Tag Archives: Christianity

How to Know a Man is Just–Plato and Jesus


PlatoChristianity has always maintained that, in order to restore the relationship between us and God, Jesus Christ had to be without sin—without his own contribution to the human evil that divided humanity from God. Approximately 350 years before, a Greek philosopher laid out his criteria for declaring a man perfectly ‘just.’ If you really think about it, it is a tricky problem–how can we know someone is trying to be good for the sake of goodness itself, or merely trying to be good in order to be admired by others? Is a person truly good if they’re being self-centered? So the philosopher’s requirements for a perfectly just man are fascinating:

Now, if we are to form a real judgment of the life of the just and unjust, we must isolate them; there is no other way; and how is the isolation to be effected?

Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just… [T]he highest reach of injustice is: to be deemed just when you are not. Therefore I say that in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice; there is to be no deduction, but we must allow him, while doing the most unjust acts, to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice….

And at his side let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity, wishing, as Aeschylus says, to be and not to seem good. There must be no seeming, for if he seem to be just he will be honoured and rewarded, and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice or for the sake of honours and rewards;

therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering… Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its consequences. And let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust. When both have reached the uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be given which of them is the happier of the two.

[T]he just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound—will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled: Then he will understand that he ought to seem only, and not to be, just; the words of Aeschylus may be more truly spoken of the unjust than of the just. For the unjust is pursuing a reality; he does not live with a view to appearances –he wants to be really unjust and not to seem only.

– Plato, The Republic, Book 2

Now, of course we don’t follow or apply all of Plato’s logical deductions in The Republic. And the fact Jesus Christ did meet his criteria for a perfectly just man does not mean that Plato was some sort of prophetic figure, looking for a new religion, or anything like that. Some may even argue other historical figures have fulfilled these criteria (Socrates himself is the obvious allusion Plato makes), and certainly these criteria are not exhaustive of what Jesus actually did on earth. However, I am fascinated by the thought Jesus met them. I am fascinated he met the logical criteria someone else proposed. He didn’t have to fulfill any demands for evidence of his goodness that humans proposed, but he did anyway. And if we agree logic is a good part of God’s creation, we can see this confirmed by this as well.

The incredible thing that I derive from this is that a historical philosopher laid out several criteria that would prove to him that another man was perfectly just, and that these criteria were indeed met by Jesus Christ.

There’s your interesting thought for the day. Enjoy!



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Contentment Vs. Ambition–Let’s Examine Each More Closely

This is the second post examining ambition vs. contentment, or, in other words— If there’s something we really, really want, should we teach ourselves contentment because we don’t have it, or develop our God-given talents in order to achieve it? I promised I would examine both contentment and ambition in more depth today. But before I start I’d like to emphasize my exploration should in no way be authoritative, though I hope it’s helpful.


First, let’s look at contentment.

If contentment is something you struggle with, there are thousands of resources out there to help you develop a spirit of contentment within yourself. If man’s purpose is to glorify God, as mentioned in the previous post, then we obviously won’t be content if we focus on anything other than him. What I want to explore here is whether, knowing that we are required to be content, we should ever try to achieve anything. After all, doesn’t the drive to achieve (or ambition) stem from discontent? Usually ambition is an attempt to fill our lives on our own without God’s help.

Besides this, we must take seriously the well-known biblical passages on contentment. There are of course Paul’s well-known words about being content in all circumstances, but there is also this little gem from 1 Thessalonians 4:

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters… to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

This is a very modest aim!* All a Christian needs to do is live a quiet life and work with their hands. This should be very comforting for anyone who feels guilt over not running a mega-ministry, or giving up everything they own to go to the ends of the earth to spread the gospel. It’s quite clear that not every Christian is required to do the same thing Paul did, and that in fact the vast majority of Christians are just supposed to be ordinary. In other words, despite our culture insisting big ambitions are absolutely necessary, and even some well-meaning Christians trying to spur you on to do ‘great things for God,’ it is ok to live a quiet life.

This is a great relief to me, when I consider all the big, world-changing things I am not achieving.

So it is ok to live quietly–but it is ok to want to do more than that?

Well, one step to figuring this out is to recognize that too much emphasis on contentment leads to determinism.

You’re still single? God must not want you to be married. You’re poor? God must not want you to be rich. Don’t try for anything. Just wait peacefully. Don’t try to change. Everything you’re meant to have will just fall into your lap.

