A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man. Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on… In the same way a man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character (p. 79-80).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Have you ever known one of those people who loves to tell you about their great sports achievements in high school (or little league)? I’ll refrain from asking if you have ever been that person. Usually in the midst of an argument or after a significant failure we can become that person morally. We begin to want to talk about the really nice, sacrificial, gracious, and benevolent things we’ve done.
The most dangerous part of those conversations is not the pride or self-righteousness that is present (and they are present). The most dangerous thing is how we are beginning to think about “being good.” Suddenly, our righteousness has become the “once for all” achievement that transcends circumstances and trumps any failure.
Instead, it should be Christ’s righteousness that comes to mind when we fail. Christ’s righteousness is “once for all” achievement that transcends our circumstances and trumps our failures. But we do not access Christ’s righteousness by recounting our closest attempts at emulating it. We access Christ’s righteousness by humbly acknowledging when/how we fall short of it and our perpetual need for it.
The “skill” of Christian morality is not competitive (like tennis). It is not that there are certain actions, responses, concepts, skills, or verbiage that is mastered in order to make you “great.” Actually, that whole mindset is the antithesis of Christian morality and the Christian faith.
The “skill” of Christian morality is simply seeing how much I come short of Jesus (which implies having an accurate understanding of Jesus) and being consistently willing to acknowledge that short coming while continuing to love others without shame.
Too often we do not see, we do not acknowledge, we do not love, or, if we do all three, we shrink back in shame. Stated this way we see how hard it is to be “good;” not primarily because of a skill deficiency (to see, acknowledge, and love is not that complex) but because of a will deficiency.
I do not want to see how often I come short of Jesus (even though it is clear). I do not want to acknowledge when I have fallen short (even though I know it is the best way to restore peace). I do not want to continue to love others after I have fallen short (even though I know to do otherwise is to compound my failure). My lack of desire only serves to fuel my shame (and defensiveness) after I failed.
With this in mind, we can now understand why reciting our moral achievements does nothing to help us be an agent of peace in an argument or to assuage our guilt after a failure. We have become like a golfer who is offended by a negative score (being “under par” is a very good thing… my fellow non-golfers might not know that).
Our strength (the training of our eyes, muscles, and nerves as Lewis would say) is in the promptness with which we acknowledge our need for Christ and the Gospel. This allows us to begin recalling His greatness during our failures and become agents of peace in our relationships.