A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide (p.11).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I cannot say that I have ever thought about becoming a devil, even for a Halloween costume, but as I read this quote from C.S. Lewis it was not the way I thought (if I did think about it) of becoming one.
My instincts said, “I would have to intentionally engage in sinister activities for prolonged periods of time with malice-aforethought in order to become a devil.” As I think about it, though, that is exactly what C.S. Lewis was saying; only the sinister activities are wearing the “costumes” of innocent desires (i.e., impulses).
Impulses such as golf, Facebook Farmville (now I’m stepping on toes), reading, parenting, working, eating, a special diet, theology, loving, being loved, education, and any other pleasure are forms of worship. When we do these things we are delighting in them and declaring them worthy of our full, concentrated attention (intentionality from my thought in paragraph 2).
When we “set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs” we are declaring it our god. This impulse begins to play all the roles that the true God ought to play – determining right/wrong, good/bad, worth my time, friend/enemy, degree of value, etc… Those who agree and cooperate with my impulse are “righteous” and those who do not are deserving of wrath.
Because I believe I am right (and everyone should agree with me) I follow my impulse for a prolonged period of time. I even begin to read my Bible through the lens of my impulse and God’s Word is muzzled because I read it to say (affirm) only what I am already living for.
Because I have declared my impulse good (and it probably is except for what I am doing with it), I begin to plan my life around the pursuit of this impulse (malice-aforethought in paragraph 2). My schedule and daydreaming become substantially shaped by my impulse.
The end result is that I have a god who is not God and I am verbally and nonverbally declaring its glory to the world around me. All the time the sinister-ness of what I am doing masquerades in the costume of an innocent desire and I do not realize that I have become more devil-ish than God-like.
So the caution is that (1) we should never let what we do for God become our god and (2) we should never mistake the blessings of God as our god. Both are such tempting (but deep) pitfalls.
In light of this consider the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30). RYR viewed his material possessions as his “stamp of approval” from God in typical Jewish (and often modern Christian) fashion. When Jesus asked RYR to trade God’s blessings for eternity with God, RYR could not let go of God’s blessings to take hold of God’s person.
His “impulse” was to follow God’s rules to secure God’s blessings. It was the absolute rule of his life that he followed at all cost. He came to Jesus asking for more rules to follow for another blessing. He went away sad (to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth) because his good impulse (being good for God’s rewards) had “made a devil” of him.