doctrines, however, are less true than the actual story of God and His work among the people around the world that has been revealed throughout history.  Not everything that is true can be adequately represented in the language of theology and doctrine.  Narrative and “lived language” are far more powerful for teaching and gaining full and true understanding.  A culture of rule-based doctrine leads to a lack of understanding.

For Lewis, the Gospel story was the essence of the Christian story.  There were many myths[1] and stories that pointed to deep truths through utilization of imagination, but the Christian story was the true myth that pointed the full understanding of truth and purpose through their use of reason and personal experience.  Imagination was lower than reason, but reason could not stand without imagination.  The myths and stories that that exist in every culture, language and people group hold in them truths that could be recognized through the power of imagination.  We, as Christians, might understand this to be a part of the prevenient grace of God that is poured out to all people, everywhere.  There is no one, anywhere, that is without some level of truth and understand—incomplete, to be sure, but not fully absent.

God is the Father of all light so there is not reason to deny the truth that exists among the pagan myths and other religious teachings.  Rather, we should seek out this truth and fan it into flame!  Paul pointed to the pagan gods—not saying “you’re wrong” but “your partly right”—to express a deeper understanding of what was true and to provide an opportunity for new and deeper understanding.  There is no need to denigrate, put-down or reject that which is not fully true or, more importantly, that which we do not fully understand.  Rather, we can look into a culture, a religious system or into the eyes of the person sitting across from us and say, “you have something good here, but there is more.”  We can meet them at the point where they are, at the point of meaning that they already possess and help them move—often slowly—in the direction of deeper understanding that can, in time, lead to a real decision.

The only basis for a proper interaction and encounter with the world around us is a proper respect for other ways of life, belief systems, philosophies and religions.  “Respect” means to look back at something in order to understand or know.  When we respect someone we look back to where they are for the purpose of understanding them and moving ourselves to where they are, even if we might perceive ourselves to be more advanced, more civilized or in a better place than they.  We willingly submit ourselves to their authority or their ways of being and doing.  When interacting with other cultures and people of other religions we must respect them—move to where they in order that we might better understand them AND that they might better understand who we are and why we live the way we live.

[1] A proper definition of “myth” does not imply falseness or untruth, but rather a traditional story of allegedly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.  The designation as “myth” alone does not imply truth or falsehood.  Many myths, even if historically or factually false, contain deep truths.

Where is meaning found? (Part 1 of “IMUD” Series)

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C.S. Lewis’ book entitled Abolition of Man gives us some important thoughts on the meaning of “meaning.”  Three key points include:

  • 1—Meaning is not to be found only in ones inner perception of a thing.
  • 2—Another person’s interpretation of my perception of a thing very much depends, to use another phrase from another of Lewis’ writings, “on where he is standing.”
  • 3—If (and when?) truth become merely a matter of individual perception, this will be the abolition of man, the end of humankind’s ability to function in any meaningful way.

In Western societies it is becoming more and more commonplace in education, religion and general society to encourage people to find their own meaning.  An example might be given of a literature class in which the teacher, rather than allowing the book to determine the course of discussion (as it was clearly written for a purpose and with a meaning in mind) the teacher now tends to encourage the student to find his/her own meaning.  In religion we also see this occurring when we hear people say something like “For me this verse means…”  This is at least in part a result of a highly privatized form of religion that sometimes, it seems, places individual devotions above the reading of God’s Word in community.

I think the Word must often be read in community, even if only as husband and wife or with a friend or two.  Focusing too strongly on individual devotions and individual interpretation can have unfavorable consequences.  I would venture to say that the only community reading of the Word that many people do is on Sunday mornings and often, in those times, not much of the Word is actually read.  In some religious traditions there is an extreme focus on memorizing their Scriptures while neglecting the inclination to explore the meaning contained in the words they memorize.  Sometimes the memorization is of a language the individual may not even understand.  The other extreme is to “proof-text” Scripture, taking it out of context in order support a personal interpretation of truth or a point that the individual wishes to make.  Both are dangerous.  Both bring about a personal interpretation of meaning without truly gaining meaning from the test itself.

