But then I heard something that rattled my perception of “service.” My youth group went to Brussels in Belgium this summer to join with other youth groups in Europe to do random acts of kindness and service to people on the streets. Just as I was about to head out deliver sandwiches we had made to homeless people on the street, however, my leader turned to us and read us an article on Christian service. It was fairly straightforward, nothing really radical or groundbreaking; nothing special, except for one line that struck me between the eyes. It read something like “We should be just as happy serving others behind the scenes as out directly helping the people being served; we should feel just as satisfied laying down bricks for a schoolhouse as finishing it and presenting it to the exuberantly grateful community.”
None of my friends reacted to this, but I was stunned.
What this had made me realize was that I might have been loving service for the wrong reason entirely. As evidence, just notice the number of first-person singular pronouns in my opening paragraph. The reason I loved serving so much was, in fact, more selfish than selfless; I loved feeling the reward of performing good deeds: recognition. This “glory” of sorts is what CS Lewis address in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” with its misconceptions and misleading nature.
The first thing Lewis draws attention to is the nature of the reward itself. He says that “We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward [from faithful acts of Godliness] makes the Christian life a mercenary affair,” but then goes on to address much the same issues as Plantinga addresses in the first chapter, “Longing and Hope,” of Engaging God’s World: The longings we feel and the rewards we see behind them can so easily divert us from our true divine longing, our summum bonum. Hence we create “dumb idols,” as Lewis puts it, which may give us instant gratification, but in the end detract from our vision of God and of His promises of reward to us. My love for service was (at least in part) misguided, and so I mercenarily sought acclaim and praise.
Thus, the distinction between two different types of glory must be made, as Lewis discusses in his sermon. The first one can most easily be summarized as vainglory; as Lewis describes it, it is the “competitive passion” and “deadly poison of self-admiration” that he sees as being “of hell rather than heaven.” This is the definition of glory as it relates to fame, fortune, and other such combative goals in which the “I” is glorified. Glory in this form is so tempting and so dangerous sometimes because it seems legitimate and wholesome. My own example of vainglory seemed completely innocuous until I was awoken to the reality of it. Temptation in this area is subtle, since it deals with the some of the most basic human longings within each of us. This is our pursuit of “luminosity,” as Lewis calls it.
The second is the one worth pursuing: the glory that comes from serving God and receiving the satisfaction of doing so. In fact, as Lewis mentions, in serving the Lord with the right intentions, this “turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which [we] had not noticed.” This points to the fact that God made us in His image (Gen.1:26), since our longings and desires point to our sense of God, and that the pursuit of them for what they are will ultimately give us Godly glory. This form of glory is the “weightier” of the two, as Lewis describes it, and feels like an actual burden on us. As he writes,
To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God not merely pitied, but delight in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
It is a glory so full of wonder and responsibility that it impresses hard on our small, feeble human frame. It must be used to further God’s Kingdom in ways that aren’t necessarily self-gratifying or radiant. In Brussels, I should have been just as happy making the sandwiches we distributed behind the scenes as I was handing them directly to the homeless people. Lewis says that “perfect humility dispenses with modesty,” not with gaudy expressions of what we consider worthy of praise, and so we need to responsibly show God’s love without drawing too much attention to ourselves.
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.