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How C.S. Lewis Rationalized His Faith
Clive Staples Lewis has lately become a rock star within the Christian community. A new movie based on his books, The Chronicles of Narnia, is a blockbuster hit. His books are among the best selling in Christian literature. This is quite a feat for a reserved British intellectual who has been dead for more than forty years.
As a young man, Lewis was a skeptic who dismissed Christianity as a myth. At age 33, with the help of J.R.R. Tolkien and others, he experienced a spiritual awakening. Afterwards, his creativity helped make him a celebrated champion of Christian belief.
The intellectual journey Lewis takes us on in his masterwork of apologetics, Mere Christianity, is truly amazing. In it, he sought to explain the doctrines that Catholic and major Protestant denominations could all agree. He drew upon his former skepticism to help explain Christianity in a common, non-theological way.
To begin, Lewis notes a predisposition in people to search for a standard of absolute truth. It seems all people across cultures and time generally agree that they should not to put themselves first, and they ought to be honest, fair, unselfish, and courageous. He calls this tendency the Law of Human Nature because everyone knows it almost instinctively.
Lewis then makes a second observation. While people everywhere have a notion that they should behave in these ways, they do not do so themselves. He says, "They know the Law of Human Nature; they break it. These two facts, are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe in which we live."
Lewis reasons that just as the laws of physics or mathematics are real, this Law of Human Nature must also be real. It must have been created as part of a universal truth, and not by man.
He says, "I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong."
He reasons there must be a "perfect goodness" behind the universe that is interested in what we do. And if that perfect goodness exists, it must disapprove of much of our behavior. "I think we have to assume," he says, "it is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know." Perhaps that is because it has rules. To Lewis, that perfect goodness, that Being, is what we call God.
Lewis believes that in the end, God is our only reassurance, and we have made ourselves his enemy. What we need most is that from which we want to hide our behavior.
Once we understand the Law of Human Nature, that there is a power behind that law, and that we have put ourselves wrong with that power by breaking it, Lewis says we then begin to understand what Christians are saying.
If we are free to choose between good and evil, Lewis reasons, then evil must be a genuine possibility. An all-powerful God could surely prevent evil, but he could only do so at the cost of human freedom.
Lewis goes on to observe that this powerful Being selected a specific group of people and spent hundreds of years hammering into them what kind of God he was, and that he cared about their conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament chronicles the hammering process.
Then, he says, comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who claims he has always existed, forgives sins, and goes around talking as if he were God. "He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time...... What he said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips."
This man told people that their sins were forgiven. However, he never checked with others to whom those sins had wronged. He acted as if he were the primary one offended by our wrongdoing.
"In the mouth of any speaker who is not God," Lewis says, "these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any other character in history." Jesus' words make sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded by our sins.
Lewis notes some people may say, "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." He responds, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher...... You must make your choice. 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," Lewis says, "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 His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
We know which choice To C.S. Lewis made. To him, this rationalization was only the mere essence of Christianity. While his many books have been an inspiration to many people over the years, they continue to be an inspiration to those newly acquainted with his work today.
Jeff Lukens is a Staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. He writes engaging opinion columns from a fresh, conservative point of view. He can be contacted through his website at www.jefflukens.com
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