A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.’ (p. 136-137).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I simultaneously love this quote and fear for its misuse. On the one hand, it has great apologetic value for a culture that seeks to find meaning through pleasure. On the other hand, it stands to be misused to justify even sinful desires. In this reflection we’ll consider the danger before the benefit.
Why couldn’t the pedophile, kleptomaniac, homosexual, workaholic, or love-struck promiscuous teenager use this logic to justify the legitimacy of their desires? They feel attractive, compulsion, and strong desire. There is such a thing as sex, stuff, and success. If what I want is in this world, why does heaven require waiting, denying myself, or sacrifice?
I believe it is insufficient to merely reassert biblical morals in response to this question (i.e., “Because the Bible says those things are bad.”). The person asking this question is questioning the Bible, so our point of authority has a shrinking authority to them. Imposing that authority to support the Bible’s authority hurts our cause in that context.
What must be seen by the person asking the question is that each of those pleasures – even marriage, godly sex, and balanced work – are temporal fills for eternal longings. Even the godly alternatives for any given sin were not meant to replace God or become “our personal heaven.” Too often we teach ethics, especially to young people, as if that were the case.
When the point is made this way, life will eventually validate the claims of Scripture. This is most commonly referred to as “the mid-life crisis.” A time when we painfully and disorient-ly realize that what we built our life and hopes on was insufficient for the task. It cannot last, give joy or meaning.
It is at this point, even if someone else waters and harvests the seed that we planted, that the sin-wooed questioner will have ears to hear the gospel. We can pray it is earlier, but how many of us came to the gospel “the easy way”?
Lewis is making an appeal to those who are dissatisfied with their pleasures. Other polemics are needed for those who still believe this world (sinful or not) can provide what they really want. But when we have lived our own version of the book of Ecclesiastes (a great read in light of this quote), we will be ripe for Lewis’ logic.
One (by no means the only) ways that we share the gospel is be being friendly people who hold this world’s pleasures in a balanced perspective. Christians should be people who enjoy this world (it’s non-sinful pleasures) without being ruled by them. This temperance will be noticed and admired (even if that admiration is initially expressed through mocking).
If we are engaging meaningfully in the lives of our non-Christian friends, the question will come up, “How do you live so free? How do you avoid getting caught up, disappointed, and hurt like I do?” We can then “speak” what would have had to have been “debated” before, “I learned that this world’s pleasures were meant to point me to something greater and that helps to keeps everything in perspective.”