A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“What we mean by ‘being good’ is giving ourselves to those claims [which interfere with our desires]. Some of the things our ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call ‘wrong’: well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call ‘right’: well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, to get on with his own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. But we are still taking our natural self as the starting point… In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, ‘live for others’ but always in a discontented, grumbling way (p. 195-196).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I think we’ve felt awkward as we heard ourselves talk about “being good” as if our actions were a minor form of martyrdom. Even as we tell the story, we feel torn. Part of us knows that “being bad” will not pay off and doesn’t even want to desire it. Another part genuinely feels cheated.
The fact that we are telling a story about “being good” reveals that we made the right choice. But the duty-bound sense of regret reveals that we are viewing God’s way as being sub-optimal. We chose good to avoid punishment, not because we found it more desirable than bad.
This doesn’t mean we should have made a different choice or that we should feel guilty, but it does mean that we either need to assess our view of God or our values. Unless we do, we are setting ourselves up to experience God-fatigue – the experience of growing weary of God’s standard more than being strengthened by God’s presence.
Question One: Do we view God as good? Or, do we view God as the cosmic government who has the right to do as He pleases and we must comply or be cast into jail-Hell? If we are honest, it is hard for us to view anyone with absolute authority as good. In our earthy experience, the more power any one individual has, the worse the outcome becomes.
Once again, it is vital that we do not make God in our own image. But if we do, it is equally vital that we realize our error and allow our false beliefs to be melted by God’s goodness (Rom. 2:4). When we begin to feel coerced by God, we need pause and look into the face of Jesus again. Chances are the loving, drawing eyes of our Savior will be more tender than the authoritarian stare we expected to find.
Question Two: Do our actual values match our stated allegiance to God? It is better to be honest about this question than “theologically accurate.” There is more grace for a humble, repentant heretic than proud, self-deceived hypocrite. Countless times over the course of our lives the answer will be “No.”
When the answer is “No,” we realize there is a deeper problem than our situational temptation. Like the child who resents the good instruction of a parent, our obedience is not enough (although it is the best starting place). We may also need to learn wisdom, perspective, maturity, sharing, sacrifice for the family, or the significance of some unknown danger.
These moments of internal resistance are moments ripe for growth if we are willing to learn by honestly asking these two basic questions. The next time we begin to experience God-fatigue, let us pray for the humility to ask these questions rather than merely trusting our grumbling.
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