Friday, May 05, 2006


No, this is not a solicitation for some charity (though we are required by the Gospel to help the poor in whatever way we can), but simply a law of life—a law that is human and divine, earthly and heavenly, temporal and eternal. Without giving there is no true living, so we must be aware that all who live by getting and having and hoarding and coveting (and selfishness in general) are not living true life at all.

I had occasion to apply this recently to prayer as well. I think we’re all aware of the call of the Gospel to deny ourselves, “to do good and to share what you have” (Heb. 13:16), and in general to realize that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). But it seems that in prayer we may wish to receive more than to give, perhaps realizing that we have little to offer, and that God has the plenitude of grace. We ought, however, to see what we can give even here. Many people refuse to go to church because they “don’t get anything out of it.” My next question to them is usually, “But what do you give to it?” Even if, practically seen, there’s not a whole lot more than our time, attention, and the faith and love of our hearts that we can give, we ought to give it all. It seems that there’s a sort of two-way valve in our souls. In order for it to be open for us to receive, it also has to be open to give. If we try to set it so it will only receive, it will remain closed.

C.S. Lewis has a few things to say in The Problem of Pain about self-giving, and this is not (as you might think) in the chapters on suffering, but in the chapter on Heaven:

“All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever… The thing I am speaking of is not an experience. You have experienced only the want of it. The thing itself has never actually been embodied in any thought, or image, or emotion. Always it has summoned you out of yourself. And if you will not go out of yourself to follow it, if you sit down to brood on the desire and attempt to cherish it, the desire itself will evade you…

“The thing you long for summons you away from the self… this is the ultimate law—the seed dies to live, the bread must be cast upon the waters, he that loses his soul will save it. But the life of the seed, the finding of the bread, the recovery of the soul, are as real as the preliminary sacrifice…

“As to its fellow-creatures, each soul, we suppose, will be eternally engaged in giving away to all the rest that which it receives. And as to God, we must remember that the soul is but a hollow which God fills. Its union with God is, almost by definition, a continual self-abandonment—an opening, and unveiling, a surrender, of itself… For in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives Himself in sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary… From before the foundation of the world He surrenders begotten Deity back to begetting Deity in obedience…

“From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. This is not a heavenly law that we can escape by remaining earthly, nor an earthly law which we can escape by being saved. What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ‘ordinary life,’ but simply and solely Hell… That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality…”

The mystery of human self-giving is based on the intra-trinitarian mystery of divine Self-giving, and is fulfilled ultimately in eternal union with God and will all other self-giving human beings. Hell is for those who are full of themselves, and themselves is all they will get for eternity. When you realize the glorious and supremely joyful alternative, you see clearly that to be full of oneself is Hell indeed.

We can only experience the joy and fulfillment of self-giving by actually doing it. That’s why Lewis says we can’t just sit around and think about Heaven or desire it. We have to go about the business of giving ourselves away in all the circumstances of life, of relationships with other people and with God. As George MacDonald says, to hear the call of Heaven is to be “haunted by the scent of unseen roses,” and this will keep us eager to do whatever it takes to finally awaken unto that unimaginable glory. It starts here, though, in daily faithfulness to Him who said, “Give, and it shall be given to you” (Luke 6:38).