“My time is my own”

June 5, 2013

lewisI lost an argument last week in the comments section of my Angelina Jolie post. I couldn’t explain why Jolie’s mastectomy was theologically significant when I don’t think twice about other “-ectomies,” like tonsillectomies or wisdom-teeth extractions. I disagree that it’s because I’m a male chauvinist pig, but who knows? I have plenty of prejudice.

That being said, my point remains: Our lives and our bodies are not ours to do with as we please. They belong to God. I’m sure of that.

C.S. Lewis makes this point in powerful ways throughout his writing. In Chapter 21 of The Screwtape Letters, for instance, the demon Screwtape describes a problem with which I frequently struggle: my sense that time belongs to me rather than to God. Referring to his nephew Wormwood’s Christian “patient,” he writes:

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him… You must zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

The assumption that time belongs to human beings, Screwtape says, is absurd: time comes to us, like every good thing we experience, as “pure gift.” This would be clear to Wormwood’s man if he only thought about it. He’s a Christian, after all. He is, in theory,

committed to a total service of the Enemy [i.e., God]; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse. He would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish woman; and hw would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said ‘Now you may go and amuse yourself’. Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day…

The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies—those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another!1

† C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 245-6.

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