Clearly this is an unbiblical message.

There are a few caveats to the idea of contentment that help us avoid determinism. When Paul talks of being content in all circumstances, he was working towards a goal, and the circumstances occurred while he was attempting to achieve it. Perhaps it is not the goal you’re supposed to avoid having, but the discontent over the difficulties that spring up on the way to the goal. It may in fact be that the goal is not one you’re meant to achieve, but contentment in all circumstances includes contentment during the deep disappointment that hits when you don’t achieve your goal. In other words—strive! Keep striving! But be ready to be content with what the Lord brings you.

Choosing what to strive for still involves difficulties, especially when the striving involves sacrificing time or money, but I’ll discuss this under ‘ambition.’ But no one needs to be ashamed over a little goal. And there must be some big goals that can fit in a Christian life as well.

Another caveat is that contentment in Scripture, including contentment in the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, is mentioned in relation to suffering. It is an approach to situations that are not in Christians’ control. When life is hard, especially when life is hard as a result of being Christians, Christians are to be content. So the intent is not to say, ‘don’t be ambitious,’ but rather, ‘I know you’re suffering, and this is where you can find comfort.’ These passages also emphasize that no circumstances of life ever prevent us from being saved by God—whether in chains or free (1 Corinthians 7), whether rich or poor—no one needs to be discontent because their circumstances prevent them from truly being Christians. If such circumstances did exist they would surely be reason for despair—but thanks be to God there are none!

We can be content because our circumstances do not prevent our salvation.

We all suffer in some way, but in comparison to many Christians in the Bible we are faced with an endless array of choices—we can choose a career, we can choose a spouse, we can choose where we want to live, we can choose to travel, we can choose our level of education. It’s not a surprise the Bible doesn’t predict that we in the future would be faced with this array of choice, and advise us on how to wrap our minds around the dizzying display. And therefore it is not a surprise when we try to apply biblical principles to our choices instead of our sufferings, and end up at the conclusion that we should never desire anything, and never try to achieve anything.

But rather than arriving at this conclusion and then ignoring it, we should think about whether this is really correct.

It’s one thing to be content when we don’t have a choice in our situation. But should we be content when we do?

I think when we recognize our desires, we can at least try to approach them in a good way, and perhaps that can work within our overall contentment. This might be one way to approach them:

When we face desires, the first thing to realize is that every single desire in us is not a pure desire, but rather stained with sin. Even the desire to preach God’s word has a selfish inclination running through it. Yet when we examine our desires we can see many of them are not good or bad on their own. If we desire more education, for example, knowledge in and of itself is a gift from God. So after recognizing our desires and evaluating their appropriateness, we can separate out our own sinful impulses. What is wrong about our desire for this thing? And do we in fact possess any impulse to using this to glorify God, or is it only for ourselves? Obviously if it is a good or neutral thing but we really have no inclination to use it for God, we should reconsider before pursuing it.

Next, we must consider the desire in the light of the reality that we will never be satisfied. If this desire is fulfilled, we still will not have enough. Does that change how much we want it? If once we have achieved this thing we still find the same discontent bubbling up inside, will the thing we achieve still be a worthwhile thing?

Lastly, passivity and contentment are not the same thing. I’m not sure how much ambition is acceptable, but the solution to wrong ambition is not passivity. Keep this in mind, and we’ll move on to exploring ambition.


Next, let’s examine ambition.

Ambition can be defined as trying to fulfill your life on your own, but I think it’s a very limited definition if you define it only in that way. You can have “a strong desire to achieve something” while still knowing your ultimate fulfillment comes from God. But there is still a problem.

Often when we have ambition we look at what we’re good at and what we really enjoy doing. We’re incredible hockey players, or skilled artists, or wonderful musicians… or we have a real touch for soothing little babies or something and would love to have a family. And our ambition becomes doing it ‘professionally.’ Using what we’re good at in order to survive, rather than using a skill we have very little passion for in order to survive.

But is that what God calls us to do?

On one hand, we have the parable of the talents, where servants are given talents in order to use, and one is punished for not using it. We often cling to the idea that we’re given our incredible artistic skill, or entrancing musical ability, for a reason. It would be wrong not to use it. And it probably would be wrong to look at one of our gifts and pretend not to have it.

