MacDonald (as selected by Lewis)

(319) Holy Laughter

She turned therefore to the parable of the prodigal son, and read it. Even that had not a few words and phrases unknown to Gibbie, but he did not fail to catch the drift of the perfect story. For had not Gibbie himself had a father, to whose bosom he went home every night? Let but love be the interpreter, and what most wretched type will not serve the turn for the carriage of profoundest truth! The prodigal’s lowest degradation, Gibbie did not understand; but Janet saw the expression of the boy’s face alter with every tone of the tale, through all the gamut between the swine’s trough and the arms of the father. Then at last he burst—not into tears—Gibbie was not much acquainted with weeping—but into a laugh of loud triumph. He clapped his hands, and in a shiver of ecstasy, stood like a stork upon one leg, as if so much of him was all that could be spared for this lower world, and screwed himself together.

Janet was well satisfied with her experiment. Most Scotch women, and more than most Scotch men, would have rebuked him for laughing, but Janet knew in herself a certain tension of delight which nothing served to relieve but a wild laughter of holiest gladness; and never in tears of deepest emotion did her heart appeal more directly to its God. It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God, that is afraid to laugh in his presence.

Thus had Gibbie his first lesson in the only thing worth learning, in that which, to be learned at all, demands the united energy of heart and soul and strength and mind; and from that day he went on learning it.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

2 Likes

Thanks for your posts, Mervin. I just noted this in BBC: It’s the 200th anniversary of George MacDonald’s birth.

Aberdeenshire farm boy who inspired Tolkien and CS Lewis (bbc.com)

Just a clarification on the article’s allusion to “The Princess and the Goblin”–it’s about sanctification and the view of power from a child’s standpoint, mostly–and how God (in the motherly form of the Queen Irene) looks at that, too. It’s not at all about a goblin who falls in love with a princess. :slight_smile:

2 Likes

Thanks for that, Randy!

(320) The Self

Does the questioning thought arise to my reader: How could a man be conscious of bliss without the thought of himself? I answer the doubt: When a man turns to look at himself, that moment the glow of the loftiest bliss begins to fade; the pulsing fire-flies throb paler in the passionate night; an unseen vapour steams up from the marsh and dims the star-crowded sky and the azure sea; and the next moment the very bliss itself looks as if it had never been more than a phosphorescent gleam—the summer lightning of the brain. For then the man sees himself but in his own dim mirror, whereas ere he turned to look in that, he knew himself in the absolute clarity of God’s present thought out-bodying him. The shoots of glad consciousness that come to the obedient man, surpass in bliss whole days and years of such ravined rapture as he gains whose weariness is ever spurring the sides of his intent towards the ever retreating goal of his desires. I am a traitor even to myself if I would live without my life.

But I withhold my pen; for vain were the fancy, by treatise or sermon or poem or tale, to persuade a man to forget himself. He cannot if he would. Sooner will he forget the presence of a raging tooth. There is no forgetting of ourselves but in the finding of our deeper, our true self—God’s idea of us when he devised us—the Christ in us. Nothing but that self can displace the false, greedy, whining self, of which, most of us are so fond and proud. And that self no man can find for himself; seeing of himself he does not even know what to search for. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

2 Likes

(321) Either-Or

Although he could read the New Testament for himself now, he always preferred making acquaintance with any new portion of it first from the mouth of Janet. Her voice made the word more of a word to him. But the next time he read, it was sure to be what she had then read. She was his priestess; the opening of her Bible was the opening of a window in heaven; her cottage was the porter’s lodge to the temple; his very sheep were feeding on the temple-stairs. Smile at such fancies if you will, but think also whether they may not be within sight of the greatest of facts. Of all teachings that which presents a far distant God is the nearest to absurdity. Either there is none, or he is nearer to every one of us than our nearest consciousness of self. An unapproachable divinity is the veriest of monsters, the most horrible of human imaginations.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

2 Likes

I have to say, though–it’s no surprise that we struggle with this idea. We want God to be close, but the problem of evil constantly gets in the way–along with not actually being able to directly communicate in a two way manner.

In some ways, we also project on God the theodicy that we absorb: if our environment is harsh and unforgiving, sometimes that’s the one we see. If God is truly all powerful–and we suffer for no good reason–why? Is He also harsh and unforgiving?

I wonder, sometimes, what leads some to view God as harsh, whereas others in the same apparent situation, don’t. Macdonald, as I recall, had a close relationship with his father. This may have led him to wish for that kind of order in justice and grace.

Thanks.

