An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach. The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.
– Proverbs 18:1-4
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.
– 2 Corinthians 12:19
“I am all in favour of your idea that we should go back to our old plan of having a more or less set subject – an agendum – for our letters. When we were last separated the correspondence languished for lack of it. How much better we did in our undergraduate days with our interminable letters on the Republic, and classical metres, and what was then the new psychology! Nothing makes an absent friend so present as a disagreement.”
– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer
I read Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer recently. I had seen so many good quotes from the book. I wanted the meat behind the sound bites. Alas, I didn’t come away with much, but I was captivated to read the book through based on the first paragraph.
Okay, there was no ‘Malcolm’ in this give and take of letters. Yet, as you read this very first paragraph of the book (above), Malcolm seems to be an old school friend. Malcolm could also be his brother, Warnie. The last sentence could easily suggest the Inklings, as individuals or as a group. Could one disagreement be with J. R. R. Tolkien while the next disagreement with Hugo Dyson or Charles Williams? While thirteen men are listed as regulars at the Eagle and Child pub for Inkling meetings, there were others that were less frequent members along with occasional guests.
The Inklings weren’t a social club or literary society, but most of their time was spent reading unpublished works by the various members. There was criticism and disagreement over content, style, and general philosophy. Oh, to be a bug on the wall when some of the works of Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams were first read…
The C. S. Lewis reference to The Republic refers to the philosophical work by Plato. This opens the field of participants in the “Who’s Malcolm game” to old professors of Lewis or philosophers at Oxford or Cambridge as well.
It was a disagreement, of sorts, (the other combatants being J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson) that led to C. S. Lewis finally agreeing that there was a God. It was a ride by motorcycle with his brother Warren (‘Warnie’) when C. S. Lewis wrestled with the concept of Jesus as God, becoming a follower of Jesus by the end of the journey.
I seem to think that Malcolm was probably a combination of all of the above. He’d probably had disagreements with all. But each of the discussions would have led to them still being friends.
The Scriptures above are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to discussions. In Proverbs 18, an unfriendly person starts quarrels, while the fool has no pleasure in understanding, yet delights in airing their opinion. In 2 Corinthians, Paul is posing arguments, disagreements, or points of discussion with the Corinthians to teach them and make them stronger.
In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul exhorts Timothy to not enter into foolish arguments, for they lead to quarrels. Paul gave arguments, but on a theological and philosophical level. Similar to what C. S. Lewis did with his friends. Paul used his letters to present his arguments before the people of the various churches. This allowed a foundation to be built that would form those churches in wise understanding of Jesus. It is thought that the earliest Christian writings were Paul’s letters, followed shortly by the Gospels.
C. S. Lewis was a man of letters as well. The Screwtape Letters was another work of fiction that really got his published works off the ground. An American lady wrote to Lewis of her love for the Narnia series. His letters that he wrote to her were compiled into book form. He was said to reply to a lot of the people who corresponded with him. Besides Letters to Malcolm, another fictional book of sorts that was published a year after his death, his brother Warren helped compile the tremendous volumes of correspondence that was written by his brother “Jack” into a volume called Letter of C. S. Lewis.
The key in determining if a disagreement can be safe from the eventual quarrel is that of wise understanding. Today, there are many fools who take philosophy classes and many foolish arguments that are generated as a result. As Paul suggests, we need to put on our Gospel armor by studying God’s Word. It also helps to know with whom we will have a disagreement. Lee Strobel has written a few good books that can prepare someone to tackle the big arguments that unbelievers raise. But to tackle such a person requires a lot of love, a lot of patience, and a lot of prayer.
When friends gather, there will almost always be disagreements. We need to be wise enough to know when to cut off a disagreement before it turns into a quarrel. And with each encounter, we must prepare ourselves with prayer. You never know when a crucial disagreement will arise, and you’ll need to have the Holy Spirit take over. Others will congratulate you on how well you defended your faith, but at that moment, you’ll be wondering, “What did I say? I don’t remember.”
My wife and I have both been there. When it happens, you simply praise God.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God alone.