Mere Christianity Summarized, Part 2
(Book 2 : What Christians Believe)
Christians believe God created the universe, like a man painting a picture. God made the world, but a great many things have gone wrong in the world. And that God insists quite loudly on our trying to put them right again
There is often the argument (as was Lewis’ when he was an atheist) that the world is just so cruel and unjust, how can there be a good God out there? This question took Lewis back to the thought of moral law. How did he even have the idea of just and unjust? Cruelty and kindness? If it weren’t for God placing that inside of him?
Lewis contends that atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe had no meaning, we should have never found out it has no meaning. Just as if there was no light in the universe and creatures were without eyes, we would never know that there was dark. Dark would be without meaning
Then there is another view that is too simple along with Atheism. That there is a good God in heaven and everything is just all right. In other words, these people make Christianity and religion too simple. They don’t deal with any of the facts of all the wrong in the world and the need for justice and redemption and sin and salvation. They just think that there is a good God in heaven who made the universe. Period.
Not only is reality not simple, it is often quite strange. You would have to be purposefully oblivious to the reality of our world to look around and believe that everything is all right! Human beings walking around the planet understand that there are things that are bad and meaningless.
Christianity explains there was a good world created that has gone terribly wrong. But, there is still a thought and remembrance of how it should be. And we can actually look at the fact that bad things help prove the existence of good. And not only the existence of good, but that good is on a higher level than the bad. Because in order for it to be bad, there must be something good for it to have gone off against.
There is no badness just for the sake of badness. Even the most evil thing is some sort of good perverted. For example, even people who seem to do cruel things just for the sake of being cruel (sadists), do so because in some way there is a sexual perversion. They get aroused in the cruelty they commit. Which means there had to be a normal sexual standard, which is good, to be perverted, in order for them to have this arousal.
Even someone who seems to be happy when they do bad things…they get pleasure out of the bad things. The pleasure is the goodness and they’ve perverted the way in which they get that pleasure. There is no evil without good. All bad is, is a perversion of something good.
Christianity believes that it’s a civil war. That the evil was created by the good. And that there is now a Civil War going on and we, people, are in the territory occupied by the rebel. We are in enemy occupied territory and the rightful king has landed. And is calling us all on a great campaign of sabotage!
Christianity says that the prince of evil is the one reigning this world for this time. This raises a couple of questions. This would be odd that this would be within the will of a good God. On the other hand, if it’s not within His will, it raises the question, how can something happen outside of a God’s will who has absolute power?
However, anyone who has been in a position of authority can see how something can be BOTH in and out of your will. For example, a mother tells her children I’m not going to be coming up here and making you tidy up the playroom every single night. You must learn to have the responsibility to do that on your own…So, the mother comes up one night and there are toys all over. It was not her will that the room be a mess, however it was in her will that the children have the responsibility to keep the play room clean on her own.
This is what God did when He created humans to have free will. You may ask, why would he go and do such a crazy thing like that? Give free will to a race of people who will use this will to do many terrible and evil things. But, you must thing of the other side of this coin as well. The only true joy and happiness comes is through free will. The love and happiness and joy that God wants for everyone through being united with him is by choosing to be united with Him and to one another.
Of course God knew what would happen if people choose to use their free will the wrong way, but apparently He thought it was worth the risk. Now, you might disagree with God for giving free will. However, the only reason you can disagree with God is because He gave you the reasoning power to disagree with Him. So, it becomes somewhat absurd to disagree with the one who gave you the power to disagree with Him.
Now, the more powerful a creature, the more wonderful it can be when it uses its free will for good and the more terrible it can be when it uses its free will for evil. Which is how we get to Satan.
How did Satan go wrong? We can speculate it was his desire to be God. To put himself at the center and first. This was his sin and this was the sin that he passed onto the human race. Out of this thought that we can be happy apart from our maker. That we can make something of life without God, is where all the tragedy of history has come from: war, poverty, slavery, prostitution. These are all in an attempt to do things outside of the way the maker intended.
You may wonder, “Why can we not have happiness apart from God?” Think of a car. A car is designed to run on gasoline. You can’t put anything else in it to make it run. Well, God designed humans to run on Himself. He is the fuel that we burn. He is what is supposed to fuel our spirits and our souls and without him we don’t run….at least not properly.
God left us conscience, though. The sense of right and wrong. And all through history there have been people, some trying very hard, although not completely succeeding, to obey it.
God has also given, what Lewis calls, “queer dreams.” The stories scattered all throughout heathen religions of a god who dies and comes to life again. And somehow in that is redemption and new life is given to men.
Also, God picked one particular people, the Jewish people, and spent several centuries hammering into their heads what kind of God he was. That there was only One of Him and that he cared about right conduct. This is the Old Testament. It gives an account of the hammering process.
Then, the most shocking of all…Jesus comes, claiming to BE God and to give life. Claiming to be the one who will come back to judge at the end of time. And a claim that we often overlook, to forgive sins. Think about this, we can forgive someone for something they do against us, but we can’t forgive someone for something they have done to someone else; i.e. “I forgive you that you hit your sister.”
But, that’s just what Jesus did! Which of course would only make sense if He was indeed God and he was forgiving the sins of the laws that were created by Him. The moral laws of the universe…because He was indeed God!
Christ says He is humble and meek and we believe Him. As do most non-Christians. They don’t argue these claims. Yet, if Christ was not God, humbleness and meekness would be the last characteristics’ we would assign Him….as He goes around forgiving other people’s sins and claiming to be the living God….therefore he is only humble and meek if He is indeed God….