1 Like

That does seem (anecdotally to me too) to be such a key for so many - especially when so many of us have been immersed in patriachal theologies for so many centuries. One does not just delete that influence from their lives, even if they’re fully conscious of it and make a concerted effort not to think of God that way.

Speaking of how we see God, though, … I’m not sure I’ve fully followed where GM went in the following excerpt. I’m needing to ponder it a few more times.

This time many more followed, and her eyes were fast becoming fountains, when all at once a verse she had heard the Sunday before at church seemed to come of itself into her head: “Call upon me in the time of trouble and I will answer thee.” It must mean that she was to ask God to help her: was that the same as saying prayers? But she wasn’t good, and he wouldn’t hear anybody that wasn’t good. Then, if he was only the God of the good people, what was to become of the rest when they were lost on mountains? She had better try; it could not do much harm. Even if he would not hear her, he would not surely be angry with her for calling upon him when she was in such trouble. So thinking, she began to pray to what dim distorted reflection of God there was in her mind. They alone pray to the real God, the maker of the heart that prays, who know his son Jesus. If our prayers were heard only in accordance with the idea of God to which we seem to ourselves to pray, how miserably would our infinite wants be met! But every honest cry, even if sent into the deaf ear of an idol, passes on to the ears of the unknown God, the heart of the unknown Father.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

1 Like

Good question! Thank you for the quote. I am not sure I have read it before. I suspect it’s going to be one of my favorite passages in Gibbie.

I think that he’s alluding to Mistress Croale, the tavern keeper, who is asking for help, sort of like the tax collector who begged for forgiveness. Even though they don’t know God in a theological sense, like the Pharisee or the pastor in Gibbie, as MacDonald says, God doesn’t care what our knowledge is, if our hearts are right. Even praying to an idol would mean nothing negative in God’s eyes. It reminds me of Emeth, worshipping the idol of Tash, in “The Last Battle”–every devotion he gave to Tash, in trying to worship and do what was good, went to Aslan (God.)

“Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

I especially like the spot where Macdonald points out our knowledge as being filthy rags, so to speak:

If our prayers were heard only in accordance with the idea of God to which we seem to ourselves to pray, how miserably would our infinite wants be met!

I guess that we really know very little about God, especially if we think the most important parts He values do not include mercy and love to the truly penitent and childlike.

Thanks.

1 Like

I have to hasten to say–I want to avoid a fallacy. In my mind, God can only be God if He really cares for justice. Otherwise, we are to reject and fight against such an unjust being.
However, I hesitate to say I know with certainty that such a being exists–I hope so! There’s a song that repeatedly says, “Too good to not believe.” I have to make sure I don’t judge others for not being able to hope for that, particularly based on their experience.

Or the inverse of that might be … “Too evil to believe in” (as you already mention as well).

I recently read the short book by Mike Cosper where he speaks of the difference between disillusionment and disenchantment. He uses those two terms to distinguish between a skeptical doubt - the removal (or ‘disenchantment’) of nature by refusing to see any gods or spirits at work in it. Cosper saw this as the question of the times back in the 90s … “Is this stuff true?”. Whereas now he sees the question as having shifted more toward: “Is this stuff good?” (Disillusionment, when we answer that latter one in the negative.) And once that gets a negative answer, there is no longer any impetus to care whether or not it’s true. If it’s not something we would or should or could want anyway, then why would we labor to find it or get close to it? Some might answer: “well - you should care if it turns out that God will torture you for an eternity! If that’s the truth, wouldn’t you want to avoid that fate?” But I think I’m more with C.S. Lewis as he wrote somewhere to the effect: that if we would ever hear some voice - unmistakeably God’s voice - confiding to us that we’ve been misled, and that he can really do nothing for us of what we’ve been told, and that the evil is just too strong; would that be any reason for us to switch sides? Better to die fighting the monsters for the good Odin than to give in to them in any way.

If God is really an evil God, then there is no such thing as heavenly bliss, and an eternity with such a god in any so-called ‘heaven’ would just be an eternity in hell. There would be no such thing as salvation because evil will not be rescuing me from evil - my own or anybody else’s.

May the loving God of Christ be the one and only true and Good God! There is nothing else to hope for.

2 Likes

(323) A Bad Conscience

…she was sorely troubled with what is, by huge discourtesy, called a bad conscience—being in reality a conscience doing its duty so well that it makes the whole house uncomfortable.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

2 Likes

Amen–thank God for a painful conscience. We can have too much of it, but I’m grateful for the pain that brings me to reconciliation. It was easiest to see with my relationship to my parents, and then develops with God.

