“These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only a scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us…” -C.S. Lewis, the Weight of Glory
How do idols break the hearts of their worshippers? It is so easy to ascribe ultimate worth to things that are only meant as faint shadows of the truth. But beauty and magic and comfort, et cetera, do not find their ultimate source in objects, experiences, or people. Our real destiny will provide these things, but in the meantime, rather than enjoying them in these secondary or tertiary sources, rather thanking God and ascribing the glory to him, we devour the mere scraps we find in this world, which do not satisfy, and ignore our growing, grumbling discontent. Lewis also wrote that, “We often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us, because, at that moment, we expected some other good”. What good does God offer, and what “other good” were we expecting? I think what he means is that, ultimately, the primary good, the good God offers that our natural-born selves reject, is God himself. We reject him because our idolatrous hearts expected something else, something we valued more highly at that moment. We wanted and expected and thought we deserved a lesser good. We sulk, because we think, at that moment, that we deserve more than what he offers. What a foolish idea! That I, sinful and broken and unable to fix myself or redeem myself, deserve more than what God offers, when what he offers is all of himself! Ludicrous. But I’ve thought it. Maybe not consciously, but I’ve acted upon that premise. And so, not satisfied with God himself, we turn to the blessings he’s given and make them primary. We declare that they are the primary good. We think that our current job or relationship or home or status will be the solution to all our problems and the source of all our pleasures. We put our hope in and expect joy and fulfillment from our idols, and when we’re not satisfied, our hearts are left broken.
Breaking the Enchantment
The joy, the longing, that we feel at those blessings, that fleeting sensation, is, as quoted above, “news from a country we have never yet visited”. Doesn’t that make you want to go there? If the things which are so good and pleasing in the here and now are shadows of the pleasure of being in the presence of God—because that’s what’s so great about that far country—we should long to be there and enjoy him. Regarding our desire for that place, earlier in the paragraph I quoted from, Lewis writes, “I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of us—the inconsolable secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence”. Why do we feel such shyness? Why are we trying to rationalize it and explain it away? “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice,” says Jack. We are taught to enjoy as primary pleasures the things in our small world, in order that we might forget that sense that we were made for another world. That is the enchantment that must be broken.
A Broken and Contrite Heart
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Ps. 51:17).
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Ps 147:3).
(Here I diverge from the essay. I strongly encourage you to find and read the entire thing.)
I cannot break the enchantment laid upon me. I need grace. This world breaks my heart because I give my heart away so freely to a world that makes false promises. But it is because of grace that my heart feels the disappointments so keenly. It is grace that my heart has not grown hard. I need to be heart-broken and brought to my knees, humbled. I have to be broken all the way. I need grace to accept the healing, the peace and wholeness and redemption God lovingly offers when he offers himself. And that’s what he offers. He offers grace and peace. He offers his son Jesus Christ, who sustains all things. He can heal my broken heart and break the spell.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26