Mere Christianity 5: The Invasion

Having dismissed atheism and “Christianity-and-water” as “boys’ philosophies”, Lewis now zeroes in on the fundamental problem of the universe, which is this:  The universe contains much that is bad and meaningless, yet also contains creatures who are aware of it being bad and meaningless (that would be us).  How is this possible?  The only alternative to the Christian explanation which takes into account all of the facts is dualism.

Dualism is the belief that there are two equal and opposite powers, one which is all about love and justice and mercy and is what we would call “good”, and the other which is all about cruelty and treachery and destruction and is what we would call “bad”.  These two powers have both existed independently from all eternity, and are locked in an endless war for control of the universe.

Now, because of the equal standing of these powers, there is no compelling reason for you to choose one over the other beyond mere personal preference.  But good is what you ought to do and to be regardless of personal preference, and so if personal preference is all we have to go on, then good does not deserve to be called good.  So if calling one of these powers good and the other bad is not just a matter of personal preference, then there must be Someone or Something, some standard of right which is higher than both of these powers, which the good power conforms to and the bad power fails to conform to.  This brings us right back to the God of Christianity, with whom the good power is in right relation and the bad power is in wrong relation.

Lewis also makes the argument this way:  that the good power must be someone who likes goodness for its own sake while the bad power likes badness for its own sake–in other words, just because it is bad.  But we have no experience of anyone being bad just to be bad.  The closest we come to this is cruelty.  But in real life no one is cruel just for the sake of cruelty, it is only because of something that they can get out of it–pleasure, power, safety, money, etc.  And all of these are good things.  Thus, badness is nothing more than the pursuit of something good in the wrong way–perverted goodness.  And there must be something good first, before it can be perverted.

Thus Christianity’s view of the universe is a modified dualism:  there is a good power and a bad power, but they are not on an equal footing.  The bad power cannot succeed in being effectively bad without borrowing from the good power–success and effectiveness are in themselves good qualities.  Thus the bad power must have been a good being at one time, and have become perverted at some point.  This leads us to the Christian story of the Devil as a fallen angel.

Thus the universe is at war, but it is not a war between two equal and opposite powers.  Instead it is more in the nature of a civil war.  We live in that part of the universe which is occupied by the rebel.  Lewis puts it like this:

Enemy-occupied territory–that is what this world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.  When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends:  that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.

But if the world is presently controlled by an evil power, this raises a problem:  Is this in accordance with God’s will or is it not?  If it is, then He must be a very strange God, and if not, well how can anything happen contrary to the will of a Being with absolute power?

The Christian answer is that God created men with free will, with the capacity to freely choose wrong or right.  If people are free to choose wrong, then some will choose wrong.  But why make us free at all?  Because goodness, love, and joy would not be worth having at all if they are not chosen freely.  God knew what would happen if people used their freedom in the wrong way; apparently He thought it worth the risk.

But how can an all-powerful God allow things which are contrary to His will and still be all good or all-powerful?  Lewis uses the example of a parent whose will is for her child to clean up his room.  When the parent finds the room still messy, she wants to step in and clean up the room herself because her will is for the room to be clean.  But the child must learn to do this on his own, and so the parent restrains herself.  In the same way, God restrains Himself in order that people might learn to freely choose what is right and good.  To those who choose wrong and evil, His response is basically, “Okay.  Thy will be done–for now, at least.”

But there is coming a time when God will invade the universe in all His power and glory, and all that is wrong will be made right.  Many people wish that God would do this immediately and complain that He doesn’t step in right now to put an end to suffering, war, disease, poverty, cruelty, and destruction in our world.  But this is a foolish position to take, because when God does step in to put all things right, it’s all over.  Lewis puts it like this:  “God will invade.  But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does.  When that happens, it is the end of the world.  When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.”

So why does God delay?  To give as many as are willing the chance to freely choose Him.

I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side….God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else–something it never entered your head to conceive–comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?  For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.  It will be too late then to choose your side.  There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.  That will not be the time for choosing:  it will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen, whether we realised it before or not.  Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.  God is holding back to give us that chance.  It will not last for ever.  We must take it or leave it.