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A Sinner, a Savior, & a Saint…Thoughts from Mere Christianity

March 31, 2008

A friend and I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity recently, and I have been meaning to organize my thoughts about it.  As it has been several weeks since I finished reading it, I am not sure how organized they are, but I will make an attempt.  🙂 

This was actually my second time reading this book, and it did not have the same impact as it did 14 years ago when I was a new believer.  Still, Lewis’ mind was brilliant, and there were things worth deeper reflection.  In the coming days, I will share a few of the statements he made.  Any categories I include are my own divisions and not necessarily how Lewis organized his material.  I begin below:

Lewis discusses in the first chapter the Law of Human Nature.  He points out that all men have a general understanding of decent human behavior which is why throughout culture and civilizations men have, for the most part been similar in what they consider an offense to society.  In other words, as Lewis puts it

Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to–whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone.  But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first.  Selfishness has never been admired.  Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four.  But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.

From this Lewis concludes that “we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong.”  He further states that the “foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in” is that we “know the Law of Nature” and we “break it.”

Later in the book, after Lewis has laid the groundwork for a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law (the Moral Law which he established does in fact exist in previous chapters), he has this to say:

[This] is the terrible fix we are in.  If the universe is not governed by absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless.  But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again.  We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it.  God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror:  the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.  He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.  Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun.  They need to think again.  They are still only playing with religion.  Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger–according to the way you react to it.  And we have reacted the wrong way.

And of Christianity, he says,

Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort.  But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing…In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.  If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end:  if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth–only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. 

Of his own experience with God, Lewis reveals “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”

Other statements to unpack:

About who man is:

Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He Himself is the fuel our bodies were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.

To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God. 

About Jesus:

A man who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic…or else he would be the Devil of Hell…Either this man was, and is, the Son of God:  or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to. 

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it:  and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means–the only complete realist.

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself…The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a Woman’s body.  If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. 

About Christians: 

That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good.  They [other people] hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or–if they think there is not–at least they hope to deserve approval from good men.  But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him.  He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than any other slackers.

About denominations:

In regards to joining with a particular “communion” by which it seems he means denomination, Lewis make the analogy of Christendom being a “hall out of which doors open into several rooms.”  He states:

And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which one pleases you most by its paint and panelling.  In plain language, the question should never be:  “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true:  Is holiness here?  Does my conscience move me towards this?  Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?”

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