The last few weeks, our discussions centered on the writings of one of the greatest authors and philosophers, Britain’s C.S. Lewis. The author may be best known for his “Chronicles of Narnia,” but his works range from fantasy to theology. His vocabulary was immense, and his imagination even larger.
My personal introduction to Lewis was through a collection of previously unpublished essays and speeches called “God in the Dock.” Printed in 1970 seven years after his death, the collection shared a mixed bag of pages divided into four sections, “Clearly Theological,” “Semi-theological,” “Ethics,” and “Letters.”
The book’s title is based on an analogy Lewis made implying “God on trial.” Lewis suggested that modern human beings, rather than seeing themselves as standing before God in judgment, prefer to place God on trial, sometimes weighing the evidence for His existence, sometimes deciding whether God’s words were true and valid.
In Lewis’ own words, “The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. The ancient man approached God as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”
It seems as if every day’s news could be titled, “God in the Dock,” doesn’t it?
As Thanksgiving looms around the corner, one of the essays from Lewis comes to mind. Titled, “The Trouble with X,” this short piece speaks to almost all of us. In the essay, “X” represents your co-worker, spouse, mother-in-law or friend who tends to be endlessly difficult. Every time you encounter X, the flaw in X’s character becomes so evident. Jealousy, laziness, or ill-temper seems to be spotlighted whenever you are near.
Conflicts are inevitable. We hate such confrontations, but Lewis points out the conflicts can open our eyes to see as God sees. God, to be sure, has experienced far more than we. He has seen the hopes and dreams, and the relationships, of His people shipwrecked on fatal flaws for centuries. God knows just how miserable X actually is. But God knows something else also. God sees one more person of the same difficult nature that we usually overlook. As Lewis puts it, “I mean, of course, yourself.”
Being blind to our own sin is devastating to our personal growth, but it does far more damage than to just our spiritual walk. It also kills our thanksgiving. The more we focus on the difficulties that other people bring into our lives, the less likely we are to be thankful. We grumble with our circumstances. We tolerate or ignore the people God is threading through our lives. Most likely, we don’t even notice that God is involved.
A grateful heart does not begin with the strength of a discipline of looking for the good. Instead, it commences with the willingness to forgive when we have been wronged, irritated or agitated.
On Oct. 3, 1863, President Lincoln signed legislation instituting the first official Thanksgiving holiday. It seemed right to Lincoln that we should “solemnly, reverently and gratefully” acknowledge with one heart and voice God’s gracious gifts.
In the proclamation, Lincoln addressed the horrors of the Civil War. He saw a war that had turned thousands of Americans into “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers.” But he wed hardship with hope, understanding that God could guide through a valley of the shadow of death.
Conflict coupled with gratitude and grace. Hardship and pain walk alongside thanksgiving. All guided by a spirit willing to forgive.
The apostle Paul writes to Colossian Christians a passage that combines conflict and thanksgiving. When someone has a complaint against you, you are to forgive each other, just as God as forgiven you. Love binds us together. The peace of Christ rules our hearts. The verse ends with the admonition and encouragement to “be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15).
In this challenging culture, counter-culture and even cancel-culture, allow the conflict to remind you of a godly lesson. Messy relationships, difficult circumstances and irritating people require patience, humility and kindness. Every bristle and friction needs to remind me of me — and I remember God’s mercy and grace to me, and I am thankful.
The Bible’s thoughts on handling conflict are not an essay on how to be nice. Patience, humility, and kindness are virtuous disciplines that when actually lived out, don’t feel anywhere near “nice.” These virtues are practical and painful ways to love the difficult people in life, remembering that I am that difficult person for someone else.
One final thought to conclude our series. “The people who keep asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that ‘a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for.”
Jesus’ words speaking to one of His purposes states, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Each and every day, thankfulness needs to be expressed for that abundant life.
To that end, let’s keep God as judge, and the winds of culture always on the dock.