Progress or Regress?

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

–          John 14:5-7


“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came to a certain place where there was a den, and I laid down to sleep there.  And as I slept, I dreamed a dream.  I dreamed, and saw a Man clothed with rags, standing there, faced away from his own house, a Book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back  I looked, and saw him open the book, and read.  And as he read, he wept and trembled.  Not being able longer to contain, he broke out with a lamentable cry, saying, ‘What shall I do?’ … ”

–          John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress


“I dreamed of a boy who was born in the land of Puritania and his name was John.  And I dreamed that when John was able to walk he ran out of his parents’ garden on a fine morning on to the road. …”

–          C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress


My wife’s progress, thinking of progress:  It took a very long time for her to wake up.  She seemed to be half awake, able to respond, but not able to keep her eyes open. Once awake, they tested her breathing and took her off the ventilator.  Now it is the initial steps toward recovery, like sitting up and getting out of bed. For all of you prayer warriors, thank you.


I dreamed of a boy who got a great idea to read The Pilgrim’s Progress and then immediately follow that reading with The Pilgrim’s Regress.


No, I was wide awake and I may have a boyish concept of humor, but I have not been looked upon and thought of as a boy for many, many years.


By the way, do not try this at home, to borrow a phrase from the television shows that show people doing ridiculous things that you know some crazy teen-ager is going to try at home.  Put a gap between the books so that they each stand alone.  They are different, drastically.  To look at the Scripture above, we know that Jesus is the only way to the Father, but there are many paths we take in which we get to Jesus.


John Bunyan paints a picture of Christians of any century as they are faced with the fundamental attractions of worldliness.  He does a masterful job of describing concepts in such broad strokes that make the seventeenth century book fit any age.  Bunyan wrote the majority of the book while in prison.  Pardon my sense of humor, but he served his prison time for preaching without a license.  Actually, he was a Baptist preacher at a time when the Church of England was the only recognized church in the land – thus, prison.  A historian of the times could probably find needle pricks toward the authorities that had imprisoned him within the book, but Bunyan weaved those into a story that could have been written yesterday.  We are faced with worldly, secular people.  We are coaxed away from the proper path.  At the time, the diversion may even make sense.  It might seem like a better way.  Sometimes, we must be guided back to the proper path.  Sometimes, we help others stay on the path.  And sometimes people seem to follow the path on their own merit or feeling of self-importance and fail.


Lewis, being a literature scholar at Oxford, wrote his book immediately after becoming a Christian.  The book is autobiographical, but written in the allegorical style of Bunyan’s book.  He names his primary character “John” in homage to John Bunyan (Or since people who are nicknamed “Jack” are usually named John…  Lewis did not like Clive Staples as a name, so he started calling himself “Jack” at a young age.).  Beyond the style, the similarities seem to end.


Oh, there is that technique, part of the style, of calling all the passers’ by names that describe their philosophy.  Bunyan has Christians meet Faithful, Hopeful, Talkative, and Mr. Liar before meeting Ignorance later on.  Lewis has John meet Reason, Mr. Mammon, Mr. Sensible, and Savage before meeting the Guide later on.


Lewis’ first statement is very telling.  John ran away from his parents’ house.  Instead of taking a rather straight path, with few turnings as in the Bunyan book (starting with the tattered Christian leaving his home carrying the Book), Lewis has John running from the right path into one trouble after another, chasing Reason, and Reason’s sisters Theology and Philosophy and many others.  With John, he leaves Puritania to find out if the Landlord even exists.  But Lewis is speaking of his circuitous journey to faith.  As I mentioned at the beginning, Jesus is the Only Way, Truth, and Light, but our journey is going to be different than the next person’s journey.


Lewis is critical of his own work.  He says in the afterward (upon the third edition) that he would be equally critical of his students for having “needless obscurity and an uncharitable temper.”


We can learn two key things from Lewis’ initial misstep.  It is said that new Christians should remain silent for a little while.  Wait until the Holy Spirit has time to sort through what has happened in your life before you start a major opus.  The second is that our journeys are different.  While Lewis’ book speaks to many and all can gain bits from it here or there, some arguments don’t seem to resonate.


Lewis was a literary scholar.  My formal education was in chemical engineering.  There are three laws of Thermodynamics.  The second law points toward God.  I get it.  Lewis might not.  Lewis writes in The Pilgrim’s Regress and in Surprised by Joy about literary and philosophical arguments.  I get most, but they do not resonate, because that is not my background.


Oh, you don’t know the second Law of Thermodynamics?  Sorry.  The first law is the conservation of energy.  Energy cannot be created or destroyed.  It simply changes forms.  Those who think Einstein proved the contrary are wrong.  In E = mc2, if you take one particular fission, you can add up the resulting pieces and the mass is less than the whole of the original fissile material.  The difference is in the bond energy holding the original atom together.  That bond energy, seen as mass, is transformed into energy that is released when the atom breaks apart.  (Simplified here.)


The Second Law of Thermodynamics is that the change in Entropy leads to Entropy always increasing.


Hunh?  Okay, a low entropy state is a state of high organization while a high entropy state is one of disorder (chaos).  Still confused?  As an example, let’s take the limb of a tree.  It is a living thing.  Sap flows.  The limb grows.  The limb is highly complex, but also highly organized.  But let’s cut the limb.  The wood dries, the sap reacting with the air.  Then, let’s burn the log that used to be a limb.  We get carbon dioxide, water vapor, and a little ash – total destruction, total chaos, total disorder – the winds blow the result to the four corners of the earth.  Can you take the right mixture of ash, water, and carbon dioxide, put them in a container, shake them vigorously, and obtain a limb?  No.  A log?  No.


One of the professors in chemical engineering at the university pulled me aside one day for a one-on-one.  I had no classes under him.  I don’t think that he singled me out as the top student academically (the chief nerd of the nerds), but I think that he saw that I had Christian values.  He asked how I could explain the second law to a layman, a non-scientist / engineer.  I suggested that the world, and all that it contains, was like a watch that is constantly winding down.  He smiled.  He had a twinkle in his eye.  He then said, “Who wound up the watch, young Sir?”  I stared at him in amazement for a second.  He then answered his own question, “Yes, there is a God, and He created the Heavens and the Earth.”  With that, the professor walked away.


I’ve used the word before.  Shazam!  That argument hit home for me.  That argument resonated.  For others who love literature, Lewis’ books would have a greater impact.  Bunyan’s book spoke to me more, because while academically an engineer, I am still a human walking along the path, meeting people that would gladly cause me to stray from the path.  His characters along the way speak to me more, not that Lewis’ characters fail to speak.  I just didn’t run away from home and follow secular “reason” for a season of my life.


Why do these books differ so much?  It is why there are four Gospels.  It is why there are so many people giving totally diverse testimonies about their road to find the Right Road – The Way, The Truth, The Light.  No matter how many wrong turnings, they found Jesus.  We come from different backgrounds.  We have different influences along the way.  We have emptiness in different pits within our soul that only God can fill.  But we all, as true Christians, end up on the same road together.


Praise the Lord.  Amen.


Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.




Add yours →

  1. we pray on Mark!!!!
    I was like that with anesthesia once—it was the hardest thing to really come out of it…but
    thankfuly ​I did, as will she—to sit, eat, laugh, walk and enjoy!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. August 11, 2018 — 5:19 pm

    Praise God for safely leading your wife through her surgery. Now it’s on to full recovery😊❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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