Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men..."

Those of us who use Logos software are offered a free book each month. This August the free book is John Stott's Why I Am a Christian (2003). The first chapter he titles "The Hound of Heaven" after the Francis Thompson poem:
Francis Thompson spent a lonely and loveless childhood, and failed successively in his attempts to become a Roman Catholic priest, a doctor (like his father) and a soldier. He ended up lost in London until a Christian couple recognized his poetic genius and rescued him. Throughout these years he was conscious of both pursuing and being pursued, and expressed it most eloquently in his poem ‘the Hound of Heaven’. Here is its beginning:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.
Stott goes on in the chapter to write of several converts whose experience was of being pursued by God: the apostle Paul, Augustine, Malcolm Muggeridge, and finally C.S. Lewis, about whom he writes:
But nobody has expressed this sense of the divine pursuit more eloquently than C.S. Lewis (1898–1963), whose honest account I have already referred to. Lewis was an Oxford and Cambridge scholar, literary critic, children’s fiction-writer and Christian apologist.

For some time before his conversion Lewis was aware that God was after him. In his autobiographical sketch Surprised by Joy he piles up metaphors to illustrate it. First, God was ‘the great Angler’, playing his fish, ‘and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue’. Next, he likened God to a cat chasing a mouse. ‘Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man’s search for God”. To me…they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.’ Thirdly, he likened God to a pack of hounds. ‘The fox had been dislodged from the Hegelian Wood and was now running in the open…bedraggled and weary, hounds barely a field behind. And nearly everyone now (one way or another) in the pack…’ Finally, God was the Divine Chessplayer, gradually manoeuvring him into an impossible position. ‘All over the board my pieces were in the most disadvantageous positions. Soon I could no longer cherish even the illusion that the initiative lay with me. My Adversary began to make His final moves.’ So Lewis entitled his penultimate chapter ‘Checkmate’.

Lewis’s actual moment of surrender to Christ in Oxford he described in memorable words:
You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
The Logos free book link is here. The book can also be purchased here. C.S. Lewis' spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, can be found here.

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