However. We know that in order to live off our painting or singing or athletic ability we must be very good. We need to devote time and energy, and often money, to getting to be very good. And even if we are very good, we may not achieve what we desire. And we are not blind to the fact that our time and energy and money can very easily achieve other worthwhile things for God if only we just became accountants. So should we chase our ambition, or try to reorient our desire?

A few people do have the assurance in their hearts that painting is what they have been put on this earth to do, and this assurance gives them the confidence to make the sacrifices. But most of us are not sure. We look at the poor as we buy expensive paint brushes and wonder if we should be donating to charity instead. Or if we should be earning a higher income so our families don’t experience so many financial problems. Or if we really should be living off the kindness of others as we pursue our dreams.

What are we justified in sacrificing when we choose one path of life over another?

It is true that the word ‘ambition’ is often paired with the word ‘selfish’ in Scripture—see James 3:16, Philippians 2:3, and 2 Corinthians 12:20. This does not mean ambition is always selfish, but it surely indicates selfishness frequently accompanies ambition. And we all have seen people treat others horribly in their drive to what they want. More than that, we know ambition often stems from our comparison with others, instead of focusing on God, and the selfish ambition the Bible refers to is often competition between people to raise themselves over each other. We fail to recognize our measurement is not ‘beating out’ other people, but rather figuring out what matters to God. So any desire we have to achieve must not stem from a desire to be superior to other people (or a fear of falling behind them).

There is actually at least one time ambition is used positively (in the English translations, at least). It’s in Romans 15, where Paul says, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel.” And of course ambition to spread the gospel cannot be viewed negatively. But if that is the only kind of ambition that is ‘okay,’ then it is really only pastors and evangelists who should have any drive for anything at all. Or perhaps ordinary people who share the gospel in their spare time should view that as their ‘real’ work. But again, this seems too limiting.

One reason why vocations such as minister, evangelist, missionary, etc. start to look so attractive is because they simplify this question so much. You’re doing your work for God. Of course any sacrifice is worth it. However, Protestants have historically emphasized the worth of the work of ordinary believers—we are all working for God. We don’t need everyone doing only one job, but rather we need many different types of people for both the church and the world to function. In addition, someone can desire to be a pastor out of selfish ambition just as easily as someone might desire to be a painter. But it is much harder to justify your sacrifices for painting than for preaching. Christianity hasn’t really developed a framework for choosing vocations other than the spiritual vocations.

If Protestantism is serious about the worth of ordinary vocations, it would be helpful to devote more time to develop this sort of framework.

Now, we saw above that striving for something is not necessarily contradicting contentment, and most of us would agree that we can have ambition for a wider range of things than only spreading the gospel. When God put man in creation, he did intend for man to do more than just preach. Man was to work in creation, and enjoy creation as well. So less practical ambitions do appear to fit into Christianity better when you keep this in mind.

To sum up ambition, I’d argue that while it is easy to cast ambition negatively it is not always negative. More work needs to be done on what gives value to certain ambitions and not others, and this goes a long way to explaining why, when an ambition seems hard to justify, we fall back on ‘be content.’ But rather than just falling back on ‘be content,’ we need to seriously judge all the ways humans are meant to live in creation and use creation.

Putting Ambition and Contentment Together

Contentment does not require passivity. Contentment does not require living life without a real-life, non-spiritual goal. But contentment is the required response in the face of suffering, in the face of disappointment when we don’t reach our goals, and in the face of our continual dissatisfaction.

Ambition is a negative thing when it is centered on self-fulfilment and becoming greater than others around us. It is not always negative. A good ambition should fit in with our central goal to bring glory to God, but this does not automatically mean we must all only aim for spiritual goals. However, more exploration should be done on the worth of earthly goals, and how to choose which earthly goals to pursue—especially as each one involves sacrificing other things.

All of these considerations I’ve gone through above will not give us an easy formulaic answer every time. I wish it could. But perhaps it narrows the perimeter of the problems, and removes a few of the pitfalls that are easy to fall into.

I hope each one of you does manage to chart that narrow path between ambition and contentment as you go through life.


Two Questions for Further Consideration:

These are two questions I was not able to answer, which either someone else can study more, or I will revisit if I come to new insight 🙂

1.) How contentment can fit with our modern opportunities to change things for the better—how are they compatible?

2.) How does one know when an ambition is worth pursuing and sacrificing for?


