SUCCESS IN SIMPLICITY
By Pastor Glenn Pease
C. S. Lewis, the brilliant atheist who became one of the most famous Christians of the 20th century, said, "It is no good asking for a simple religion after all, real things are not simple." Little did he realize, when he wrote those words in his early book, Mere Christianity, just how true they were to become in his life. He was a middle aged bachelor living with his bachelor brother, and both of them were scholars and authors. Life was so simple and uncomplicated until Joy Davidmen came into it. Joy was a living example of life's complexity. She was born into a Jewish home as a near genius. She was reading history and philosophy at the age of 8, and like her father she became a atheist. She got fed up with the American economic system during the depression in the 30's, and joined the Communist party. She taught school, wrote books and scripts for Hollywood.
She got married and had two sons, and then she heard the Gospel and surrendered to Christ. She became a devoted Christian, and immediately she used her skills to write Christian books. She discovered C. S. Lewis, and fell in love with his writings. To make a long story short, she eventually got to England, and met Lewis in person. They were two brilliant former atheist who now loved Christ, and were writing books to tell the world of their faith. They enjoyed each other immediately. When she returned to the United States, and to alcoholic husband, there were problems. She fought for years to keep her marriage together, but finally her Christians friends advised her to divorce him. She did, and moved to England, and there her and Lewis had a romantic relationship for three years. Life was still fairly simple, but then the British government sent her a letter saying her permit to stay in England was expired, and she had to leave.
That is when Lewis realized he loved her and could not live without her. But the Anglican church, of which he was a member, did not allow the remarriage of divorced people. He was torn, and had to act, and so he married her secretly so she could stay in England. They lived in their own homes separately. She kept her own name. It was very complicated, and gossip began to grow as this 59 year old bachelor began to spend an extraordinary amount of time visiting Joy. He pleaded with his church to be allowed to marry her, but he was denied.
Joy discovered she had cancer, and was very soon on her death bed, but God spared her long enough for them to have a beautiful honeymoon. They traveled to Ireland and Greece. Then her cancer returned, and she died in her early 40's. C. S. Lewis was never well after he lost her, and he died three years later in 1963. He was a brilliant godly man who changed the course of history for millions, but he knew from his study, and from experience, life is not simple.
Even though it is true that life can be complex, the common people heard Jesus gladly because they knew what he was saying. Jesus had the gift of simplicity. He said, "love thy neighbor," and not what the intellectual scholar might say, "Display empathy in a psychic ethnocentricity." Jesus said, "Fear not, I have over come the world," and not, "unlock your libido, the existential predicament has been transcended." With a little thought Christians can be lifted beyond the reach of the masses, and be lost in the complexity of language. Better have five words that people understand, says Paul, then 10 thousand in a tongue they can't understand. Simplicity is best, but Paul wrote that because Christians were getting caught up in complexity. Paul knew that life was not simple. Nevertheless,
that is a goal to aim for.
A judge in Illinois issued an order that forced a patient to have a blood transfusion she had refused on religious grounds. She lived because of it, and then sued the judge who had saved her. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, he had violated her first amendment rights. He had saved her life, but he was reprimanded for violating her rights. Had he let her die, he would have done no wrong-legally. Life is not simple. How can we reconcile what we know about the reality of life's complexity with the emphasis of Jesus on simplicity?
One of the dominant themes of Matthew 6 is on, success in simplicity. Do you want to have a life well rewarded for your spiritual efforts in prayer, giving, and fasting? Jesus says do not make it complicated by trying to please the masses. You only have to please God, and so keep it secret, and keep it simple. Do not think you can snow God with eloquent, but empty, words. If quantity of words was the key to prayer, then the pagans with their prayer wheels, which through a prayer off to God every time they revolved, have us all beat. Jesus says stay away from all ideas that make prayer complicated. God already knows your need before you ask, so keep it simple. Jesus gives us the example we call the Lord's prayer. It is so simple, and so short, you can pray it in 20 to 30 seconds.
Jesus simplified everything he touched. The Old Testament saints had ten commandments to guide them, but Jesus said you can simplify these ten, and reduce them to two. Love God with all your being, and you neighbor as yourself. This is not easy, but it is simple to grasp. In verse 24 Jesus says you cannot serve two masters. Even when things are down to two, Jesus is still saying, simplify, and cut it down to one only as Lord. Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand--simplify, simplify." Jesus went beyond this and said your life is a complicated mess until you cut down to only one ultimate loyalty, which is God. He ends this chapter by saying do not get caught up in worry over many things. Simplify by seeking first the kingdom of God, and all the complex pieces of the puzzle will come together. Don't reach out into tomorrow, but keep it simple, and live one day at a time.
This entire chapter, from beginning to end, has one common theme: Keep it simple. Life is complicated; love is complicated; but the Lord is not complicated. How can this be when He is the author of life and love, and all the vast universe of colossal cosmic complexities? But that is just it, the many have their source in the One, so that though reality is complex, the source of reality is simple. When our lives revolve around the One, which is God, life can be simple in one basic sense, even if it is complex in many areas. There is no escaping the paradox involved in simplicity, for it is both sought and shunned,
because like everything else there are two sides to it. In other words, simplicity is not always simple.
The Bible deals with both sides of simplicity. The book of Proverbs warns of the folly of being simple-minded, which means lacking wisdom and discernment. The simple can be simpletons, and be led like an ox to the slaughter by the cleverness of the tempter. Paul is amazed at the foolish Galatians who are such simpletons that they allow themselves to be led back into trusting in the law. It is possible to be simple in a way that makes simplicity synonymous with stupidity. There is a childishness as well as a child likeness, and they are opposite kinds of simplicity.
