One part Hope, two parts Faith

Today I'll be addressing Sections 10-12 in Book 2 of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, as part of my ongoing participation in Reading the Classics Together at Section 10 focuses on Hope and Sections 11 & 12 on Faith.

We now come to a brief discussion of the “Theological” virtue called Hope. First, it is not “a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is….It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” And here Lewis takes a turn I wouldn’t have expected or taken myself, but it makes sense from what I’m gathering is Lewis’ preferred method of reasoning with folks, beginning from what they know best – themselves. He reasons that everyone has a built-in, so to speak, hope for heaven. “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise….The wife may be a good wife, the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be very interesting job: but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.” The first wrong way he calls “The Fool’s Way”. This is to think the things themselves were to blame – the wife, the job…and to trade them in for something different. The second wrong is better, but still wrong. It is “The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’”. This way “settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used… ‘to cry for the moon.’” And finally there is the right way, “The Christian Way”, which says “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists….If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world….I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

Lewis devotes the final two chapters in Book 2 to Faith. Let me first say, Lewis came at this subject in a way that left me with no idea where he was heading until I got to the second of the two chapters, the second time. Yes, I had to read it twice to begin to follow his direction at all. He took a meandering tack I would never have taken, and am not likely to take now that I have some understanding, mainly because it is so slow and round-about. But, having understood it, I can defend it to some extent in that it’s not nearly as indirect as the methods God Himself often uses to get His point across to His people. Let me explain. If I were God, (and we can all thank God right now that I’m not) things would likely happen very sparingly and in a very linear fashion. One thing would follow immediately upon another, the end results would happen with no intermediary save my command – like magic. I wouldn’t make clay and then dirty my hands making man out of the clay. I’d say, “let there be man” and there he’d be. I’d make the garden and not put a serpent in it, or a forbidden tree. The man would be the same man, a friend to know and relate with me, but without opportunity to desire to cheat on me. There would be nothing for me to forgive, because he would do no wrong. Do you see where I’m going? I’m certainly too selfish to create a being who would fall, so I could display my great love – supposing I had great love – by suffering and dying for him. And if I did, I wouldn’t design the very type of body I was going to inhabit complete with the very nerve endings that would feel the agonies of death. Okay, I may have gotten a bit carried away, but I hope you’ve got my point. God works in ways that may to us seem very indirect and, if we’re honest, even wasteful and unnecessary. God took Israel through a wildly amazing and agonizingly boring 40 year trek through the wilderness. He gave them a Law which reflected His perfectly holy character and gave them centuries to try to obey it, and to finally despair of ever obeying it. To make them feel their deep-seated sinfulness. To make them feel their need for a perfect Sacrifice, a perfect Priest, a perfect King. And that is what Lewis is doing in these two chapters. In the first section he lays down the demands of the moral law – in particular the Christian morality he’s been expounding in the previous sections - and challenges his hearers to try, really try, for months, to live in such a way. It seems that Lewis is playing the part of Evangelist in Pilgrim’s Progress and sending the pilgrim first to the mountain of the Law.

So, in the first section he addresses lower kind of “faith” - a version of faith that does not reach the level of “saving faith”. This “faith” is a mere mental assent to a set of facts, in this case the facts essential to Christianity. This sort of belief, he reasons, would perhaps be adequate were it true that man was actually ruled entirely by reason. But there always comes a point when a man’s desires pull him contrary to what this first kind of “faith” tells him is right. And then, “The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.” (Here I am strongly reminded of John Piper, whom I’ve heard say words to this effect: “Reason is the heart’s lackey. The heart manufactures a desire and the reason sets to work justifying it.”)

And so the second sort of “faith”, is “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view you reason takes.” I appreciate the difference in these kinds of “faith”, and agree that obedience to God and perseverance in that obedience is the hallmark of true faith. I’m not sure I care for referring to it as an art or as he also calls it, “the habit of faith”. Though certainly those who have received the gift of true saving faith will, by the grace of God, seek to nurture that gift – or using Lewis’ term, seek to perfect the “art”.

Lewis then gives advice as to how to “train the habit of faith”, because, “We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.” And we can certainly find Scripture to confirm the truth of this. For we all know that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) And so Lewis recommends “The first step is to recognize that fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers, religious reading and church-going” as “necessary parts of the Christian life.” And then he adds another step: “to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point on began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good…. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is….That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it; and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist…” We are to learn from all this effort that “there is no pass mark in this exam.”

And from this we are expected to discover that: “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving you limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already… It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present.” Wonderful observations! Being a woman, I’ve often thought of it as being like a child picking flowers from his mother’s garden and presenting them to her as a gift. I had a conversation once with a very kind fellow that my husband and I are acquainted with – an atheist. He was telling me that he didn’t really believe in God but thought religion is good for people and helpful. And I was struck with a thought that made me smile. He looked at me quizzically, so I told him how it made me think of how kind God is to give him life and happiness and the ability to speak those very words that deny His existence. And it’s true. We all depend upon God entirely. Even the atheist depends upon God for the breath to deny Him with.

Now Lewis ends the first section on Faith with a statement that I’d really like to turn around. He says, “When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.” What I wish it to say is that “when a man has made these two discoveries, God has been at work. It is after this that real life begins…” I guess that’s the difference in our “theological camps” showing, though I doubt Lewis thought of himself as being in a camp, and it’s not really worth dickering about here.

So, the man “discovers his bankruptcy” and is moved to the next section, on to the gospel of God and the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ and salvation by faith alone. Here Lewis says what I was hoping to hear, “it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this, I can’t.’… It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God….The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. In Christian language, He will share His ‘sonship’ with us, will make us like Himself, ‘Sons of God.’” The beautiful gospel of God – our only hope!

And lest we get the wrong idea – an antinomian notion – he prevents us. “…handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. 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….if what you call your “faith” in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all – not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.”

So he ends with a beautiful picture, that is classic Lewis, of the heavenly country all this temporary business of duties and rules and virtue points to: “One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every on there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. The are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.”


Anonymous said…
Thanks for another great review.

Your description of how you would have made man as your perfect helper reminds me of the dog verses cat debate (I have both but my preference is probably still quite evident). The dog owner will tell you that a dog loves you unconditionally therefore makes the perfect pet. On the other hand, those who serve cats know that when a cat gives love it has been earned and is a special gift (not the meaningless love a dog will give to anybody who feeds it : ).

Feeding faith and habits, this is so true we slip away so quickly if we don’t feed our faith.

I disagree with your take on this line, “When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.”

I take this differently - one can’t ‘really’ get to work unless one has already been at work so I don’t think Lewis is saying a man makes these discoveries on his own just that the discoveries are the prep work God does before He can get to the main job.

God bless,
Laurie M. said…
Jim, I see the distinction you're making. Thanks for pointing it out. Perhaps if Lewis had used italics...

I'm not sure if I come across as a cat person or a dog person in my description, but I'm definitely a cat person - mainly because, having been a mother for 2 decades, and even a day-care provider for some years, I really appreciate the more "grown up" companionship of cats. They entertain themselves and share affection less out of neediness, it would seem, than just plain old enjoying your company. Dogs are like children - and clearly, I love them too. But they are a lot more work!!! I know I'm speaking to one who understands these things.

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