The writings of C.S. Lewis also had a strong influence on me at this time. I was particularly impacted by his two books: The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters. In The Problem of Pain he engages with the problem of evil and suffering in our world, and how that reconciles or doesn’t, with our human conceptions of good and evil. I appreciated his rational and logical reasoning around these issues, and his sincerity in grappling with this most difficult subject. The Screwtape Letters is a humorous fictional series of letters written by an accomplished demon to his nephew giving him advice on how to be a successful demon through the best methods for leading humanity astray. It is poignant as well as humorous, and I enjoyed the insights it provided into the nature of our struggle with sin and the role the fallen angels have in our daily battles.
It isn’t intuitive to know how to interpret the Bible, and since it is so complex and in many places confusing or shrouded in mystery, I needed to learn how to interpret this book I loved so much. I began to learn many of the tenets of the protestant perspective on this matter, without understanding that they were only one approach; I just accepted that they were the correct approach. I learned about the concept of sola scriptura in which we believe only what is written in scripture alone, which sounded very good and very simple and straightforward, until I discovered that even the founders of the protestant point of view diverged on many points of scripture right from the start while supposedly using this concept of sola scriptura, which was supposed to provide a self-evident interpretation based on a comparison of scripture with scripture, without any outside influence. Still, I didn’t know any alternatives to this idea, and even though this concept seemed flawed to me for this reason and other reasons as well, I kept it as my working hypothesis for many years, trying to make it work, and ignoring the evidence of its shortcomings.
Another approach to the Bible that I inherited at this time was to read it literally, as a work of historical and scientific truth, as if it were intended to be used as a history book and as a science textbook. Certainly it is filled with historical truth and scientific accuracy but these aren’t the reasons it was written or given to us by God. The Bible tells us about the nature of God; who He is and what He has done, why He made us, who we are in relation to Him, what has happened to us and why, and demonstrates His love for us, His plans for us here on earth, and His plans for us into eternity in the world to come. Understanding this purpose allows an entirely different approach to interpreting and understanding scripture. Had I understood this at the time I might not have allowed myself and my faith to be cornered by the attacks of the world and the arguments levied against my faith and the Bible by historical and/or scientific arguments that reasonably run counter to it.
I considered this dilemma: if I see the Bible, and my faith which is built upon it, as needing to be correct in every historical or scientific account found there, or else if it is in error on these points then my faith is false; if this is the point, then I am easily cornered, and my faith can easily be shaken or even destroyed by every new scientific discovery. Something seemed very wrong with this approach, but I didn’t know another at the time, so I stayed the course and tried to find and listen to intelligent and skilled apologists of the faith, and those who could reason passably in support of this approach.
The church I attended needed Sunday school teachers for various grade levels. I considered what level I was most suited for based on my ability and knowledge so I picked kindergarten. I felt I could keep up with this age group and even stay a step or two ahead of them, at least intellectually, if not physically. In addition to teaching the little ones, I also helped lead a couple mission trips to Mexico to build houses and an orphanage cafeteria. Building was great and the results were needed, but the best part by far were the relationships built with others in our group and with the children living there. My fondest memories from those trips are of kicking a soccer ball or throwing a Frisbee with the little children in the dusty streets of Tijuana and praying with the other volunteers.
It was around this time, after returning from a mission trip to Mexico, that V and I had our first real discussion about having children. There were surprisingly quite a few important issues like this one that we had never discussed together prior to getting married. As it turned out she had no interest in having children. I had imagined myself having children since I could remember first thinking about it in elementary school. However, after some reflection I could also imagine adopting and not having children of my own. But as it turned out, V wasn’t interested in adopting either, although I have to give her a lot of credit for subsequently trying to go along with this idea for several years. In the end though, she really didn’t want to be a mother of children whether they were hers biologically or through adoption.
I managed to adapt to this reality and come to peace with it, although I still thought it would be great, and harbored some inner desire for children. In lieu of children, we volunteered for an organization called The Family Connection in which we helped mentor a young single mother, assisting her in job training and how to take care of her home and her two little girls; in many cases we were baby-sitters while she went to classes or to work. Again, I have to give V a lot of credit for volunteering with me at this, considering she didn’t really feel comfortable around children. I expect she did it entirely for me. She was kind and thoughtful.
Over the years there weren’t many things that could upset me or cause me to lose my temper but one recurring thing that easily could, which I’ve alluded to earlier in this story, was being unfairly accused of something, or feeling as though my good name was under attack. I attribute this entirely to my sin of pride and vanity, and it is the antithesis to what Christ calls us to do in laying down our lives for others, in taking up our cross and following Him, or as He tells us that we are blessed when we are persecuted, and when we are reviled and when others make false accusations against us. Shamefully, on two occasions at least, I responded reprehensibly towards V when I felt she was accusing me, and in both cases I acted disgracefully; once throwing a dish into the kitchen cabinets so forcibly that parts of it stuck into the wood and were very difficult to remove, and another occasion calling her a ‘bitch’. Oh, how I wished I could take those words and actions back, almost immediately after I had committed them, and I apologized profusely, but they were emblazoned into the sky, and my world was forever changed because of them. As much as I wish they weren’t me, or could claim that somebody else made me do it, these things were done by me and they are my history.
Crimes are committed, sometimes in the heat of anger without forethought, such as these I’ve just revealed, while others are taken deliberately; they are measured, calculated, and executed with desire. Often we can look back on these and see that we were effectively out of our mind, or ignorant, but most of the time we were just plain selfish and uncaring. There was one such incident that occurred about a year into our marriage that even now as I write, I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes for sorrow and remorse. V never knew about it and I couldn’t speak about it to anyone for years; not until a couple years after she and I divorced was I finally able to confess it to my pastor and begin to find a measure of healing and restoration.
I met up one day with a friend, actually someone I had been in a relationship with several years prior to meeting and marrying V. We spent the day together and then we spent the night together. There were plenty of opportunities to take a different course, to say goodbye, to avert what was about to transpire, but I didn’t. I remember wondering what on earth I was doing as the day wore on and we headed towards that night. I could have stopped myself but I was entirely selfish and I didn’t. At the time I knew I was far off the mark, I was sinning, and acting unlovingly and hurting V whether she knew it or not. Only later did I learn that I was also hurting God, as King David said, “against You, and You only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” But now I believe that not only did I hurt V and God by this, and hurt myself too; but in an important way, I also hurt everyone else in this world, and I hurt creation itself. I tore at the very fabric of life by my sin, and while certainly most in the world didn’t know of my particular sin, and most will never know of it, nonetheless every act of unkindness and every action taken in selfishness and un-love has a universal effect on everyone and everything else. I cannot prove this, but I feel it to be true. As good food nourishes the body and bad food breaks it down, so too, virtuous life nourishes our world and vice degrades it and breaks it down. My heart doesn’t know if I’ve eaten good food today or bad, but over time it will feel the effects of both, so too, you may not know the sin I’ve committed today, or in the past, but over time we all feel the effects. I am sorry my heart, my love, all of you out there who must bear the suffering caused by my un-love and my selfishness because I’ve made our world a little less like paradise, a little less as God intended.
(to be continued)