John Bunyan, so famous for his Pilgrims Progress made this clear with his character named Simple. He was one who said, "I can see no danger," and the result was he walked into a snare set for him, and he ended up enslaved. It happens all the time to the simple-minded. Alexander Whyte, in describing Simple in his book, Bunyan Characters writes, "There is so much that is not simple and sincere in this world; there is so much falsehood and duplicity; there are so many men aboard whose endeavor is to waylay, mislead, entrap and corrupt the simple-minded and the inexperienced, that it is next to impossible that any youth shall long remain in this world both simple and safe also."
We know this is true, and we dare not leave people in that state of simplicity like sitting pigeons to be ensnared. They need to be taught that things are not always what they seem, and there is value in being somewhat skeptical, and not believe everything they hear and read. In other words, even though simplicity is our goal as Christians, it is possible to over simplify and go to an extreme that only complicates life. The same is true in the realm of science. Albert Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler."
Alfred North Whitehead put it, "The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, 'seek simplicity and distrust it.'" This makes a good motto for the Christian life as well. Simplicity is our goal, but there is a superficial side of simplicity that can get us off the truly simple track. One master is better than two, but this does not mean that one leg is better than two, or that two heads cannot be better than one. To try and make a simple truth apply to everything is usually the way to being a simpleton.
We must be alert to the danger of over-simplification. This was the cause of the friends of Job being a pain, rather than a comfort. It is true that sin leads to suffering, but they over simplified the issue of suffering, and said all suffering is a result of sin. They accused him of being a rebel sinner for having to suffer so severely. It is a classic case of over-simplification that made these, otherwise reasonable, men into simpletons.
Simplicity, according to Jesus, is simply to live with a single eye, that is, a single dominant motive, which is to please God. This means there is only one ultimate loyalty in the successfully simplified life. Two ultimate loyalty is one too many, and it complicates life. It is like trying to stop two tennis balls at the same time. The lack of concentration on one ball leads to a breakdown in your mental capacity, and you will tend to miss both. You cannot serve two masters. The simplified life is one in which there is a single thread
that holds all of the pearls of life together. Take 40 pearls without a string, and you have the complicated life. Take the same 40 pearls with a string running through them, and you have the simplified life. All is held together and made useful and beautiful by a single string which unifies the complexity of parts into a meaningful whole. Successful simplicity is not the rejection of complexity, but the unifying of it. You do not have to deny the reality of life's complexity, and try to escape it. You accept reality for what it really is, but you keep life simple by being dominated and motivated by a single purpose-the pleasing of God.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the army assigned a group of eminent psychiatrists to determine the best way to select soldiers for duty on a variety of fronts. After many tests they gave this report. The best way to find out if a soldier will be more effective in the desert or in the North is to ask him, "What kind of weather do you like....hot or cold." The simple and the obvious are often the most scientific and effective. Knowing the will of God is an issue all Christians struggle with at some point. One of the best ways to know if you are doing God's will is to simply ask,
is what I am doing pleasing to God? Brent said, "Simplicity is not doing one thing, it is doing all things for one motive." The most dangerous thing in life is trying to jump over a chasm in two jumps. It is one, or not at all. So also, the leap from the complex life to the simple life is but a single jump to that solid rock where nothing is more important than pleasing God.
Human nature resists simplicity because it does not leave enough room for creativity. Fallen human nature loves complexity, for this leaves the door open for rationalization, self-justification, and a host of other ways to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of life. Solomon was able to resolve a very complex case that baffled the judges of his day by threatening to cut a baby in half, and it worked. But someone said, try satisfying two children by cutting a cupcake in half. Inevitably one will charge that you always give the other one the biggest piece. One parent found a simple solution to this problem. She said to her son, you get to cut the cake, and your sister gets first choice of the pieces. It seemed foolproof, for you could count on it, he made the cut as even as the human eye can detect. But the sister deliberately ate her equal size piece slowly, so that when her brother was finished, she could waft it under his nose, and say, "ha, I out foxed you again, and got the biggest piece." This is why simplicity can still be so complex. It is because of the human heart that refuses to abide by the principles of simplicity.
Lawrence Houseman introduced Gandhi to a London audience, and he said, "You are so simple you baffle us; so sincere you embarrass us." Gandhi's simplicity won freedom for millions in India, but it was hard, for simplicity is despised. That is why the Gospel is despised and rejected of men. It is too simple. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. There is no complexity. There is only one way to the Father. There is only one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. Men want to complicate the simple Gospel, and add a few other requirements, here and there, for this gives him a measure of power, and a sense of superiority. The simple Gospel puts all men on the same level. All have sinned, but all can be saved by simple faith in Christ.
When Robinson Crusoe climbed the hills of his island, and gazed out at the watery horizon, he was not looking for a fleet of ships, but one sail is all he sought, for one ship was all he needed to be saved. That is all anyone needs, one ship or one Savior. Life's greatest decision is not complex but very simple: Believe and be saved. Eugenia Price in her book, Early Will I Seek Thee wrote, "How I long for simplicity before I became a Christian. Little did I know I was longing for the very essence of the Gospel of Christ! I would have laughed if anyone told me I longed for Christ Himself. I merely long for simplicity knowing that all great art, painting, music, writing, sprang from simplicity itself."
Her longing was only satisfied when she opened her life to Christ as Savior and Lord. In Him she found the simplicity that tied all else together. Life may not be simple, but the Lord of life is. Love may not be simple, but the Lord of love is. The more we are truly surrendered to Christ, the more we will be set free from the burdens of complexity to enjoy the blessings of simplicity. In believing and in obeying of our Lord we find success in simplicity.