A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it (p. 91).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
It would be easy to miss what Lewis is saying for fear of how people might apply his words. When we read a statement like this we (or at least I am) are quick to think, “People could easily use this kind of statement to absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their actions.” Or we might go in the other direction, “Does this mean that my faithfulness and hard work have contributed nothing to my life?”
Both statements would miss the point. God is fairer than we could ever be. We often try to measure God’s fairness on the basis of His equality. When we do this we often find God’s fairness lacking, because He has not gifted each person equally.
However, we resort to equality as our criteria of fairness because that is a limitation of finiteness. If we were able to be as fair as we believed fair, the result would be boring and unmotivating uniformity. God is able to be fair (“just” might a more complete word) in a world of variety. This is because God is not limited to the observation, measurement, and enjoyment of external variables.
We may be most like God in this way as parents of young children of various ages. We praise a crawler who takes his first step, but reprimand an adolescent who drags his feet while doing a job he does not enjoy. But even in this example we are able to suspend our judgment on the basis of the measurable external factors related to physical maturity and coordination development.
So what should we take away from this reflection? It would be easy to say humility (which could easily be thinly veiled shame) or a reprimand for being too judgmental (which could easily lead us to compromise truth).
I would say that we should take away a sense of peace in God’s justness that allowed us to stop competing with one another. If we stopped competing with one another to see who was better (based upon any given Christian virtue – Bible knowledge, patience, servanthood, etc…), then humility would arise without the danger of shame. If we were not competing, then we would not be judgmental but free to love one another with the truth.
I think the reason we (or at least I am) are quick to be defensive with this quote is because we are afraid that it will strip us of whatever “advantage” we have “earned” by our obedience. Thinking in terms of “advantage” or “status” reveals that we are competing with those we are called to serve. While thinking in terms of “earning” something through our obedience, reveals we have departed from the Gospel as the motivator for our service.
In the end, I think the way that we respond to this quote (at least if you’re anything like me) reveals how much we need to hear its message. It gives me freedom, but too often I still want to compete.