*(Though I must admit it is still very intimidating to not be dependent on anybody, and to win the respect of outsiders. These are hard enough things to achieve, and I am with all of you struggling to stand on your own two feet.)

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Contentment Vs. Ambition–Should Christians Be Content or Ambitious?

I’m going to try a different type of article today, and perhaps a few more times in the upcoming year. I’m going to explore the tension between two valuable concepts, and see if there’s a way to reduce the tension a little. There are two opposite messages our culture tells us, and which Christianity repeats without much additional judgement being applied to these messages. First, we’re told to be grateful for everything we have, since no one gets everything they want anyway. Christianity attaches Paul’s words to ‘be content’ to this idea. Second, we’re told to run after our dreams, and try everything to achieve them. Christianity then attaches the idea of ‘using our talents’ to this concept. But the trouble comes in when you need to decide which one outweighs the other. When are you justified in abandoning one blessing to reach for another?

Actually, the fundamental question is this: If there’s something we really, really want, should we teach ourselves contentment because we don’t have it, or develop our God-given talents in order to achieve it?

In practice, we answer this question in all sorts of contradictory ways. If someone longs to get married, we don’t usually insist that they must be content to be single, but rather encourage them to keep trying to meet someone. But if someone is bored with their job, we talk about how no job is perfect and even if someone has their dream job they still have very boring things they have to do. Now, there are people who would approach these situations with different advice, but the point still remains—we don’t consistently value ambition over contentment, or contentment over ambition. But what criteria should we use to apply one of these concepts in one situation, but not another? This not a question I’ve ever seen a detailed answer to yet.

When we identify something we want, what practical ways should we approach our desire?

Let’s explore a few ways of answering this question.

First, the goal of our lives, as Christians have declared over and over again, is to glorify God. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says.

But how does this answer our question? We can reply in two ways: first, that it is glorifying to God to work for something and achieve it, or second, that God has already given us more than we’ve ever asked for, and that to ask for a different life is not glorifying to him. So let’s agree on the central concept that whatever way we take must be glorifying to God, but understand that from a human perspective we can be utterly confused as to what precisely is most glorifying.*

Second, some desires are easily identified as good or bad, but the vast majority are not, at least not at first glance. Both marriage and singleness are approved of in the Bible, so both choices can be glorifying to God. And if someone wants to become a policeman instead of an electrician, there would be no grounds to argue one job is more good or evil than the other.

In other words, the most knee-jerk responses to the question of contentment vs. ambition do not provide much direction. This is frustrating. However, like in most life situations, there is not an easily applied formula to use, but there are certainly principles that help us navigate the foggy paths of life.

Another way to answer this question is to look at each of these concepts—contentment and ambition—and evaluate their value. I will do that in Part 2. This post is already lengthening quickly!

I’d like to end this post by pointing out the right balance between ambition and contentment matters to me personally. I’m sure it is directly practical to many others as well. As the New Year approaches, you start to wonder what you should direct your energy and talents towards. And to be honest, I struggle with ambition. So much of what culture tells me I should be doing with my life—earning lots of money! changing the world by campaigning for something or starting an organization! proving women’s value by becoming powerful and prominent!—I struggle to summon up much enthusiasm for.

However, I struggle with contentment too. Lack of ambition does not equal contentment, because you do want your life to be meaningful. You think if only you could change a few things in your life, you would be happy, because your life would be directed to something bigger than just satisfying yourself. But lack of contentment is not a good thing—it is undeniable that we are commanded to be content.

Beyond that, when I examine my desires for what I would have enthusiasm to pursue, it is something either outside my control, or something that is rather unwise to pursue. This little summary makes ambition sound rather negative, and I am sure it is not in every case. So I look forward to tomorrow when I will explore contentment and ambition more deeply! UPDATE: Part 2 is here.


*This is not to deny that as one grows in their spiritual maturity, they gain a better understanding of what is glorifying to God. Spiritual maturity helps enormously in life choices. However, I just mean to say this is not a trump card that makes everything clear in every situation. It is deeply frustrating to be told you should know what to do when you actually don’t. Especially when no further advice is provided on what you should supposedly already know.

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Shocked by Augustine’s Confessions

Lately I’ve had the leisure to do some more quality reading, as I’ve been laid up with an injury, and I’ve found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked—not by any of his confessions (so far), but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But anyway…

The best thing about the first few chapters (and I’ve only read the first few chapters so far) is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (Why does a good God allow evil? etc.) and then answer it, Augustine just poses questions. Each chapter is just a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God.

