Mere Christianity: Part 2

mereWe enjoy and appreciate the fact that American Christian ToursEducation Program Leaders are not only rigorous in their pursuit of historical knowledge, but also in their commitment to continually grow in their faith.  Last month EPL Andrew shared his thoughts on the C.S. Lewis classic Mere Christianity.  Now it is time to hear from EPL Kristi – and we would love to hear from you, too!

 

From the desk of EPL Kristi:  A brilliant writer, philosopher, and as a pronounced atheist, Lewis struggled against an incredible draw towards believing the truth of Christianity. His eventual conversion to Christianity took time, but looking back at it himself, it represented the inevitable progress that one must continue to make in his or her own life. If one seeks to truly live in this life, they should seek growth, and that requires facing doubts and challenges and perhaps changing one’s perspective more than a few times. In Mere Christianity, Lewis’ somewhat sarcastically named collection of his own research and popular discourses concerning the many facets of Christianity, he confronts an assortment of arguments that the world attempts to hurl in the face of a believer in an attempt to disprove the belief. This work proves particularly interesting in that Lewis addresses many of his own former arguments in opposition to Christianity, arguments in defense of an Atheistic view that he eventually found too simple. “It is no good asking for a simple religion,” he states, “after all, real things are not simple.”[1]

            Simplicity, a state that humanity often craves, only satisfies if one abandons further thought on a particular subject. So upon further contemplation, Lewis naturally moved beyond simplicity and into the depth and complexity of Christianity. Readers of Mere Christianity, journey with Lewis in logically progressing through various dilemmas. Beginning with the existence of a sort of “Moral Law” in Book One, Lewis pushes the reader to look beyond a societal acceptance of certain right and wrongs and “natural laws” to see a greater force at work. This does not necessarily refer to the God of Christianity, but rather, it serves as a logical step in truly considering our existence. It requires greater faith and a serious measure of naiveté to assume that mankind established its own universal moral “highroad” and that it proves capable of staying on it out of its own volition. When one breaks through the surface of merely accepting the existence of the Moral Law and the universe as a massively coordinated system, the idea emerges: Something or Somebody stands behind it. Lewis clearly found this idea most discomforting at the beginning. From the evidence we see, “we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty, and truthfulness.”[2]  This picture of a kind of  “ impersonal absolute goodness”[3] rightly leaves the contemplative in a downright uncomfortable situation. But Lewis believes that this very position serves as the stepping-stone into understanding Christianity. For “it is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power… that Christianity begins to talk.”[4] Lewis refuses to tread lightly on the difficult, it serves no one to skirt around the truth when “God is the only comfort, but 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.”[5] There is nothing simple about that.

            From the position reached in Book One, of there being some kind of a supreme being, Lewis then progresses in Book Two to discuss what Christians believe in relation to knowing this Being. Granting that there exists many perspectives concerning the identity of this Being, Lewis immediately jumps in to position himself in stating that “being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong.”[6] From this point on, the reader rests in the uneasy position of Lewis reducing complicated decisions down to the point of a rather black or white choice. War does indeed rage between good and evil. That enemy of good, created by God- endowed with free will just as we are, chose to walk away. Now, we live in this tug-of-war between the devil who would like to keep us from what God has for us, and the God who “cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself.”[7] The world would like nothing more than to fully accept a grey area type existence, and living in our fallen state we would very often like to join in. This pull to rebellion makes surrender to God more difficult, but all-the-more necessary. For when the Christian turns his life over to the One who created it, then he will become full. Full of life and fully able to keep living despite mistakes “because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time…”[8] Lewis works to expose the Christian for what he has become because of his belief: someone who lives doing good because of Christ. All the while trusting “that God will make us good because He loves us.”[9] It surely comforts the weak as well as the strong to know that in the end, our life depends on God alone, not our own strength or actions.

            In Book Three, Lewis continues his exploration of what Christianity means in itself and in the life of the believer with another examination of morality, this time from the Christian perspective. Behaving morally serves to benefit interactions with other human beings, improve our own selves, and keep mankind on the correct path.[10] Lewis draws the reader to look internally and truly assess one’s own behavior. Every person walking about on this earth possesses the gift of free choice, “and this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with.”[11] What you do matters a great deal, but why you do what you do proves equally important in the long-run. “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”[12] What Lewis believes about what Christian behavior should look like becomes more apparent the more one reads. Forgiveness proves essential, intelligently loving one’s enemies, kindness towards all, defeating pride, gaining humility, hoping for the Promised Land, and having faith in Christ, that He will carry one through this life grow the Christian closer to God. Mere Christianity never paints the Christian life as some kind of a walk in the park, but the gain becomes a focus as opposed to whatever this earthly life might cost us. Faith amongst the other Christian behaviors brings the Christian to focus on Christ alone, “not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”[13]

            Book Four, contains Lewis’ biggest concern for Christianity and mankind. He recognizes the impulse that society has in hiding behind a desire for simplicity, in wishing to avoid the complexity of religion and complicated doctrine. But Christianity remains incredibly more influential than some kind of superficial “fix-you” religion. “The whole purpose for which we exist is to be taken into the life of God.”[14] For, in the end, Christ inside of us turns us into new men for His own glory. As His living and breathing body on this earth, “the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ to make them little Christs… God became Man for no other purpose.”[15] God, outside of time, infinitely beyond our ability to conceptualize, “once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?”[16] Full of grace, God sees us in our desperate state and refuses to leave us. Lewis brings eternal perspectives into view and understanding of the infinite within reach. He grasps the ultimate reality in this life, our striving on our own will get us nowhere. But to know God, will bring us closer to ourselves and everyone else, for when you “look for Christ, you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”[17] Every believer should at some point read Mere Christianity. Furthermore, any person who doubts, any who dismiss, and any who utterly reject the truth should read such a thorough compilation of intelligent and honest discussions. To know God is the ultimate purpose of this life, Lewis in his knowledge and determination, helps us to this end.   

[1] Pg. 42. [2] Pg. 34. [3] Pg. 35. [4] Ibid,. [5] Ibid,. [6] Pg. 39. [7] Pg. 49. [8] Pg. 59. [9] Ibid,. [10] Pg. 67. [11] Pg. 80. [12] Pg. 81. [13] Pg. 121. [14] Pg. 129. [15] Pg. 159. [16] Pg. 144. [17] Pg. 177.

 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s