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

“It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses—say mother love or patriotism—are good, and, others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad… Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts; it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts (p.11).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I think we too often treat good and bad as qualities (like hot and cold or sweet and sour) instead of directions (like East and West or high and low). In terms of what Lewis is saying, if good and bad are qualities then particular impulses inherently have a particular quality. For instance, mother love would be good in the same way that a jalapeño is hot. The definition of jalapeño necessarily includes hot.

Yet mother love can be both good and bad. Mother love is at the root of fond childhood memories and the negative cliché’s associated with the title “mother-in-law.” This is where the metaphor of direction (towards or away from God) is helpful. If I am traveling North to New York City and reach Canada, then I have gone too far North. North was originally “good” but the excess now makes South “good” and continuing North “bad.”

The movement of the “direction” is love.  Too often we try to think of sin as hate and holiness as love. But in actuality all sin is love and holiness is also love (just in the opposite direction). Consider the Great Commandment passage:

And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).”

If the command to is to love God first and neighbor second, then I break this command by loving something or someone else first and second.  Therefore, all sin is love (in the wrong direction or order). Hence, Paul would warn Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Hopefully this will help us in our battle with sin. Too often we have turned to God and His Word asking, “Tell me what I should and should not do; should and should not feel; should and should not think.”  This is a request for labels; not direction (or a tune).

Now, as we turn to God and His Word we can ask, “Tell me where my love should go; what should it sound like; what is the outcome I should strive for?” The answer to this question is not primarily rules, but outcomes.

A young pianist memorizes notes (and this is good for the novice). An experienced pianist reads the music, understands how the music is to “move” the audience, and delivers a song. As we read God’s Word and learn to follow it, let us begin with memorizing notes (learning good from bad), but let us not be content until we allow the Word to “move” us in the rhythm and direction of God’s heart.