You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11
“In your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Reading this verse in the psalm – a song of trust and security in God – reminded me of the words of Screwtape in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. There, the demon Screwtape works himself into a rage over just these words, informing his nephew Wormwood that,
“He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 118
Screwtape has picked up on one of the more popular myths about Christianity, one which was bandied about as much during Lewis’ time as it is today. This is the myth that Christianity is fun-hating – that Christian discipleship is an interminable parade of fasts, vigils, stakes, and crosses; of denying oneself bodily pleasures and intellectual stimulation alike; of greyness, dullness, and silence.
Well, the fasts, vigils, and crosses are there (I’m not so sure about the stakes, unless Dracula turns out to be more historical than fantastical). But the fundamental truth at the heart of Christianity – the truth that in Christ, love has triumphed over law – means that none of them are there ‘just because’. Fasts and vigils, like all the practices of discipline involved in being a disciple (such as temperance, an important part of Methodist history), are there for a reason.
This reason lies in our calling, as Christians, to live virtuous lives and to live for each other. If we are greedy, and so never fast, we are consuming more than we need and are therefore denying food to those who really need it. If we are lazy, and so never participate in vigils, we will not be inclined to give of our time and are therefore letting down those who might benefit from our presence. If we let our passions rule our mind, and so place too great a value on our own experiences, we will struggle to nurture relationships that mirror those of Christ, the Incarnate God in whose image we were made.
To serve Christ, we need to love and serve and relate to our brothers and sisters in the church and the world. When we live like this – and when we try to do so, whatever our failures along the way – we live in relationship with God. We are all imperfect, and sometimes selfish, individuals: we all have greedy moments, lazy moments, envious moments… even, like Screwtape, angry moments. It’s because of our imperfections that discipleship involves fasts, vigils, and crosses; not because Christianity is a fun-hating religion, but because spiritual discipline frees us to live in relationship with God. And out in God’s sea, at God’s right hand, “are pleasures for evermore.”
By Matt BartonBible study contributors needed! Interested? Get in touch.