A Subtle Snare
“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself … as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in small matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies has lost the power to read them? Or an organiser of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.”
CS Lewis. The Great Divorce.
We live in an age of knowledge and of great power, and the individual citizen today can do things that the most powerful of heads of state could only dream of fifty years ago. This power brings with it opportunities unimagined, but also a raft of new temptations, or rather old temptations adapted to new situations (is there ever anything new under the sun?)
Today, I can sit in my living room and order a rare book from London or read a paper written by a scholar in Zurich at the click of a button. I have access to a marketplace of ideas that is so huge its very size smothers me if I stop to think about it. For the curious mind, this is intoxicating! How easy to lose oneself in an ocean of stimulating knowledge and new ideas! How wonderful to acquire new understanding, to see old things in new ways, to penetrate the depths of ignorance and shine the light of comprehension upon their previously dark treasures!
Apologetics is a marvellous revelation for those whose mind is so inclined. We drink the heady mead of rationality and find that the logic of this world points to its Creator! How wonderful! How sweet! And yet, apologetics is only medicine for the doubting soul; and no one can live on medicine alone. One needs heavenly bread and living water. Apologetics points the way, it heals the wounds of confusion, but then it is time for the daily bread of communion with the existent to carry out the process of nourishment.
Service in the house of the Lord is honourable and fulfilling. It provides the servant with a deep sense of belonging and achievement, whatever the nature of that service may be. I am doing something good for the Lord! Yet it is so easy for that “for the Lord” to turn quietly into “for me”. The very satisfaction and fulfillment one derives from service can become in itself an end, usurping its proper role as a means for the crucifixion of the ego and the losing of the self in the ocean of love that is God. And soon, God Himself is forgotten.
Intoxication is a dangerous thing. It has a life of its own, and unless it is tamed and subdued to the will, it will take over in its own right. It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of mistaking the means for the end. So simple is this trap that one wonders how anyone could ever fall into it all, and yet, it daily claims its thousands and ten thousands of victims. The quote above from CS Lewis’ imaginative little classic describes this temptation perfectly. If the devil cannot keep you away from doing good, he will engross you in it and turn it into a lust. Yes, even serving God can become a sinful lust.
We are all susceptible. The priest and the deacon are susceptible to being so caught up in the beauty of the tunes of the service that they forget the One whom those tunes honour. The Sunday School or Youth servant can be so engrossed in lessons and activities that they lose sight of the Friend to whom they are supposed to introduce those they serve. The person praying in her room behind a closed door can become so concerned with fulfilling her duty to pray this prayer and that prayer that she can no longer see the Lord listening to her empty words with sadness.
And the subtleness of this pernicious trap is that it doesn’t look like a trap. From the outside, it looks for all the world as though you are doing everything right; more than right in fact. How many empty vessels like this are praised constantly in our churches for all the wonderful work they are doing? Which only goes to reinforce this cycle of emptiness.
“From the outside” – that’s where the illusion lives. The solution, on the other hand, is to be found on the inside. In the solitude of one’s heart, in that place where the heart is laid mercilessly bare and naked before God, where truth can no longer be hidden and pride has no substance to give it form, there is where a person awakes from his false dream to the reality of God.
And there, one discovers the true purpose for which intoxication was invented by God. Here is the addiction that truly adds life instead of taking it away. It is the intoxication with the Lord of Joy and Love, of which all earthly intoxications are just shadows and corruptions, cheap and nasty imitations that take away life rather than bestowing it. When one is intoxicated with the love and joy of God, every ‘drug’ loses its attraction. There is no longer any danger of mistaking the means for the end.