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

“Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them grow up in earnest (p. 188).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

In a previous post I have critiqued Lewis’ tendency to come across as having a “fake it until you make it” methodology of change. I don’t believe that is what he is advocating for here. In this quote I believe Lewis is drawing out two key elements of change.

  1. The role of imagination in faith.
  2. The necessity of visionary faith for change.

Faith involves a sense of assurance about things unseen (Heb. 11:1). That requires imagination; not the imagination that believes in Mickey Mouse, but the imagination than can see Disney World as a place where families would flock from all over the world when it was still an empty field.

Part of faith is believing that things can not only be better than they are, but better than we have ever known them to be. That is the challenge of the person who was sexually abused from childhood, the marriage that began broken, or someone suffering through chronic pain. For them faith requires more than getting “back to” where things were before.

But that is the plight of every person who understands our sin nature and what it means to live in a fallen world. We are morally stillborn people (Eph 2:1-3) searching for power to live up to the ideals that painfully echo in our soul from being made in the image of God.

When we cry to God for redemption we are (strangely) asking Him to make us into something we have never known, but feel compelled that we should be. The imagination to pray this kind of audaciously creative prayer is itself a mark of being made in the image of the Creator God.

But not only is imagination necessary for faith, this visionary faith is necessary for change. We must see ourselves as a child of God before we will live like we belong to Him. The addict must believe there is a life without substance before he will pursue it.

It is because we often reduce faith to intellectual assent to propositional doctrines that we often access so little of its power to change our lives. This kind of teaching can often be used to neglect doctrine and espouse prosperity teaching, but it does not need to be used that way.

The question is – do we “see” our doctrine? Is our adoption by God so real that we relate to Him as Father? Is our slavery to sin and emancipation by Christ so tangible that it shapes our identity? Can we use our imagination to bring to life what we say is true?

If not, then our ability to mature will be hampered like children who never play in the way that Lewis describes. Let us play with our doctrine; not by trivializing it, but by letting our imaginations explore all its implications and taking the playful liberties of children to live as it were true until becomes an increasingly accurate description of our life.