Now, I will say this.  I don’t think it’s all bad to encourage people to search for meaning in a text.  I do this in my teaching of Scripture as I encourage students to read the text and use questions to help them “discover” the truth that is in the written word.  However, I don’t think we can carry this out to its full end by saying that whatever each student takes from passage is “truth for them.”  In the end we must, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, return to the text and seek to understand the context and purpose for which it was written and the meaning that was intended by the author.  This sort of “contextual criticism” is necessary to gain a full understanding of any written work.  Any written work only makes sense and can be rightly evaluated based on the context in which it was written.  So, too, our lives. 

Durian ice cream, given to a group of people in small town America might quickly be judged as “gross” and “disgusting.”  People might question the sanity of someone who would even thinking of making such a thing.  The same bowl of ice-cream given to a group of people in S.E. Asia would be considered a great treat and the giver would be greatly praised.  Context is everything.

Meaning and truth exist outside of an individual, though I may ascribe a personal reaction or commitment to the meaning and truth that exists outside of myself.  The point that is brought out from Lewis’ Abolition of Man is that we must be very careful not to become a society that is unwilling to see anything as objectively true or good or right.  When that occurs it will be the abolition of civilized humanity.

*This is Part 1 of a series entitled “Imagination, Meaning, Understanding, and Decision”

Under His Wings

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Dangers of  literal interpretation of Scripture — Part One

I’ve been reading through the Psalms and enjoying it greatly.  What a great, rich diversity of thoughts and expressions!  Yesterday I came to Psalm 91, which is a great Psalm and one that  I shared with the entire family in the aftermath of our home invasion which has resulted in some difficulties sleeping a general increase of “fear-ish-ness” in our home.  Psalm 91 also points out some of the difficulties and dangers of an absolute literal interpretation of the Bible.

Verse 4
He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Conversation

Literal reader:  This means that God has feathers and wings.

Me:  Let’s be careful to make such quick assumptions.  Other parts of Scripture tell us that no one has seen God and that God is spirit.  

Literal reader:  So the Scriptures cannot be trusted?  Are they contradictory?

Me:  No, not at all.  Language is a beautiful and complex things.  Meaning doesn’t come through only through the literal and mechanical combination of word formulas.  Deep and rich meanings also come through poetic language, allegory, word pictures, metaphors and more.  Particularly in the Psalms (though not only in the Psalms) words are painted as if on a canvas and are intended to help us understand and picture God, who is unseen and quite mysterious in many ways.

Literal reader:  So maybe God is not a great big chicken?

Me:  Yeah, maybe not.

Literal reader:  Yeah, but if this part of Scripture it not true then how can I accept any of the other parts?  How can I trust the authority of Scripture if the Bible doesn’t really say what it means?  Besides, I’m not a Bible scholar, how can I be expected to know which parts are literal, which are figurative, which are metaphors and which are not?  It’s much easier for me to just read it and believe it.

Me:  Those are all very important questions. There are lot of things that could be said here, but I think there are two important things to consider first.  First, the Scriptures are not intended to be a science, history, anthropology or literature textbook.  It’s purpose is not to teach you the history of Israel or the scientific origins of the universe.  It is intended to tell you the story of God (as one of my former professors, Dr. Michael Lodahl wrote about).  Our Scripture was never intended to teach a scientific theory of the specific process by which the universe was created, for example.  It was intended to teach of who God is, what He has done in our world, what He is doing and what He will do.  More importantly, the Scriptures carry in them the story of how God provided a solution our sin problem.  The Scriptures tell us everything we need to know about the solution for sin in our lives. 

Literal reader:  Okay, I can appreciate that but I still have a huge problem accepting that our Scripture could possibly have information that is not true.  If there are parts that are not true then how can I accept the parts that you say are important?

Me:  I understand.  I think here we need to make a very clear distinction between the Christian view of Scripture and those of other religious groups.  Muslims, for example, believe that their Holy Book was dictated to Muhammad word-for-word from God.  There is a belief then, that the Koran as it exists in Arabic right now is an EXACT replica of the same book that God has in heaven with him right now.  In a case like this your arguments stands–if there is any error found in the Koran then the entire book must be thrown out, or at least their understanding of the origins of their Scripture.

The Christian understanding of Scripture is not at all like this, although some within Christianity have tried to move in this direction.  The problem is that the text of Christian Scripture was never intended to be used in this way.  We believe that God INSPIRED the Biblical writers but did NOT dictate to them.  The words they wrote were what God was teaching and revealing to them expressed in their own words, from their own perspective and based on the culture, insights and knowledge that was available to them.   There is no expectation that the writers knew everything that there was to know.  

