A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why these rules at first seem to be continuously interfering with our natural inclinations (p. 69).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is funny how much we go back and forth on this one. Sometimes we desperately plead for an “instruction manual” for life. Other times we chafe at the idea of infringement upon our choices and preferences. This is not a conservative versus liberal distinction or a Christian versus pagan difference. This is a pendulum that swings in every human heart.

Directions for running the human machine would be moral in nature and are only needed if the machine tends to break down. The fact that we would ever ask for these instructions reveals our moral and wisdom inadequacies, but as soon as we catch a little positive (real or perceived) momentum we want to leave them behind.

The final sentence of Lewis’ quote reminds me of trying to teach my 4 year old anything. Our interaction starts innocently enough. I watch him struggle with some toy or game in the floor. His emotions grow down or angry. He looks to me for help. No sooner do I begin to speak than he thinks he has figured it out and says, “No, Papa. I know just what I’m doing” as he turns his shoulder between me and the toy.

On my good days I smile because that is such a picture of me. I ask God for help, but as soon as I think I’ve figured it out, I try to take life back. God’s plan might interfere with what I had in mind. At the very least, it would take away the joy and satisfaction of independence.

We have to begin to ask ourselves, “What is it that we really want?” Do we want simply to live well and experience love, joy, peace, patience, etc…? Or, do we want to conquer life on our own and define love, joy, peace, patience, etc…?

Most of us don’t want to completely rewrite the directions (Bible), we just see a few places where we could improve upon what God had in mind. Our situation is perceived to be the exception to wisdom. If that doesn’t completely blow up in our face, then we get a bit more comfortable in our revisions (being God’s advisor).

Eventually life catches up with us, we find ourselves in a mess, and we cry out for directions to life so that it wouldn’t be as painful. Yet when we hear the directions that would have prevented our pain, we often think they are simplistic and begin to make excuses: “You can be too legalistic about those things… Nobody really lives that way… Where’s the fun in that?”

The irony is that by the time we get into a mess and cry out for directions we are needing straight-forward advice, far from legalistic, and not having any fun. The ping-pong life of the human heart has returned serve. We beg, then we chafe.

In light of this, I would encourage us not to look for better directions but to find out how to become better students of what we have. I would further contend that becoming better students is not primarily a matter of the mind, but the heart. It is not our IQ, but our stubborn will that prevents us from following the simple, life-giving directions of our Creator. Following God’s directions begins with asking for a new heart.