Friday, January 9, 2015

Of Lust, CS Lewis, Lizards, and Ghosts

As yesterday we looked at Temptation and the all too easy slide into habitual (and even addictive) sin, today I thought we'd look a little closer at one of the favorite sins of the age - Lust. As longtime readers of the blog well know, I am forever reading, re-reading, and quoting CS Lewis, thus a passage from one of my favorite Lewis novels, The Great Divorce, leaps into mind whenever the topic of lust rears its ugly head.

For those who haven't read the book (get your copy on Amazon here and support blog at no additional cost to you!) The Great Divorce is an imaginative tale of several Ghosts who find their way, via a bus of all things, from hell to the outer gates of heaven. These ghosts each have "one last chance" to repent, believe the Gospel, and be freed from hell forever (yes, that's a bit of bad theology, but Lewis is using it as a way of representing, dramatically, the very real choices each of us have to make here and now, which will determine our final destinies).

One Ghost in particular is of interest to us, one who is plagued with Lust (represented here in the form of a whimpering Lizard upon his ghostly shoulder) from chapter 11,
I saw coming toward us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder.... What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitting its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him, he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. 'Shut up, I tell you!' he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him.
The Ghost, quieted by the whisperings of the lizard smiles faintly and turns to leave paradise, ready, apparently, to return to the hell from whence he came. How many of us, when afflicted by any "pet sin" or by lust like the Ghost, make that same choice? We know we can't bring our sins with us into Heaven (cf. Rev 21:27), but how often do we blithely smile and walk away, clinging to the sin rather than holding fast to paradise?

Before our Ghost goes back to hell an angelic being bids him stay, to which the Ghost replies,
'I'm off,... Thanks for all your hospitality. But it's no good, you see. I told this little chap' (here he indicated the Lizard) 'that he'd have to be quiet if he came - which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won't do here: I realize that. But he won't stop. I shall just have to go home.'
Again choosing his sin (lust) to pleasure itself (heaven). The Angel, however, is patience asking,
'Would you like me to make him quiet?"...
'Of course I would,' said the Ghost.
'Then I will kill him, said the Angel taking a step forward.

The Ghost falls back, terrified at the prospect of the angel killing the Lizard, apparently not as ready to have him be quiet as he first thought, explaining
'You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything as drastic as that.'
'It's the only way,' said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. 'Shall I kill it?'
The Ghost comes up with any number of excuses to not allow the Angel to kill the Lizard. He doesn't want to be such a bother. He'd prefer a gradual method. He'd like a second opinion (from his doctor in hell). And so forth. Again we find ourselves staring in the mirror. Do we come up with excuses for our sins? Do we find a reason why today isn't the right day or now the right time to be healed by Christ? Do we, with St. Augustine of Hippo, pray "Lord give me charity and continence, but not yet?"

The Angel, unable to kill the Lizard without the man's consent, simply asks if he may free the man from his burden while getting closer and closer. The Lizard cries out,
'He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you'll be without me for ever and ever. It's not natural. How could you live?
Finally, convinced it would be better to die than to go on living with the Lizard, the Ghost screams out,
'Damn and blast you! Go on, can't you? Get it over. Do what you like' 
Needing nothing further, the Angel breaks the Lizard's back, seeming to kill it, and tosses it onto the ground before the Ghost. The Ghost isn't killed by the operation (though he "gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth.") After another moment a wonderful transformation occurs, as the narrator relates it,
For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialized while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man - an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel.
Freed from the Lizard, the Ghost becomes a man. While it hurt (and quite a bit, apparently, at that), the operation - the death of the Lizard - didn't kill the man, didn't leave him "only a sort of ghost, not a real man as... now" as the Lizard had predicated. No, instead it freed the Ghost, it made him into a man, one fully alive. Thus we see the cure which we foolishly hold back from. We all too often think we won't be able to be happy without this sin or that, but it is only by killing these sins, by giving them over to Christ to vanquish, that we are ever happy at all.

The Lizard, as with all our sins, too would be reborn,
So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen. 

Indeed, it is on the very back of this Lizard-turned-stallion that the Man charges off into the very heavenly mountains he had been contemplating turing his back on forever at the instigation of the Lizard.

The moral of the story?
'Does it mean that everything - everything - that is in us can go on to the Mountains?' 
'Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is loves and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.... What is a lizard compared with a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.' 
 And so we can say with any other sin. Think about that for a moment. Which sins are you clinging to? Which things, other than God, are you relying on for happiness? Resolve to put whatever it is to death today. Watch it arise again, purified and as unrecognizable as a stallion is from a lizard, to carry you into the hands of Our Heavenly Father. We may not have the immediate death stroke of an angel to rely on (although the angels and saints are here to help us as much as we allow them to) and it may take a few tries with several set backs, but whatever the sin is you can be free.

Deus benedicat.

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