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

“Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse—so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct term for what it would be (p. 74).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

When some people are warned about the effects of smoking or overeating upon their health, they reply with some version of, “Let me die happy.” Honestly, that is hard logic to penetrate; even when loved ones (spouse or children) are pleading their case out of a loving desire for more years to share together.

The logic is, “I’d rather have 60 years of life that I really enjoy than 70 years of life that I moderately enjoy.” The only two apparent places left to go in the argument is excessive guilt or hyper-personalization. Either we declare the action a major moral failure (on par with slow methodical self-murder with malice aforethought), or we make the action a betrayal of our relationship (on par with adultery).

The point of this blog is not to condemn gluttony or the willful consumption of a recreational carcinogenic. However, I do want to expand our ability to discuss sins that “don’t hurt anybody else.” What do we say when someone looks at the temporal cost of their unwise living and likes the deal they’re getting?

I believe C.S. Lewis provides a third way (between guilt and personalization) to broach these conversations. When someone likes the deal their sin offers, then “I can stop any time I want to” is not even relevant. What has been established is that the individual does not want to stop. They are willing to sacrifice their self for their pleasure.

Rather than following God by “dying to self” to gain life (Luke 9:23-24) they are willing to follow Satan in “killing self” to gain temporal pleasure (John 10:10). Once you are willing to trade life for your pleasure of choice what is left to get worse? There is no longer any reason to say, “I’ll quit when it gets bad enough,” when you’ve already given the most valuable thing you have.

The only question left is, “When will it end?” The person who says, “Let me die happy,” assumes the progression will end when we die. Lewis gives a different, more sobering, perspective on death. He pictures death, not as the moment when everything stops, but as the moment whenever God concedes to give you whatever you wanted most. Death is when we get what we were willing to die for.

This view of death makes happiness a much weightier thing. No longer is happiness the mere expression of personal preference; it is the attempt to define eternity. If we chose correctly, then our pleasure will be the beginning of Heaven. If we chose wrongly, then our happiness will be the beginning of Hell.

Choose wisely. A bad choice in happiness is like putting bad brakes on an expensive sports car. The engine and steering will take you exactly where you want to go, but there is no way to stop the machine. You will continue to go in the same direction and it will be your destruction.