C.S. Lewis is always good for a painfully simple, yet completely overlooked insight.
If there’s one thing that our culture likes to fight, it’s the idea of commandments, righteousness, or thou-shalt-nots. Fortunately, I think post-modernity is starting to grow out of the idea that rules are stupid and useless, and there’s no such thing as real truth. That proposition is just flat-out self-defeating (as many Christians have clumsily pointed out over the past ten years, either with some cliche question like “so there’s absolutely no absolute truth?” or by stealing somebody’s iPod and scolding them when they get mad.)
So by now I’d say that most people are okay with the idea that there are some good rules out there. But the thing is, they have to be reasonable. You have to be able to explain to them in very practical terms why such-and-such is forbidden, or mandatory, or whatever.
And in some ways this is an abandonment of the spirit of post-modernism. It is a concession. Not because post-modernism is essentially relativistic and mushy, but because such intense practicality, and such a mathematical approach to morality, is essentially modern, and did not really exist at all before the Enlightenment.
Some Christians would like to see post-modernism defeated, or extinct. Personally, I have a lot of hope for it. I think it has a certain latent power to re-align our cultural mindset to biblical constructs, and repair the damage done by the Modern Era. Not by itself, of course, but it is a good container for such a movement, in my humble opinion.
So what’s a post-modern to do with all these rules that Christianity tries to impose on us? Do we retreat to modernity and filter out those which seem to have no practical, logical bearings? Or do we appeal to spirit, to love, to mystery, to antiquity? Take a look at this verse …
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” -Jesus speaking in John 14:15
And this is where C.S. Lewis comes into it. In his science fiction book entitled Perelandra (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) the main character, an earthling, is talking to the female lead, who is like the plant Venus’ version of Eve. She is being tempted by Satan, in the form of another earthling, to disobey God’s only commandment to her. Much like in the story of Eve, this monolithic Venusian Don’t does not make any real sense. There is a statutory consequence (death) but no logical consequence. And because of this, she begins to consider disobedience an option.
But the main character, in a stroke of true post-modern beauty, pleads with her to respect the commandment. He says (to paraphrase), “You have said that you love your God… and that to live in obedience to him is a joy. But what is love when it’s easy? If he commanded you not to cut off your hand, you would gladly obey… but not necessarily out of love. You would obey because you clearly understand the consequences and pain that would result from disobedience. Therefore, genuine love does not occur. Perhaps God has given you this commandment as your only real opportunity to love Him. Because trust only comes into play when you don’t understand things fully for yourself. And love is dormant until you make a choice that is unpleasant or illogical.”
Some people do what they want because they want to do it. And I actually respect these people… at least they’re honest. But so many who claim to follow Christ reveal their true motivations by shaping his words to fit their lives, and not the other way around.
Some have tried to throw off the shackles of modernity by rejecting rules entirely, and discovered the futility of such an approach. If you are one of those people, now preparing to click your shackles back in place, let me plead with you to reconsider… to make the wild, irrational move of putting actual trust in God, even when you don’t see the reasons behind his requirements.
This, to me, is the heart of righteousness. Not to be show-offy or pious… but for your heart to be so broken with the love of God that you are completely at his disposal. Righteousness rings harsh to a lot of people, because the prefix “self-” has been unwittingly applied to so much of it. But I want to be the kind of righteous person that never causes the word “righteous” to arise in people’s minds.
I just want people to think, “Man, he sure does love God. Apparently he really loves me, too.” That’s righteousness.