Thoughts on “As the Ruin Falls”
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you. I never had a selfless thought since I was born. I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through: I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn. Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek, I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin: I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek – But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin, Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack. I see the chasm. And everything you are was making My heart into a bridge by which I might get back From exile, and grow man. and now the bridge is breaking. For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains You give me are more precious than all other gains.
~ C.S. Lewis, “As The Ruin Falls”
I read an excerpt from this poem a few days ago in Donald Miller’s excellent book Blue Like Jazz. It really struck me, so I went online to read the rest of the poem. It’s such a real, honest reflection of the human condition and the depravity of the human heart. Before I read Blue Like Jazz, I had been feeling confused about the idea of human depravity—the idea that our hearts are predisposed to be sinful and self-seeking. I thought about all the wonderful people in my life who have been good friends to me and treated me kindly. And I thought about my genuine desire to be a good friend/sister/daughter to those I love. And I thought…am I really that bad? Am I really intrinsically inclined to sin all the time?
I was having doubts about this depravity thing. But this insightful little sonnet by C.S. Lewis is a stark reminder that depravity isn’t about being a good or bad friend, or a good or bad sister or daughter. The condition of the heart goes deeper than that. And deep down, I find that Lewis’ line “I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin” rings so true. I may be a good person to those around me, but I also find that I think about myself, consider my own feelings first, think mean thoughts about others because they don’t function according to my idea of how they should…all the time. It’s a constant flood of self-absorption.
I think that is what Lewis is getting at with this sonnet. Human depravity goes far deeper than how you treat others. It goes into your thought life, which I truly believe is the only dimension of our lives where we are wholly honest about ourselves. And in my thought life, I think about myself and my desires about 90% of the time, and I think about God and others about 10%. On a good day. And that, I think, is what it means to have a heart that is inherently depraved.