Mere Christianity Summarized, Part 10
(Book 4 : Beyond Personality, The First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity, Chapters 9-11)
Chapter 9: Counting the Cost
People have been bothered by Lewis’ comments in the last chapter about being perfect. It doesn’t mean God won’t help you until your perfect. It means when you come to him you may think you want something less, but He says no the only help I will give is the help to become perfect. You may want something less, but I will give you nothing less.
Lewis says that when he was a child he knew if he went to his mom and his tooth hurt, she would give him some Tylenol and he would feel better. But sometimes he wouldn’t go and he’d hurt all night because he knew she’d also take him to the dentist. And he didn’t want to go to the dentist. Because once he got to the dentist, he wouldn’t just fix that one tooth, he’d find the other ones that were bad, but hadn’t started hurting yet and begin fiddling about.
Well, God is the same way. People go to God to be cured of some one sin they’re ashamed of, like masturbation or physical cowardliness. Or something that is spoiling daily life like bad temper or drunkenness. Well, He will cure it alright. But, He won’t stop there. That may be all you ask, but once you call Him in , He will give you the full treatment.
That is why he warned people to count the costs before becoming Christians. If you let me I will make you perfect. But the moment you put yourself in my hands that is what you are in for, nothing else, nothing less. You have free will and if you choose you can push me away. But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever conceivable it may cost you after death, whatever it costs me, I will never rest, or let you rest, until you are literally perfect. So my Father can say without reservation he is well pleased with you, like he said he was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But, I will not do anything less.
This helper, who in the long run will be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty.
You do need to get discouraged that you are not getting anywhere near perfection. Every time you fall, He will pick you up again. He knows that your own feeble efforts are going to bring you nowhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize that the goal He is going to guide you to is perfection. And not power in this universe can keep Him from taking you to this goal. And that is what you’re in for.
If not we very likely to pull back and start resisting him after a certain point. Often we are inclined to think after he helps us with a sin or two, or the more obvious ones, that we are good enough. Now, that He has done all we would want him to do, we would be obliged if He would leave us alone.
See, we may say humbly, “Oh, I never thought I was going to be a saint. I just wanted to be a good ordinary chap. But it is not what we intended, it is what God intended. We don’t know his final intention. We can’t understand it. And it’s cowardliness, not humbleness to say I’m gonna stop here. Instead of to keep going to God’s final intention which is something so much greater than we can understand or imagine.
On one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next 24 hours as decent people. On, the other hand no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded in the greatest saints is beyond what he is determined to produce in everyone of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life. But he means to get us as far as he can before death. That is why we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time.
See we get rid of those first couple bad things that are noticeable and then think things should go on fine. Then when trouble comes along we want to know why. Well, because God is forcing us onward to continue growing. He is putting us in situations where we have to be braver or more patient or more loving than we ever dreamed we could be before. It seems to us all unnecessary. That is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing he means to make of us.
The command be perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said in the Bible that we were gods and he is going to make good His word. If we let him, but we can prevent him if we choose. He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back God perfectly (though, of course on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.
The process will be long and very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said.
Chapter 10: Nice People or New Men
Lewis poses the question, “If Christianity is true, why are all Christians not nicer than all non-Christians? The first part of the answer is if a man’s conversion to Christianity makes no apparent difference in his outward actions, then we can assume that that conversion was largely imaginary. We must in one sense judge by results. Christ told us to. The tree is known by its fruit. Or the proof is in the pudding.
Christians who behave badly or refuse to behave well makes Christianity hard to believe for the outside world. But the outer world also makes an illogical demand, not only should individuals improve, but they should also see the whole world divided neatly into two camps, Christian and non-Christian. And that all the people in the Christian camp should be nicer at any given moment than all of the people in the non-Christian camp. This is unreasonable.
This is not that easy. There is no 100%Christian/non-Christian camp. For example, there are many people who are slowly ceasing to become Christians who still call themselves one. There are also many people who are slowly becoming Christians who don’t call themselves one yet. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ, but are so strongly attracted to Him, that they are His in a much deeper sense than they understand.
There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion that are in agreement with Christianity. And thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist might focus more and more on the Buddhist teaching of mercy while leaving others behind. Many of the good pagans before the time of Christ may have fallen into this category. Then, there are a lot of people who are just confused. Who have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not of much use trying to make judgments of Christians and non-Christians in the mass.
Secondly, let’s talk about an actual Christian and an actual atheist in our own neighborhood, not imaginary. Not as a group, but actual. If Christianity is true, it ought to follow that, A: Any Christian would be nicer than HE would be if HE were not a Christian and, B: Any man who becomes a Christian should become nicer than he was before.
See, just because that Christian does not have as kind of a tongue as the atheist on the same block, does not mean that his Christianity is not true, the question is what that Christian’s tongue would be like if he were not a Christian. He must be compared to himself. What you do have the right to ask, is if that person is improving. Eventually, that Christian on the block is going to become much kinder if he is really in Christ.
However, is niceness the whole aim? Is it that nasty people need Christ and ones who are already nice do not? In God’s eyes that kind atheist needs saving just as much as that nasty Christian who just started to clean up their act. The atheist was just naturally given as a gift from God a kinder temperament. Therefore, it was not his gift to God, but God’s gift to him.
