Mere Christianity 25: Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

In the previous chapter Lewis considered the idea of pretending to be like Christ in order that you may ultimately become like Christ.  But this is not simply some sort of optional exercise or special assignment for the top class, instead it is the whole of the Christian life.  This is all that Christianity has to offer.  There is nothing else.

In this chapter Lewis considers how Christianity differs from our ordinary ideas about morality.  Typically we start with our ordinary selves, with all their needs, ambitions, desires, etc. and then admit that something outside of us (morality, decent behavior, the good of society, or whatever else you would care to call it) has claims on that self which interfere with its natural desires.  We must satisfy those claims, and then we are free to indulge our natural desires with whatever is left over.  Kind of like somebody paying his taxes; he pays them but hopes there will be enough left to live on afterward.  And when we come to Christianity, it is natural for us to think of it as one more obligation outside of ourselves which must be satisfied before we are free to indulge our natural desires.

Anyone who approaches Christianity in this fashion will eventually experience one of two possible outcomes:  Either you will just give up trying to be good, or you will become very unhappy.  You do not have enough inside of you to satisfy the outward demands of morality and still have space left over for your natural self to indulge its desires; the more you give in to your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you.  Your natural self is groaning under the weight of this increasing burden, growing increasingly angry, and eventually it will snap.

But Christianity is nothing like this.  In some ways it is much harder; in other ways it is much easier.

Christ says “Give me All.  I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work:  I want You.  I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.  No half-measures are any good.  I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down.  I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out.  Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit.  I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself:  my own will shall become yours.”

Both harder and easier than what we are all trying to do.  You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy.  He says, “Take up your Cross”–in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp.  Next minute he says, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.”  He means both.  And one can just see why both are true.

Lewis uses the illustration of a student who refuses to study for his classes, and ends up working twice as hard to prepare for his exams as his classmates who studied every night.  Or else, if you are in battle or trying to climb a mountain, there sometimes comes a point where you find yourself having to do something that requires a lot of courage.  If you pass on it, you will find yourself in even greater danger later on.  The cowardly thing is, in the long run, the most dangerous thing.

It is like that in Christianity.  Handing your entire self over to Christ requires an awful lot of courage, but it is much easier than the alternative.  You see, what we are really trying to do through conventional approaches to morality is to produce good actions which are the fruit of a good life, while at the same time remaining in our natural selves which are centered on money, pleasure, ambition, etc.  This is not possible.  This is what Christ warned us against when He said that a thistle cannot produce figs, or that a field of grass cannot produce wheat.  Cutting the grass will keep it short, but it will not produce wheat.  In order to produce wheat, the entire field must be plowed up and resown.

Now Lewis returns to his first point at the outset of the chapter, which is that there is nothing else to the Christian life except for becoming like Christ.

There is nothing else.  It is so easy to get muddled about that.  It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects–education, building, missions, holding services.  Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects–military, political, economic, and what not.  But in a way things are much simpler than that.  The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.  A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden–that is what the State is for.  And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.  In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.  God became Man for no other purpose.  It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.  It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him.

At this point Lewis offers some speculation on how the idea of the universe being gathered together in Christ might work for things other than us.

I think I can see how the higher animals are in a sense drawn into Man when he loves them and makes them (as he does) much more nearly human than they would otherwise be.  I can even see a sense in which the dead things and plants are drawn into Man as he studies them and uses and appreciates them.  And if there were intelligent creatures in other worlds they might do the same with their worlds.  It might be that when intelligent creatures entered into Christ they would, in that way, bring all the other things in along with them.  But I do not know:  it is only a guess.

Lewis cautions that none of us can really know how this works for creatures and things outside of ourselves.  That is what we should expect, because we have been shown the plan only as it concerns us.  But what we do know is how we can be drawn into Christ ourselves.

What we have been told is how we men can be drawn into Christ–can become part of that wonderful present which the young Prince of the universe wants to offer to His Father–that present which is Himself and therefore us in Him.  It is the only thing we were made for.  And there are strange, exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drawn in, a great many other things in Nature will begin to come right.  The bad dream will be over:  it will be morning.

 

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