Lewis is arguing against is anyone who says, “I accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not as God.” If Jesus is not God, he is not a great moral teacher; maybe he tells some good stories, but not a great moral teacher. In fact if Jesus is not God, he is pompous and arrogant and saying things that are absurd for any man to say. (As Lewis so delicately puts it, he would be insane up there on the level with a man who believes himself to be a poached egg).
Jesus is indeed God or He is a lunatic beyond all lunatics or He is the devil of hell. Lewis says, “Either this man was and is the son of God or a mad man or someone 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 any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that door open to us. He did not intend to.”
The Christian belief is that Jesus is God landing in this enemy occupied territory in human form. And that as important and profound as His teachings are, the most important part of the whole story is Christ’s death and resurrection. Which brings us to the question, “How does Christ’s death on the cross put us right with God?”
Lewis says that before becoming a Christian, he thought you had to believe only one theory of why Jesus died on the cross. That God wanted to punish man for joining with the great rebel and therefore Christ came to take our place, so that God would let us off.
But he goes on to say, “What I’ve come to see is that neither this theory nor any other is the central belief of Christianity. The central belief of Christianity is that Christ’s death somehow put us right with God. It has given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this is another matter. There are many different theories as to how this works. What all Christians agree upon is that it does work.”
We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history where something absolutely unimaginable from the outside shows through into our own world. And since this is beyond our comprehension, the biblical writers have created different pictures to help us represent and understand what it is like, what Jesus did. But these pictures do not take the place of the actual even that occurred. Just like pictures in math help us to understand a certain formula, but the mathematical formula is in and of itself true, while the pictures merely represent it.
Christ was killed for us. His death has washed out our sins. And by dying he disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up, as to how Christ’s death did all this are quite secondary.
However, there are different theories worth looking at. One is that we are being let off, because Christ bared our punishment for us. On the surface you say, “Well, why did he do that? If God was going to let us off, why punish an innocent person for us, instead of just letting us off?” And this would seem quite absurd if you think of it is another man standing before a judge for you.
However, think of it a little differently. Think of it as a debt. And the person who has the assets to pay for it, paying for it in the place of the person who has no assets. So exactly what hole had man got himself into to owe this great debt?
He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if it belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement, he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, realizing you have been on the wrong track and get ready to start life over from the ground floor.
This is what Christians call repentance. To repent is more than just saying you’re sorry, it’s changing who you’ve been this whole time, a selfish person. It means killing part of yourself.
Here’s the problem: Only a bad person needs to repent, but only a good person can truly repent. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person and he would not need it. You cannot go back to God without this repentance, because without repentance you’re asking God to go back, without really going back. The very need for repentance makes us unable to do that repentance.
So, the only way we can do truly repent is if God helps us? But what do we meant that God will help us? It means that God puts a little of Himself into us. We can love and we can reason because God loves and reasons.
But, then there is the problem of the fall. Without the fall, it would be all smooth sailing. But because of the fall, we now needs God’s help to do something, that within His own nature, God never does. To surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. So, the place that we need God’s help the most, God cannot help us because it’s not in his nature.
But suppose, God became man. And this man that now had human nature would be able to help us. He could surrender His will and then suffer and die because he is man, and he could do so perfectly because He is God.
The only way we can successfully repent is by sharing God’s dying. And the only way God can die is if He becomes a man. That is the sense in which he pays our debt and suffers for us what He needs not suffer at all.
So, one picture of what Jesus did is the atonement. But remember, it is only one more picture, do not mistake it for the actual event, for the thing itself.
The perfect surrender and humiliation were gone through by Christ. Perfect because He was God. Surrender and humiliation because He was man. Christians believe if we somehow share the humiliation and suffering of Christ, we also somehow share the conquest of death and find new life after we die. And in it become perfect and perfectly happy creatures.
There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief and communion. (At least that’s the ordinary methods. Lewis says he is not trying to say there aren’t special cases where it is spread by different methods, but these are the three typical ways). – – Lewis says while this seem quite odd and he doesn’t understand why these three things are a part of new life, if he didn’t know it was true, he would also find it quite odd about the way (our natural) life is brought about in the first place!
Lewis says the reason he believes these three things are true is because Jesus taught them. However, these three things do not take the place of trying to copy Christ in our lives; which must be the main goal of any Christian. And in this way Christianity is different from all other religion. For you are not making it, you are not being good or kind or loving or become a better person on your own; you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else.
In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ life that was put in him. He has to make efforts to keep it. Even the best and most dedicated Christian is not acting on his own steam. He is only keeping up and nourishing a life that he could have never acquired on his own.
This does not mean a Christian is man who never go wrong. But, he is a man who is able to repent, to pick himself up and begin over again.
A Christian does not believe that his good deeds come from himself. “A 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 God will make us good because he loves us.”
Christians believe quite literally that Christ is operating through them. That the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts. We are his fingers and muscles, the cells of his body. We are the body of Christ.
Some might wonder why Christ came in the way he did. Why is Christ not landing in force? Why is God not just taking over? Is He not strong enough to take out the enemy?
Well, Christians believe that He will land in force. We just don’t know when. In the meantime, He is giving us the chance to join his side freely.
People who ask God to invade and take over now, don’t necessarily realize what they’re asking. “When the writer walks on to the stage, the play is over…When God comes back, the world is over…God is going to invade alright, but what is the use in saying you are on his side then, when the whole natural universe is melting away?” Think of it this way. Imagine a soldier has been fighting for one side of the war the whole time, but when he realizes the other side is winning, so he tries to go to change ranks. It is too late then!
When God coms back, fully revealed, it will be so aweing, it will either inspire irresistible love or irresistible horror in each creature. But either way, no one anymore will deny Him. It will be too late then to choose your side. It will not be the time for choosing, it will be the time for discovering which side we have really chosen.