In the same way, living in a world of sin, natural causes have produced this kind of sour Christian on your block. Who, yes, will become changed. But, there is a reason for her disposition as well. The Lord intends in His good timing to set that part of him right, but that is not the critical part for God…. At the end of the day, it’s all about what they choose to do with their free will. Do they choose to turn to God? Do they choose Christ? See, the Lord can help them toward it, but at the end of they day He can’t make them. They have to choose it, choose Christ. That is the whole nature of free will.
The whole question is will that kind atheist, Dick, or that sour puss Christian, Jane, will offer their natures to God. Right now, what state their natures are in is of secondary importance. God created Dick’s sound nerves and good digestion, and there is plenty more where that came from. It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost him crucifixion. And because they are wills they can – in nice people just as much as nasty ones – refuse His request. And then because that niceness in Dick was merely part of nature it will all go to pieces in the end. Nature itself will pass away.
There’s a paradox here. Along as Dick doesn’t turn to God. He thinks his niceness is his own. And as long as he is not offering to God it is not his own. It is only at the moment where he realizes his niceness is a gift from God and offers it back to God that it begins to become his own.
The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is what we are sure to lose. So you can follow that there will be nasty Christians because they are in the process of being changed. And you can even follow that thought through to say that nasty people are drawn to Christianity. That was people’s objection of Jesus and those he hung around. That will always be people’s objection to Christianity. Because those who are nasty come to realize they need Christ in greater number than those who are nice, well off and think they have it figured out on their own.
There is a silent warning or encouragement here for everyone of us. If you are a nice person – if virtues come easily to you – beware! Much is expected from those to who much is given. If you mistake for our own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make you more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.
But if you are a poor creature – poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels – saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion – nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) he will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all – not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Some of the last will be first and the first will be last.)
We must try to produce a world where as many people as possible are nice. But, we must now suppose that if we make everyone nice we have saved their souls. A world of nice people content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world. And might even be more difficult to save. Mere improvement is not redemption; although redemption always improves people, even here and now. And in the end will improve them to a degree we can’t even imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons. Not, to just simply produce better men of the old kind, but to produce a new kind of man.
It’s not like teaching a horse to jump better and better. It’s like turning a horse into a winged creature. Once it has got its wings it will soar over fences that it could’ve never jumped. It must beat the natural horse at its own game. But, there may be a period, when the wings are just beginning to grow when it cannot do so. And at that stage, the lumps on its shoulders, no one can tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings. It may even give it an awkward appearance.
Chapter 11: The New man
Lewis sets this up by saying, if you are a believer in evolution, thousands or millions of years ago when huge armored beasts roamed the Earth. The next natural steps in evolution would’ve been bigger, larger armored beasts. But, instead you end up with people, with brains, who think and reason and subdue the creatures. Well, that’s what Christianity is saying. We’re not going to go from brainy men to brainer men, but off in a totally new direction. Change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. The first instance appeared in Palestine 2,000 years ago.
The steps in evolution before were centered around things that just happened, not in choices. But this is a choice. Not that we could’ve taken this step to become sons of God on our own, or that we in any way could finish the process or make ourselves into that. But, it’s voluntary in that we can reject it.
Lewis says he’s called Christ the first new man, but He’s not just the new man, he’s the origin, the creator the center of all new men. He brings with him the Zoe that he’s had forever and he transmits it, not be heredity, as evolution occurred through sexual reproduction and the next one taking on a litter different form, but he transmits it through what Lewis has called good infection.
So, in the scope of the universe, Christianity is still in its infancy, its still breaking teeth. The world sees it differently, though. The world things it’s on its way out. What it has thought so many times. Starting with the crucifixion of Jesus. Followed by other persecutions, followed by corruption within the church. This and that and Christianity’s dead. But, every time they think they have it buried and they’re patting down the Earth, it breaks out! And seems to have somehow spread to somewhere new.
The stakes could not be higher. For if you do not take this step from becoming a creature of God to a son of God the consequences are infinite and eternal. So think of it as childbirth. This is a new birth, but unlike childbirth we have a choice. Think of childbirth if the baby had a choice. They might well choose to stay in the womb where it seems warmer and safer. However, ultimately staying in the womb past when it should be would lead to death.
Same choice, we might choose to stay just a creature of God, but ultimately that choice keeps us from becoming a son of God and leads to death. See, these new births, these Zoe moments are happening in people all over the world. But, you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of religious people, which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. They tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. We must get over wanting to be needed. They seem to have a lot of time and you are wondering where it comes from.
Once you recognize one, you’ll start to recognize more. And I think you’ll see that these people can recognize one another across color, class, creeds. So, becoming holy is sort of like becoming part of a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be fun!
But, don’t think they’re all alike. Although to become new men, means losing ourselves, into Christ we must go. His will is to become ours. And we are to think his thoughts. To have the mind of Christ, as the Bible says.
Think of a person who never tasted salt and you have him taste salt. He tastes it by itself and gets that strong taste. You tell him that in most all dishes you use salt. He asks why would you want everything to taste the same. What we know is that the salt simply brings out the taste even more so of that dish. That illustration breaks down of course, because you can kill the flavor of the food by putting in too much salt. Where you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ.
It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we go of what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are waiting for us in Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. All I am is a bunch of random events, and not so much really a person, as I like to believe, on my own. It is when I turn to Christ and give myself to His personality that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.
At the beginning I said there were personalities in God, I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up yourself, you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ.Think about who monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.
But there must be a real giving up the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality. But, you must not go to him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.
Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing, nothing that you have not given away will ever really be yours. Nothing in your that has not died will never be raised from the dead. Look for your self, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him with everything else thrown in.