Concerning Means vs. Ends

During January I was engaged in an elephant stampede through the works of C.S. Lewis:  Surprised by Joy, “The Inner Ring,” “The Weight of Glory,” The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and, most recently, The Great Divorce.  Reading so much Lewis consecutively forces one to notice parallel themes throughout his writing, particularly the theme of redirecting desire, pleasure, and joy.  Desire, pleasure, and joy (and all other talents and delights) are gifts from God, but they are meant to lead us to God, not to the gift itself.  They are a means, not an end.

This concept struck me particularly while reading a chapter in The Great Divorce.  In this chapter, a painter arrives in Heaven and speaks with an old friend.  The painter is awed by Heaven’s beauty and exclaims that he would like to paint it.  “Looking comes first,” his friend replies.1  The painter says he has “had his look” and now wishes to tell.2  But his friend explains that if he is only interested in Heaven for the sake of painting it, he will never truly see Heaven.  The painter argues that this is how a real artist is interested in any subject. 

“No.  You’re forgetting,”said [his friend].  “That was not how you began.  Light itself was your first love:  you loved paint only as a means of telling about light…Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”3

Reading this was sobering—so much so that I laid the book down to think for some minutes, and then picked it up and read the passage several more times.  As a writer, I must be ever so careful that I am not interested in Story merely so I may write about it.  Writing is a means—a medium so to speak—not an end in itself.  If I were to substitute “write” in place of “paint,” Lewis’ quote would run thus:  “Story was my first love:  I loved to write only as a means of telling about Story.”

I have applied this quote to my own profession, but numerous words can be substituted in place of “paint” or “write.”  Writing is a gift God gave me as a means of sharing with you the Light I find in Story.  No doubt if He had given me the gift of painting, I would use that.  It matters not what the gift is, for the gift is not the end, only the means.  The goal is to keep the Real Thing in mind, to not worry so much about the telling itself as what one is telling.  There will invariably be times when I walk straight into the trap of viewing Story simply so I may write about it.  But I pray God will grant me awareness and give me Grace to leave that trap before it has any serious hold upon me. 


1C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Chapter 9



3 thoughts on “Concerning Means vs. Ends

  1. Nicole, reading that part of The Great Divorce had the very same affect on me: I set the book down, I picked it up again, I substituted my own art for the word “paint.” It was indeed sobering — frightening, even. I suddenly felt as if I were balanced on a precipice, a pinnacle. I might easily fall off one way, to God, or the other way, into the gaping trap of selfishness. But Lewis also writes that God will give us all the grace we need if we only open our hearts and let Him. What a relief that is!

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