I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two—for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time?

The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of most of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert.

And it was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims.  Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the church after him should follow, even though the church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of The Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers.

The second really cool thing about The Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the things they love.

I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day.

I’ve only just started The Confessions, so I might have a few different thoughts once I’ve gotten farther in I’m only on Book I, Chapter 7, so I’m sure you could easily catch up with me before I come up with anything more to say.

If someone had wanted me to read The Confessions before now (and I don’t get the feeling anyone really did, as it was rarely on recommended reading lists), they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should’ve said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar.

And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them:

“Let [people] ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”


UPDATE: An updated version of this post is available at the Reformed Perspective!



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Is Out of the Silent Planet a Christian Classic?

Is Out of the Silent Planet a Christian classic? Its author, C.S. Lewis is certainly well-known as a popular Christian writer, but his ‘Space Trilogy’—of which Out of the Silent Planet is the first—is not mentioned as often as The Chronicles of Narnia, or even several of his nonfiction works. Is the book neglected because its quality is considered inferior to The Chronicles? Is its message too dated? Or do some of its messages, despite being delivered by a Christian author, make Christians uncomfortable?

Or perhaps it’s mere happenstance that this work is not as well-known?

I already reviewed Out of the Silent Planet on my main blog, harmamaesmit.com. But as I want to give this section of my web presence a stronger emphasis on the Christian writings out there, I thought I’d address a few of my thoughts on the Christian messages in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet here. If you’re interested in the original review, you can read it here.

So, it is too challenging, too dated, or inferior quality? Let’s dive in and look.

Too Challenging?

How often do Christian authors tackle concepts like what ‘sinless’ creation might be like, what a pre-fall society might be like, or what might be the religious beliefs of alien peoples? No, if you briefly glance through the racks of Christian fiction today, you’ll find a lot of thoughts on the ‘moment of conversion,’ and how people get to that point in their lives. You might possibly see stories addressing how Christians live through difficult circumstances. You’ll see a lot of focus on romantic relationships, and a brief treatment of how Christianity views such relationships. But deep theological concepts, presented fictionally? No, not very common.

Of course, to present ‘sinless’ creatures is incredibly risky. Any author is, of course, sinful—so likely anything anyone writes would be skewed and inaccurate in some way. However, does this mean there is no point to be made about sinlessness, or pre-fall creation? It’s a challenge for only the best writers to take on, but Out of the Silent Planet proves that such an experiment can teach us something. It can reveal our own arrogance and sense of superiority in a surprising and powerful way.

I sincerely hope this not the main reason this book is overlooked. If so, it points to a towering problem in the modern world of Christian fiction in general—an unwillingness to tackle big idea and work out ALL of our faith with fear and trembling.

Too Dated? Its Critique of Modernism and Why This is Still Relevant

The second reason might be that its strongest theme springs from the context of the time period it was written in, almost to the point that it is ‘a product of its time.’ The theme—that cold, objective scientific study cannot describe the full joy, beauty and thrill of creation, and can even lead to outright blindness to joy, beauty and thrills if it’s too strictly adhered to—is critiquing modernism. It’s directly addressing the modernist idea that science would discover everything about the world and solve all of humanity’s problems. This impulse is still around today, but it was even stronger in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were very optimistic about the benefits solid objective study would bring humanity. But society today in general is more cynical and more postmodernist, and it’s no wonder, seeing how some scientific products (the atom bomb, for example) were not all clearly benefits to humanity.

In other words, to argue against modernist optimism hardly seems necessary, as our culture whole-heartedly agrees with cynicism.

C.S. Lewis ably critiques extreme forms of modernism here without anticipating the ways this philosophy would morph into postmodernism. It doesn’t even begin to consider the postmodernist idea that you may see space as cold and empty, whereas I may see it as full of light and life, and each of these observations depends strongly on the perspective we ourselves come from. I am not saying that C.S. Lewis should have anticipated the next challenge to the Christian worldview, only that in reading Out of the Silent Planet today, the worldview he argues against may come off as quaint and not a threat.

And really, a story arguing against the dangers of a specific philosophy can come across as less universal than a story illustrating the message of salvation (like The Chronicles), especially as many readers may not know much about specific philosophies in the first place. So perhaps it truly is a bit dated?

