Mere Christianity 23: The Obstinate Toy Soldiers

In the previous chapter Lewis described the nature of the Trinity and how the special life that exists in God can be transferred to us, by a sort of “good infection” if you will.

But there is a hitch.  The natural life which we as humans possess (Bios) and the special life which God possesses (Zoe) are different from each other.  Not only are they different, they are completely and totally opposed to each other.  The natural life inside of us is something self-centered, which wants to look out for itself at every turn and which values its own survival and preservation above all else.  And it is especially afraid of anything which is bigger or stronger than it.  So it sees the God kind of life as a threat; it knows that all of its pettiness and self-centeredness will ultimately be strangled out of it.

Lewis addresses this by using the illustration of a tin soldier coming to life.  All of his tin would be turned into real skin, just like a real person.  But he would not see that at all from his point of view.  All he would see is his tin being turned into something crazy that he does not understand at all.  He thinks that he is being killed, and he will do everything in his power to prevent this.

What would you do about this?  Well, what God did for us was to come to earth through His son Jesus Christ.  He became a person just like us.  He deliberately chose a life which involved the mortification of every selfish desire that He could possibly have had–poverty, obscurity, rejection from the religious authorities of His culture, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by His closest friends, brutality from the police, and finally execution like a common criminal in one of the most violent ways imaginable.  And then He came to life again.  Not just the God part of Him, but the human part as well.  The result was one human being, just like us, who had come fully and splendidly alive in the same way that God is alive.

But all illustrations break down at some point, and the tin soldier illustration breaks down because if you were to do the same thing for a tin soldier that Jesus did for us, the effect would be limited to one tin soldier.  It would not have any effect on the rest of your toys because they are all separate.  But humanity is not separate.  We only appear to be separate on the human “dimension” because we see ourselves in time, one moment at a time.  But if we could see ourselves from outside of time, we would see ourselves as all interconnected.  This is because each person was at one time part of his or her mother and father, and his/her parents were once part of his/her grandparents, and so on, all the way back to the first person that lived.  Thus from God’s point of view, humanity would look like some strange kind of tree.  Because of this, what Christ did for us is not just limited to one person.  Instead it affects all of humanity, kind of like a drop of blue dye in a glass of water which eventually turns all the water in the glass blue.

What this means for us is that the really difficult part of acquiring the life of God which is begotten, not made, the part which, in fact, is completely impossible to us on our own, has already been done for us.  All we have to do is accept this and receive it.  That is the whole of the Christian offer.  There are many ways of expressing this.  Find one which suits you, and don’t quarrel with others who have chosen to express it differently from the way in which you have chosen to express it.

At this point Lewis takes a time out to address two possible questions or objections which readers may have.  The first is this:  Why didn’t God beget many “sons” from the outset instead of making many “toy soldiers” and then going through this long, painful, arduous process to make them sons?

The answer to this one has an easy part and a difficult part.  The easy part is that if humanity had not rebelled, the process would not have been difficult.  This brings up the follow-up question:  Why did God create humanity with the freedom to rebel in the first place?  The answer to this is that God wanted people who would freely choose Him in the face of the possible alternative of not choosing Him.  He did not want mere automata whose obedience He could just command.

The difficult part is this:  All Christians are agreed that God has begotten one Son.  Could God have begotten many?  With God, it is pointless to talk about “could have”, because He is what He is and that’s that.  Another difficulty is that in order for God to create many “sons” from all eternity, they would each have to be different from each other in some sense or another.  For example, two pennies, which are the exact same kind of thing, are different from each other because they do not occupy the same space and are not made up of the same atoms.  Thus our conception of “many” is strictly dependent upon space and matter.  But when you consider the Father and the Son, who both dwell outside of space and time, the only difference between them is their relation to each other; one begets and the other is begotten.  But if there were many Sons, they would all be in the exact same relation to the Father; they would all be begotten by Him.  Thus they would be indistinguishable from each other, and it would really be the same as begetting only one Son.  For this reason, Lewis speculates that in order to have many sons it was necessary for God to create a universe of space and matter, in which the concept of “many” could have real meaning.

Another possible question is this:  Does the idea that humanity is all interconnected in the fashion of a tree necessitate the belief that individual differences do not matter or that individual people are less important than collective things such as groups, organizations, nations, states, or civilizations?  The answer to this is no.  Things which are part of the same organism can be quite different–a toe, a finger, an elbow, a skin cell, a muscle cell, etc. are all quite different–but things which are separate from each other, such as two pennies or two toy soldiers, can be very much alike.

There are two equal and opposite errors which people can fall into in regards to this issue.  One is to believe that individual differences do not matter and that you must turn other people into things which are exactly like yourself.  This is totalitarianism.  The other is to believe that whatever troubles another person may have are no concern of yours.  This is individualism.

But don’t fall into the trap of trying to determine which of these errors is the greater.  As Lewis says:

That is the devil getting at us.  He always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites.  And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse.  You see why, of course?  He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.  But do not let us be fooled.  We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.  We have no other concern than that with either of them.

 

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One thought on “Mere Christianity 23: The Obstinate Toy Soldiers

  1. Pingback: My new theory of grace and freedom… | FideCogitActio : omnis per gratiam

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