Given that religion is ‘us talking about God’, what is this unique claim Christianity makes about what God does about us? Lewis gives a brief answer in the following statement. ‘Christians … of all men must not think of spiritual joy and worth as things that need to be rescued or tenderly protected from time and place and matter and senses. Their god is the god of corn and wine and oil. He is the glad creator. He has become himself incarnate. The sacraments have been instituted. Certain spiritual gifts are offered us on the condition that we perform certain bodily acts. To shrink back from all that can be called nature into negative spirituality is to run away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room for renunciation, but behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot even control an earthly body? These small and perishable earthly bodies were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage these not that we may someday be free of horses altogether, but that someday we may ride bareback, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the kings stables.’
The picture is of a quest or expedition to accomplish a prescribed task and along the way there are certain opportunities and hazards out of which great blessings can come, or not. In other words, there is a story and we are co-creating it with our great creator. As I have written in a previous post, ‘We see hints of this in the crucifixion story where The Messiah makes a lot of unexpected statements: ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; If it be your will let this cup pass; Behold your mother; Father forgive them; You will be with me in paradise.’
These statements imply that Jesus had not at all been taken by surprise, which un-nerved Pilate and the soldiers. They saw their life in this world as the main event, but Jesus knew that his life was a two-stage quest: Stage I, where we do deeds in this life that follow us into the next (as in any quest). Stage II, where—after an intermediate stage of disembodiment—what we have grown and built in Stage I (homes, lives, friendships, families, work) is somehow caught up in a great physical resurrection and made deathless and eternal— a vindication of innocence and of those who have been loyal to the innocent.
There is much in this for us to think about. For, if on the one hand it is true that Calvary has already absorbed the judgement of even the most terrible of sinners, leaving no obstruction barring their entry—if they wish—into the blessings of eternal life; what of their past and present behaviour?
Is this merely about ‘getting there’, or do we need to think about what might be left of us when we get there? Could it be that, although we belong to Christ, part of us may have already been lost to the cancer of evil? It says in Corinthians: ‘Your deeds will follow you into eternity,’ and, ‘The fire will prove what sort of work each one has done. If the work that a man has built upon the foundation stands the test, he will be rewarded. But if a man’s work be destroyed under the test, he loses it all. He personally will be safe, though rather like a man rescued from a fire.’ (1Cor3:12-15).
Then there is the other part, all that stuff about being made new and eternal. The appearance of what has been described as ‘transphysical’ bodies, of which Jesus is the first, the pioneer. And even a transphysical universe that has also been somehow impregnated with every good and beautiful and true thing ever done.
It is this that explains the long and energetic history of Christians happily foregoing personal wealth and comfort in order to love and serve their families and their neighbours in ordinary moments every day: soup kitchens, foster care, hospitals, birthday parties, medical clinics and a host of others. They know that everything counts and nothing will be in vain, even if it does ‘all go up in smoke’. They know for a fact that possessions, money and even their own lives will somehow become fountains of eternal love, if only they allow them to be released into the lives of others—not out of a morbid fear or a pious desire to be ‘unselfish’ but in a kind of ‘joining in of the dance’ that is love made alive and hilarious. As Anthony Bloom once said, ‘All the food of this world is divine love made edible … The moment we try to be rich by keeping we are the losers … This is the Kingdom, the sense that we are free from possession’—in other words, from being possessed by our possessions. And in particular, from having potentially eternal love imprisoned in us by a grubby little desire to somehow hoard it.
For you, the best time to release the love tied up in your lifestyle and your possessions was probably a long time ago, but the second best time is today. Why not imitate God and make your love edible today?