I’m not sure God really cares all that much if we understand fully the origins of the universe, but there are some things he does want us to know.  Let’s begin again at Psalm 91:4 and continue from there:

Verse 4
He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.  We can find rest and protection in the promises that God has made.

Verse 5-6
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.  Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.  We don’t need to be afraid at night or during the day, of things seen and unseen.

Verse 9-10
If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.  As in the verse above this is not teaching us that nothing bad will ever happen to us, that we’ll never get sick or that every possible negative will bypass us as if we are invisible.  Nowhere in Scripture do we see God’s people living such lives.  However, we need not be entrapped and enslaved by the evil around us–we can live different kinds lives.

Verse 11-12
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.  They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.  I stubbed my toe yesterday.  Does that make this Scripture untrue?  No.  However, I can be sure that God is watching over me and the heavenly angels, too.  I am safe in his company.  Even though my body is weak my soul is untouched.  I need not worry about anything, big or small.  Compared to flying arrows a stubbed toe is a small thing.  Yet, I need not worry about the little things that also trip up so many people.  God is watching over me.  And even when I am walking through a very rocky place in my life, God is watching my steps, leading me through.

Verse 14-16
The lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.  I will protect those who trust in my name.
15When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honor them.
16I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

~Do Everything In Love

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Soul Killing (Part 4 of “IMUD” Series)

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Soul killing.

This is the term C.S. Lewis used to describe the notion that meaning is relative and personal.  We might add also that understanding that truth is primarily revealed by logic and reason might have been seen as one of the common tools used to steal life away from living, breathing truth.  Logic and reason have a place, no doubt, and are in dispensable tools in the search for meaning just as fiber is an indispensable part of a healthy diet.  A diet of fiber only, though, will cause some serious problems!  Likewise, reason and logic without the accompanying balance of anecdote, story, creativity and imagination can cause serious deficiencies.  When reason and logic become the sole tool of meaning AND this meaning is deemed true only for the individual who reasoned so then that is the death of the soul. 

In the human body every cell carries with it the DNA of the physical body of which it is a part.  This DNA is the “indisputable truth” of the physical existence of the person.  Even in today’s rapidly advancing scientific world where the potential for DNA alterations may exist, it remains true that the DNA of a person must be found identical in each cell all throughout the body.   Should every cell contain a different combination of the amino acids that combine to form DNA, the body will die.  The individual cell does not decide what is true about the body as a whole.  It cannot.  On the universal level, then, we might say that we, as individual cells of a much larger body, cannot determine on our own what is ultimately true and meaningful.

So, meaning is not only beyond ourselves but the way in which we understand, communicate and express this truth must also go far beyond the bounds of mere logic and reason.  This is where the power of Lewis’s fiction comes into play.  His works of fiction—most notably the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy—are full of truth and meaning that flow from a fountain of imagination and creative expression.  In these books we clearly seen the power of story and imagination.

Some have concluded that Lewis, in writing the Narnia books, intended to write a clear and direct allegory of the Christian story; to teach or preach the Christian message through story.  This is not exactly true.  One of Lewis’ primary objective was to “rehabilitate the modern imagination.”  We live in an age of rapid change, Lewis observed (and if he throught it true more than half a century ago, we can only imagine what he would say about the current rate of change in our version of the modern world), and “media’ed experience.”  Even in an age before computers, tablets and cell phones Lewis observed that people mostly live in a world created by humanity rather than the natural world.  Great numbers of people have little interaction on any kind of regular basis with the natural world.  This change of environment from past generation and eras has brought with it massive changes in the default settings of thinking, relationship and the delivery of information.

In a world where everything is written down in words, where important truths are remembered in catchy phrases and soundbites, and where the patient work of thinking through an issues thoroughly is a skill unpracticed and forgotten by many, the power of imagination has been altered and reduced to mere creativity and the exaltation of the imaginary.  Our modern society experiences no lack of creativity and the imaginary—movies, books, internet, and more all provide floods of images.  We inundated with images of what was, is and could be.  Or, better said, what advertisers tell us could be, even if the image they project far beyond the realm of likelihood or even possibility.

But Lewis’s use of the word “imagination” is different.  His intention with his fiction works is not to simply be creative (though the stories are very much so) or to create an imaginary world (which he does so masterfully) but to spark the imagination, the pre-cognitive part of us that creates in us thoughts, images, impressions and reactions long before we have time to use our tools of reason and logic.  The pre-cognitive, or “pre-thinking,” part of our being operates on the default settings of our intellect—opening up doors of understanding in the subconscious.