2 Likes

(324) Money

Mr. Sclater seemed to himself to foresee no little trouble in his new responsibility, but consoled himself that he would have more money at his command, and in the end would sit, as it were, at the fountain-head of large wealth. Already, with his wife’s property, he was a man of consideration; but he had a great respect for money, and much overrated its value as a means of doing even what he called good: religious people generally do—with a most unchristian dulness. We are not told that the Master made the smallest use of money for his end. When he paid the temple-rate, he did it to avoid giving offence; and he defended the woman who divinely wasted it. Ten times more grace and magnanimity would be needed, wisely and lovingly to avoid making a fortune, than it takes to spend one for what are called good objects when it is made.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

[And I also add to GM’s observations above - that I’ve always been fascinated that such moneys as the disciples must have gathered on occasion were put into the charge of one who apparently was not even an honest keeper of it - and this apparently didn’t concern Jesus at all. Not exactly the model followed by very self-aware, religiously motivated financial stewards today! - of whom I’ll admit to being one…in my better (or worse?) moments!]

2 Likes

(325) Scrubbing the Cell

She was aware of nothing in which she had failed or been in the wrong of late. She never did anything to be called wrong—by herself, that is, or indeed by her neighbours. She had never done anything very wrong, she thought; and anything wrong she had done, was now far away and so nearly forgotten, that it seemed to have left her almost quite innocent; yet the look of those blue eyes, searching, searching, without seeming to know it, made her feel something like the discomfort of a dream of expected visitors, with her house not quite in a condition to receive them. She must see to her hidden house. She must take dust-pan and broom and go about a little. For there are purifications in which king and cowboy must each serve himself. The things that come out of a man are they that defile him, and to get rid of them, a man must go into himself, be a convict, and scrub the floor of his cell. Mrs. Sclater’s cell was very tidy and respectable for a cell, but no human consciousness can be clean, until it lies wide open to the eternal sun, and the all-potent wind; until, from a dim-lighted cellar it becomes a mountain-top.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

2 Likes

I remember first being aware of the drive for money to achieve aims when I was a kid in Christian school–and I really think that they were well intended. However, the quote here is very deep. We do indeed put up a barrier between ourselves and the cause, when we quantify things with money. I like the head scratching that MacDonald does when he points us to Jesus’ example–good point. Thank you! I tend to fall into Mr Sclater’s, the preachers, trap, too often.

2 Likes

I keep coming back to this quote, and selection, in the last few days. What is evil? Sometimes, it seems that what one person’s impression is, is not that of another’s. In a way, we keep coming back to God’s impression–though even then, it’s not always clear. I hope that clears up more with the years of being in Heaven–and maybe prior.
In some ways, I project on God what my impressions of evil are. I tend to consider Him all accepting and loving; and patient, as my parents were. I have run in to quite a few who seem to believe that falling into a given category of safety, and following a certain rule, is what God is–and I wonder if these are generally those who really fear insecurity–that God is a protector. I don’t jive with that understanding so readily, but as Lewis said, he did not want to criticize a group whose fears and experiences he had not shared. I’m trying to understand that.

Even if it may be hard to define, is it (like pornography) one of those things to which the quip applies “…but I know it when I see it”? For example, in our society today, the vast majority of us agree that we “mustn’t be like the Nazis.” Yes - it’s disturbing that this number isn’t at 100%, but is it close enough for us to claim that our culture is on pretty solid ground recognizing that Naziism is evil? And you might go on to ask … “well - which aspect of Naziism?” because Hitler was all about cleanliness, hated smoking and pornography, etc. So is that part of their evil? Of course not - but the murder of 6 million Jews and other unwanted people-groups definitely is! Not to mention egotistical despotism and racism that the German race should rule the world with an iron fist. I think the vast majority of us can easily sign on with the recognition that all that is evil. (Though again - we do find a large number of Christians in the U.S. - and elsewhere - softening up on the despotism and actually buying into the delusion of thinking: ‘well - yes, but if only it was on our terms, then dictatorship would be just fine!’ - cue George Washington and every other founding father spinning in their graves at such naive stupidity.) But I digress.

All that to ask … is it actually easier for us to think we have a better handle on recognizing evil when we see it than to agree on exactly what is good? I do think the world over (both inside and outside Christian circles) generally sees a lot of good in the golden rule and in acts of kindness toward the needy and vulnerable. Isn’t there love to be recognized in that?

Speaking of! … (I only just now looked at Lewis’ next selection of GM … coming up!)

