In Part 2 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis briefly distinguishes other religious paths from Christianity, and then discusses the complexities that make Christianity great. I was impressed that Lewis did not think Christianity great because it is simplistic – in fact, he claims that it is atheism which is too easy and simplistic! No, in fact, Lewis argues that Christian belief is vast, complex, and nearly impossible to attribute to mere human beings.
Two of the most difficult things to grasp about Christian belief (especially for outsiders) are free will, and the centrality of Christ. Why did a good God create a good world that human beings could mess up by use of their own free will? And, why do we harp so much on worshipping Christ as God, instead of just calling him a nice man?
First, on free will and the bad things that happen in the world: Lewis does not think it worth our time to argue with God, who designed the system. But rather, if we recognize that free will exists, then we must accept that people sometimes choose the bad thing – this is inevitable if they have real freedom of choice – and that God intended for things to be this way:
If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying. (page 53)
Now second, on the centrality of Christ: the words that escape from Jesus’own lips make him out to be either a terrible liar and deceiver – or the same God who had been working on the Jewish people for centuries. Most blasphemous of his words – if you wish to claim that Jesus was only a man – are his statements which offer forgiveness from sins. Not just sins committed against Jesus’ person, but rather sins committed against other people and against God Himself – in effect, ALL sins:
He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what
I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history. (page 55)
Reading a work like Mere Christianity fills me with renewed wonder at this miraculous plan that God
has set into place. He desires for people to place their freedom of trust in his Son, Jesus the Christ – and he expects every disciple who worships at Gurley United Methodist Church (having so placed our trust in Him) to assist others in making this same choice.
Next month’s blog will be on Book III of Mere Christianity, titled “Christian Behavior.” Remember that Lewis’ books are available through our public library system, and also Lifeway Christian Bookstore in Huntsville is running a sale this month on books by C.S. Lewis.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Dale Capron
Pastor’s Message: “What Christians Believe”
In the first part of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, the author talks about the built-in concept of right and wrong that all human beings, everywhere, seem to have. Even though definitions of “right” and “wrong” change across cultures, the basic moral code is still there.
In Part 2, Lewis moves from recognizing the basic human Moral Code, to distinguishing religious ideas from each other. He makes a particularly strong argument against atheism (the belief that there is no God or gods), which is really interesting since Lewis grew up as an atheist. Famously discarding his prior fight against God and becoming a Christian, Lewis is then able to take apart the atheist argument “from within”, so to speak:
The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not. On this point, Christianity lines up with the majority – lines up with ancient Greeks and Romans, modern savages, Stoics, Platonists, Hindus, Mohammedans (Lewis’ term for Muslims), etc. against the modern Western European materialist. (p. 43-44)
So Christianity stands with the vast majority of all people who have ever lived, in believing that there is some kind of God or gods out there, over against the tiny number of atheists on their little island who do not. (And the number of modern-day Americans who wish to swim out to that island seems to be growing . . . ) I find joy in this argument, as the arrogance of many atheists – believing themselves superior to the simple-minded and primitive God-worshippers – really puts them out all alone, believing in themselves when they know that they are inherently flawed and make mistakes constantly.
Lewis continues by countering an atheist argument that he himself had made, which kept him from trusting in Christ earlier in his life – namely, if God is just, why is there so much injustice in the world? But as he continued to think on it, where did his ideas of justice and injustice come from?
Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. (p. 46)
By disrupting the simple atheist argument about injustice in the world, Lewis proves that atheism itself is simple as well. He continues later in Part 2 to discuss the many complexities of the Christian worldview, and explains that we would never have dreamed up these ideas on our own, without a very real Deity giving us some guidance; we would have settled for simpler explanations that we could easily grasp and agree on.
I hope that these thoughts from one of the great Christian authors will give you hope and strength, when you are next attacked by one of our atheist friends! A gentle reminder: you can request a copy of Mere Christianity in several formats from the main branch of the Huntsville Public Library, and it will be delivered to our Gurley Public Library for you to check out and enjoy.
Grace and peace.