Rapid change messes with default settings.  Therefore, Lewis’ reasons for venturing into the world or fiction were to (1) resensitize people to what was true; (2) restore a sense of wonder of the ordinary; (3) restore the power of myth and ancient stories that held great meaning; (4) liberate the imagination from superficial excitement that is easily multiplied by technology; (5) liberate the imagination from entrapment to the immediate gratification where the higher and highest is easily lost, stuck in the mundane.

Lewis wanted to grab the readers imagination.  He was uneasy talking about the purpose behind his fiction and steadfastly denied that his intention was to illustrate Christian ideas.  Rather, as he created worlds and the characters he wanted to open the readers imagination to what was possible, not in a meta-physical sense, but to the meanings and deep truths that were our world but so hard to see in the fast-changing media saturated world.  In doing so he was able to share our-world truth through the lens of another world. 

Lewis did not start with a pre-determined end in mind but rather let the moral truth of the story come through naturally as he was in the writing process.  In a sense the moral truths within Lewis shaped the story while at the same the time writing process refined the moral truths that came through the story.  Lewis desired to create a simple story but with such texture and deep meanings that multiple re-readings of the story would continue to reveal new ideas and wonderment.

Where reason and logic work in generalities, stories point to particulars and specific examples of truth played out in the world, whether that world is real or imaginative.  Stories give us experiences we ourselves have never had.  The point of fiction, then, is not to present a book report on life but rather to add a new experiences to life.

For example, in the Narnia series Aslan is not a fictitious representation of the doctrine of God or an abstract picture of God.  Aslan is Aslan.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Yet, in the character of Aslan shines forth something that reminds us of God—a God who is good, but not safe.  It would be going too far to logically align every word and action of Aslan to the Biblical understanding of God.  That’s not the point.  But through Aslan the imagination is able to circumvent a dry and worn-out familiarity with known doctrinal statements about God and recover the sense of amazement, joy, and wonder that comes with a new, unsuspected realization of a truth about God revealed through an imaginative creature, like Aslan.

In the human characters, such as Edmond and Lucy, we see people very much like us; people with quirks and imperfections that remind us of the same things that trip us up.  One of the most powerfully exciting features of Lewis’ Narnia stories is that the main characters are primarily children.  These children find themselves in the midst of amazing adventures of discovery, new experiences and danger.  Children love discovery, newness and danger!  Where adults hesitate, wait, evaluate, and contemplate while children will run full steam ahead without fear in full confidence that their parents are watching out for them and will be there when needed.

Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you can have no part in the kingdom of God.”  Maybe this was not an admonition to be simple or immature but rather full of the wonder and excitement that comes with being a child.  Maybe Jesus was telling his disciples to go!  Discover!  Experience!  And stand with wide-eyed wonder at the world even in the midst of the unsafe situations of our world.  For again, Aslan was not safe…but very good.

Perhaps what we need in our hyper-media’ed world of hyper-speed change are not more logically reasoned statements of faith and books of doctrine that attempt to address every possible situation is a constantly changing world, but rather a commitment to the two laws that Jesus gave—Love God and love your neighbor—and lots of wonderful stories that speak to our imaginations, showing what that kind of love looks like. 

*This is Part 4 of a series entitled “Imagination, Meaning, Understanding, and Decision”

Part One ,  Two ,  Three

 

Meaning and Understanding (Part 2 of “IMUD” Series)

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The opposite of “meaning” is not “untruth”.  The opposite of “meaning” is “nonsense” also known in some circles as nonsensical, gibberish, baloney or gobblygook.  In other words the opposite of “meaning” or “meaningful” is that which has no clear meaning.  Meaning is the pre-condition for both truth and falseness.  In other words, if there was no clear meaning then one could not judge a thing to be either true or false.  By the same token, we could also say that when a person does not understand a thing (so therefore there is no meaning) they cannot be expected to make a genuine decision about that thing.