(326) The Mystery of Evil

What Gibbie made of Mr. Sclater’s prayers, either in congregational or family devotion, I am at some loss to imagine. Beside his memories of the direct fervid outpouring and appeal of Janet, in which she seemed to talk face to face with God, they must have seemed to him like the utterances of some curiously constructed wooden automaton, doing its best to pray, without any soul to be saved, any weakness to be made strong, any doubt to be cleared, any hunger to be filled. What can be less like religion than the prayers of a man whose religion is his profession, and who, if he were not “in the church,” would probably never pray at all? Gibbie, however, being the reverse of critical, must, I can hardly doubt, have seen in them a good deal more than was there—a pitiful faculty to the man who cultivates that of seeing in everything less than is there.

To Mrs. Sclater, it was at first rather depressing, and for a time grew more and more painful, to have a live silence by her side. But when she came into rapport with the natural utterance of the boy, his presence grew more like a constant speech, and that which was best in her was not unfrequently able to say for the boy what he would have said could he have spoken: the nobler part of her nature was in secret alliance with the thoughts and feelings of Gibbie. But this relation between them, though perceptible, did not become at all plain to her until after she had established more definite means of communication. Gibbie, for his part, full of the holy simplicities of the cottage, had a good many things to meet which disappointed, perplexed, and shocked him. Middling good people are shocked at the wickedness of the wicked; Gibbie, who knew both so well, and what ought to be expected, was shocked only at the wickedness of the righteous. He never came quite to understand Mr. Sclater: the inconsistent never can be understood. That only which has absolute reason in it can be understood of man. There is a bewilderment about the very nature of evil which only he who made us capable of evil that we might be good, can comprehend.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

3 Likes

Oh, what a pithy quote. Thank you! I’m going to have to meditate on this.
Sometimes, my kids come to me with concerns about evil they see in their classmates–such as a risque picture someone wants to share with them. They are bewildered at the depth of sadness such addiction brings. It’s so hard to see that happen–as they recognize good in their friends, too. Sometimes, they counter it with a positive image or joke that celebrates human worth, rather than objectifies it. It is indeed bewildering.

We talked about evil the other day on a walk–ranging from natural to human evil. Currently in Haiti, one sees human evil on an untold scale–when they have suffered from an earthquake in which hundreds of thousands of people died, not so long ago. Is evil our severe repugnance? Clearly, the earthquake was inhuman and had no ill will.

I’d like to read more of Bonhoeffer, because he struggled with human evil and resistance–yet, every time we resist someone who does evil to us, they are also in the image of God, and were children once. Who knows what natural or other evil influenced them, possibly beyond their ken and capability to resist, to do what they are doing?

I honestly don’t know. How are we to respond to such things?

I love how Gibbie’s very presence influenced Mrs Sclater’s nobler nature to strengthen. I know of some people who do that to me.

Thanks.

1 Like

Parts of evil seem easy enough to recognize (in others) - like murder and unkindness (which can itself be a moral equivalence to murder as Jesus shockingly reveals to us in the Sermon on the Mount). But the seductive part for all of us is when we want to respond to such evil with more of the same! (E.g… we need to rid the world of Naziism by killing all people who are that way inclined.) And in thinking so, we become the very enemy we thought we were so righteously destroying. Which I think is why Paul warns us not to resist evil with evil. […]

It’s a universal struggle.

2 Likes

It sure is.

(327) Prudence

No man can order his life, for it comes flowing over him from behind. But if it lay before us, and we could watch its current approaching from a long distance, what could we do with it before it had reached the now? In like wise a man thinks foolishly who imagines he could have done this and that with his own character and development, if he had but known this and that in time. Were he as good as he thinks himself wise he could but at best have produced a fine cameo in very low relief: with a work in the round, which he is meant to be, he could have done nothing. The one secret of life and development, is not to devise and plan, but to fall in with the forces at work—to do every moment’s duty aright—that being the part in the process allotted to us; and let come—not what will, for there is no such thing—but what the eternal Thought wills for each of us, has intended in each of us from the first. If men would but believe that they are in process of creation, and consent to be made—let the maker handle them as the potter his clay, yielding themselves in respondent motion and submissive hopeful action with the turning of his wheel, they would ere long find themselves able to welcome every pressure of that hand upon them, even when it was felt in pain, and sometimes not only to believe but to recognize the divine end in view, the bringing of a son into glory; whereas, behaving like children who struggle and scream while their mother washes and dresses them, they find they have to be washed and dressed, notwithstanding, and with the more discomfort: they may even have to find themselves set half naked and but half dried in a corner, to come to their right minds, and ask to be finished.

As found in MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie

3 Likes