Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.
-C.S Lewis, The World’s Last Night.
There are powerful inclinations within us to accept the perceived finality of the world we live in. We look back into history and see man after man, civilization after civilization crumble and fade. We look around at those who do not hope for another time, hope for something else, and experience the potent truth that the Lord “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matthew 5:45). And, at times, to deny the ultimacy of the world around us, to fly in the face of the gnawing feeling that this is all there is seems like a distant hope for children or for idiots. For Christians, though, the truth of the Consummation, the Reckoning, the End leading to the Beginning is a constant threat to our mediocre actions and passive attitudes. He will come, and He will come “like a thief in the night,” (1 Thessalonians 4:2). And in the end, as Lewis notes in The Weight of Glory, “that Face which is the delight or terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or discussed.”
What will we do when confronted with this reality? We must “ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world,” (Lewis, The World’s Last Night). It is true: the best we can hope to accomplish in preparing for the Morning is to dress ourselves in total Purity and total Righteousness, to dress ourselves in the gift given for mankind: The Son of Man. He Himself is our “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” (1 Corinthians 1: 31). How else will we endure the scrutiny of the Judge? To hide ourselves in Christ’s death and resurrection, in His Person, is to be counted righteous, to be born again, to be clothed in brilliance and splendor. Only Christ can abide the coming Morning, and if we are in Him, we will come through as well. Only He can give us the purity we long for. Only He can wash us “as white as snow,” (Isaiah 1:18). The greatest hope of mankind lies in Christ; to put our trust and faith in Him, to repent and believe, is the supreme preparation for night’s ending.
But Lewis certainly would have us go deeper than this (not onward, but deeper). To repent and believe in Christ is a daily activity. It happens in the quiet moments on our couches in the first hours of the morning and in the last hours of the day, but certainly faith and repentance are expressed in the little actions in between. Faith and repentance are shown in our word choices or responses to a colleague. Faith and repentance are shown in our movie choices and in our web site choices. Faith and repentance are shown in thinking about indulging in the urge to tear someone down behind their backs or in the temptation to disobey parents. Lewis is calling us to prepare for the Coming, and in doing so, he is asking us to examine every action of our day. We are, though, easily deceived by the “electric lights” of the night around us. The world would have us examine our actions under the scrutiny of the artificial light it has created. And, let’s face it, under this illumination, some horrible actions may look like the choicest. Getting ahead at any cost in the workplace looks fantastic under the glow of these lights; under the illumination of God, though, these actions are revealed as dark and corrupt. Gratifying our own sinful tendencies in lust or in pride, in using our talents simply for our own benefit, is passable in the dimness of a charged filament, but against Natural Light these actions are exposed for the man-glorifying, God-hating works they truly are.
Here is a challenging picture from Scripture: “‘for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’–for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints,” (Revelation 19:7-8). There is a sense in which the deeds of the saints will clothe the Church in Christ, worked by His powerful working within us. What we do here matters. Indeed, in arguing for the resurrection of the dead, Paul tells us, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning,” (1 Corinthians 32-34). It seems like wisdom, in a measure, to eat and drink in great quantities here (translate the eating and drinking into any pleasure-making activity done for the sake of it). The world sends us such messages in somewhat subtle ways, because humanity consistently makes a horrible mistake: it reckons that there will be no Judgment. But the picture Revelation gives is quite different. For “Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done,” (Revelation 20:13). What will we do with Christ? In the little actions of the day, the mundane and ordinary, how will we repent and believe? The choice of loading and unloading the dishes, in this line of thinking, becomes a cosmic decision. The choice of loving the unlovable or shrinking from him becomes a reflection of our allegiance to Almighty God.
To dress for the Light of Eternity, the light which “lasts longer” than the electric lights of the world around us, is the preparation on which our hearts should be set. We may try to fool ourselves into thinking that the little decisions, the humdrum moments during the day, mean nothing in light of eternity, but all decisions are worship decisions. Each choice reveals what we are living for and what we think is ultimate. Alright, alright. No one is calling anyone to scrutinize the choice of pizza or salad, sneakers or flip-flops. Still, we need a better view of life. Paul tells us, “the night is far gone; the day is at hand. So let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” (Romans 13:12). There is urgency in his warning. There is urgency now. What shall we do but “walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies or drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy,” (v. 13)? Faith and repentance are shown by the putting on of “the Lord Jesus Christ,” and by making “no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” (v. 14). To put Him on is to turn from our natural, sub-par, selfish living and to live by faith in Him, living for His glory and His great name, trusting that we will endure when “the great and awesome day of the Lord comes,” (Joel 2:31). How’s your dressing going?