  • A mathematics student that does not understand the meaning of fractions may have much trouble deciding whether it is best to accept 1/3 or the chocolate pie or 1/9 of the pie.
  • A young husband may foolishly answer his wife’s question, “Do I look fat?” with an honest, “Yes, you’ve put on a few pounds,” because he has not yet learned to understand the question behind the questions.
  • A Hindu or Muslim who does not truly understand the meaning of the Christian faith, person of Jesus Christ and the deep truth found in Christian Scripture (which are often hidden behind Christian platitudes and hit-and-run evangelism techniques, unfortunately) cannot truly make a judgment on the truth or falseness of the Christian faith. If they reject Christian faith without understanding it’s meaning, then have not rejected Christ, but rather a false and/or deficient understanding of him.  We should not force anyone into anything that they do not understand, nor keep them from rejecting what they do fully understand (though, it would seem, this is less often the case).  In the same way, we should not encourage people to accept something they do not fully understand without the opportunity for continued growth of understanding.  

Lewis understood Imagination to be the organ of meaning.  By imagination he did not mean what we often mean by imagination, that is “make believe.”   For Lewis the term imagination was more like a dream or vision of something that wasn’t, but could be.  Imagination could also come through a fictional story that, by use of imagination, could point to a real truth.  Lewis’ Narnia series—and even moreso the parables told by Jesus—all worked through the imagination to help people find meaningful truths.  Sometimes these truths were visions of what would be, could be or should be.  Through imagination, reason and will are transformed, as unseen truths become clear and visions for what can and will be come into focus.

Doctrine, for example, is not the foundational truth about Christianity but rather translations and succinct statements that digest the much wider truths of what God has revealed to us through the “lived language” that is recorded in the Christian Scriptures.  This “lived language” of God is not the Bible, properly understood, but rather the real, historical and personal story of God and life of Jesus Christ that was actually played out in history and time.  Christian Scriptures, inspired by God, are not exhaustive of this “lived language” (they don’t tell us every story and every event than happened) but they do tell us—using rational power of history, the affective power of prose and the imaginative power of story—all that God needs to tell us about Himself and his work throughout history.

Doctrines and systematic theologies are developed from the wide breadth of Christian Scripture for the purpose of helping us understand.  Doctrines, however, are less true than the actual story of God and His work among the people around the world that has been revealed throughout history.  Not everything that is true can be adequately represented in the language of theology and doctrine.  Narrative and “lived language” are far more powerful for teaching and gaining full and true understanding.  A culture of rule-based doctrine leads to a lack of understanding.

For Lewis, the Gospel story was the essence of the Christian story.  There were many myths[1] and stories that pointed to deep truths through utilization of imagination, but the Christian story was the true myth that pointed the full understanding of truth and purpose through their use of reason and personal experience.  Imagination was lower than reason, but reason could not stand without imagination.  The myths and stories that that exist in every culture, language and people group hold in them truths that could be recognized through the power of imagination.  We, as Christians, might understand this to be a part of the prevenient grace of God that is poured out to all people, everywhere.  There is no one, anywhere, that is without some level of truth and understand—incomplete, to be sure, but not fully absent.

God is the Father of all light so there is not reason to deny the truth that exists among the pagan myths and other religious teachings.  Rather, we should seek out this truth and fan it into flame!  Paul pointed to the pagan gods—not saying “you’re wrong” but “your partly right”—to express a deeper understanding of what was true and to provide an opportunity for new and deeper understanding.  There is no need to denigrate, put-down or reject that which is not fully true or, more importantly, that which we do not fully understand.  Rather, we can look into a culture, a religious system or into the eyes of the person sitting across from us and say, “you have something good here, but there is more.”  We can meet them at the point where they are, at the point of meaning that they already possess and help them move—often slowly—in the direction of deeper understanding that can, in time, lead to a real decision.

The only basis for a proper interaction and encounter with the world around us is a proper respect for other ways of life, belief systems, philosophies and religions.  “Respect” means to look back at something in order to understand or know.  When we respect someone we look back to where they are for the purpose of understanding them and moving ourselves to where they are, even if we might perceive ourselves to be more advanced, more civilized or in a better place than they.  We willingly submit ourselves to their authority or their ways of being and doing.  When interacting with other cultures and people of other religions we must respect them—move to where they in order that we might better understand them AND that they might better understand who we are and why we live the way we live.

[1] A proper definition of “myth” does not imply falseness or untruth, but rather a traditional story of allegedly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.  The designation as “myth” alone does not imply truth or falsehood.  Many myths, even if historically or factually false, contain deep truths.

*This is Part 2 of a series entitled “Imagination, Meaning, Understanding, and Decision”

Part One