I’d argue, in fact, that it is important in order to understand what a threat these sorts of ideas were, and to bolster our own worldviews by working through these ideas because—well, many people who believe in modernism are still around, and the heirs of the ideas themselves still influence our society’s thoughts. How often do you hear the media advocating colonizing other planets? Saving humanity by moving away from our mess and starting over elsewhere? We still talk about these things!

Lewis’s unique contribution is to point out that we can’t just see the rest of the universe as ‘ours’ to take over as we wish. Nowadays it’s very fashionable to point out that when Europeans took that approach to other continents, they absolutely disregarded whatever existed there before their arrival as irrelevant, nonexistent (‘we discovered a country that already had people on it so it clearly must’ve been discovered before we arrived!’). It’s quite fashionable to rightly judge this colonialist attitude—other lands did not exist merely for Europeans to exploit. But when it comes to space, we all seem to turn into colonialists again.

Now, we don’t usually consider the rest of the universe as inhabited, so maybe that’s why we’re more comfortable with this idea. In Out of the Silent Planet, the other planets are inhabited, and worse, are free of all the evil and destruction that comes naturally to humanity. So in a fantasy of this sort, it’s easy to demonstrate the harm of human expansionist ideas.

But the book is more than that. It’s not aiming at expansionism alone, but beyond that to the shortcomings of the human heart—our own greed and our own tendency to view ourselves as first and most superior. Even our ‘good’ protagonist is shocked to discover not only that the other planet are inhabited, but that they’re not inhabited by monsters but by creatures who might, in fact, be superior to himself. The book provides a necessary corrective, not just to a time-bound philosophy (modernism), but also to a timeless human temptation—to think of ourselves as the centre of the universe.

Inferior Quality?

I’m not going to spend much time on this topic. It is absolutely not inferior quality to The Chronicles. To discuss the quality of the story in-depth would stray too far from my main focus on its Christian themes, but I’ll just say its lack of recognition probably stems from it being published before The Chronicles, and being aimed more at adults and therefore overlooked.


In Conclusion – We Need More Fiction on the Classics Lists! Could This Be One?

So my answer to the question I raised in the title is—yes, I think it should be. But thinking a work should be a classic does not make it so. I think it’s the sort of story to give someone thinking through the philosophies the story addresses.

But to be fair, there really isn’t a definitive list of Christian classics. If you search it, you get great lists of nonfiction but very little fiction, especially modern Christian fiction. So that’s one new aim of this blog—to look at fiction classics as well as nonfiction ones. Not to draw up a definitive list, but present possible candidates. And here is my first suggestion!


Related Book Reviews of Out of the Silent Planet:

While writing this post I discovered there were not a lot of people writing about the Space Trilogy, so I thought I’d link to a few good reviews I came across here.

The Silent Planet of C.S. Lewis – why this book counts as good classic sci-fi despite having angels in it.

The Cosmic Trilogy 1: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis – a deeper review of the books as a whole.

Out of the Silent Planet – a comparison with Gulliver’s Travels that I didn’t notice myself.




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Feeling Unfulfilled?

It’s been a while since I posted here! I’ve certainly posted more on my ‘Stories and Stuff’ blog, but since I recently had a short article published in the Edmonton Journal, I thought I should update ‘Somente a Deus’ with a link to it. This article comes from a time when I was thinking through what it meant to feel fulfilled in your Christian life, and whether complete fulfilment is ever truly felt by anyone. You know, because we all know in theory true fulfillment can only come through a relationship with God, but so often we don’t really feel fulfilled in practice. Anyway, here’s a short excerpt:

“How often do you meet someone who wouldn’t change a thing about their life? Very rarely will you meet someone who claims that their life is perfect – that they are completely satisfied with how things are going. And that’s pretty universal for each of us.

When we look inside we see there is something each of us desperately wants: to be looked up to by other people, to be loved by someone special, to have a purpose in life, to make lots of money. There’s always something not quite right with the way our lives are right now.

We might have strong relationships, but those relationships may not be quite as upbuilding, romantic or supportive as they could be. We might have a good job, but we hardly feel we’re making the world a better place by doing it, or that we’re really doing anything worthwhile.

Some of our longings are the result of being flawed humans, of course. Our inability to be satisfied with what God gives us is not a good thing. On the other hand, some of our longings point to the reality that the way the world is now is not how God intended it to be…”


The full article can be found here.

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Filed under Actual Practical Application Category

We Might Be Camels

For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:25)

Camel, by Aloys Zötl {PD}

Camel, by Aloys Zötl {PD}

Who do we think Jesus is talking about here? Our minds immediately go to fabulously wealthy people like Warren Buffet – or maybe Bill Gates. Do we ever stop and think that maybe Jesus is talking straight to us?

We like to think of ourselves as just your average Joes – not exactly rich, but not poor either. We probably don’t own a Ferrari, or blow thousands of dollars on expensive champagne in one weekend. Really, when we look at everyone around us, we’re pretty normal. Just middle class.

The fact that our society around us is so amazingly rich blinds us to the fact that we’re amazingly rich. For example, here I am, a university student, getting an education that only a small percentage of the world has the opportunity to obtain. Why should I be born into a situation where university, though still expensive and a lot of work, is within my grasp, whereas for most people it is beyond their wildest dreams?

Maybe you’re not in university. But think, exactly what is considered poor in North America? It may be a struggle for many to get by, but some of our poor are still richer than the rest of the world. Add in the social safety nets we have in North America, such as welfare, unemployment insurance, etc., and we have a situation richer than a good majority of the world – or even a good majority of history.

Yes, of history. We have riches beyond what even some kings in history could’ve imagined. Access to gigabytes upon gigabytes of information, far beyond what even the great library at Alexandria used to hold. The ability to travel almost anywhere in the world in a few hours, maybe days. The ability to treat multitudes of illnesses people used to die young from. An increase in lifespan to eighty, ninety or even a hundred years. We may not be loaded down with gold, jewels and furs, but our ancestors never dreamed of computers or ipods.

And we live in peace. In Canada, where I’m from, we have security we take far too much for granted. Have you ever considered what an amazing thing this is? Coming out of a century that produced two world wars and multitudes of other ones, it is amazing to live in a society that is not up-heaved by revolution, torn apart by civil war, or invaded by another country. To have a stable government (though flawed) that does uphold a certain amount of justice, keeping people’s worst impulses somewhat under control. Why should we be granted peace and stability at all?

To illustrate with an example, the city I live in (Edmonton) had a scare two years ago because our murder rate rose to forty-two murders in the year. There are cities in the world that see that many murders in a weekend. Compare this to the riots in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in 2010, where the government had to send in the army to deal with the drug cartels, who were attacking civilians. Or riots in Syria, where the government itself slaughters its own citizens. Look at us. Safety and security is not something easily visible, and is not often thought about. But we are blessed.

Here, we should stop a moment and think about what riches actually are. Material things are very nice and all, but what are true riches? The Word of God, of course. How truly blessed we are! Everywhere in our society there is access to the Bible – Bibles, Bible studies, churches – the Word of God is raining down around us. It can fill every aspect of our lives, if we let it. Yet it’s easier to complain while dragging ourselves to Bible study, or find an excuse to stay home from church. We can send back the finest feast of delicacies, because we know there will always be more food tomorrow. We can take our riches for granted.

What are to think, then, about Jesus’ words about the camel? Look at our world around us. Is there a possibility our enjoyments, our freedom, our society buffers us from the necessity of having to rely on God? Not that we shouldn’t accept these! I am in no way promoting we all immediately sell our possessions and go live among the poor. But we can’t be blind to how our own comfort interferes with our ability serve the Lord, who has given the great gift of all – salvation – to us.

We are insulated from a certain kind of desperation, a dependence that comes from having nowhere else to turn. We’ve never been asked to give up everything, so we don’t think about what we’re hanging onto.

Is this reason for despair? Not at all. Those who heard these words of Jesus looked at each other and asked, “Then who can be saved?” But reading a little farther in Luke’s gospel, we come across the story of Zacchaeus – a man who was specifically pointed out by Luke as rich, but who Jesus describes as saved. God can do anything, even save a rich man. Even allow that camel to go through the eye of a needle.

And for us, whom Luke might’ve described as rich as well if he had met us, it is an opportunity to open our eyes to how great God’s love is. Let our riches not be a barrier between us and God, but rather be an opportunity to do good and help others, and to show others exactly how much God has done for us.



Harma-Mae Smit is a contributor to the infinite stream of information that gets poured into the web each day – yes, a blogger and a writer. She blogs regularly at harmamaesmit.com and amrahpublishinghouse.com

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Filed under Actual Practical Application Category