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

“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan; and that was the sin he taught the human race (p. 49).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

In our day, if you do not put yourself first, then you are said to be mistreating yourself. Lewis is saying that this is the opposite of Christian teaching – even going so far as to say that it is the first and great lie of Satan. That will surely get a defensive reaction from many readers (maybe even you), but let’s think for a minute about what is being said.

Lewis is not saying, “Hate yourself,” but since we live in such a “love-me-first world” when someone says putting yourself first is bad, we tend to react that way. Until we can see that there are other (many other) options between “hate yourself” and “put yourself first,” then we are impaired from hearing what Lewis or God (not that the two are equivalent) have to say.

For many readers, there will be the need to pause here and let that concept sink in before reading further.

Lewis is saying that we must put pleasing God ahead of our own perceived happiness. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” is not sound logic for justifying non-biblical behavior. The answer in that case is, “No, God doesn’t want you to be happy as you are defining it, because you have a deficient view of happiness from which God is trying to rescue you.”

“But I don’t want to be rescued. I think my definition of happiness is just fine,” might be your reply. Exactly! Because you have put yourself and your view of life first, God’s definition of happiness is no longer good enough for you because believe you know better than God what will make you happy.

When we believe that there is a happiness to be had apart from God, we have radically misunderstood God – His person and not just His ways. We do not follow God’s rules in order to arrive at happiness. This would assume that happiness was a place and God was one of the guides (or even the best guide among others) who wrote our directions in the form of the Bible.

By contrast, God is the destination of our pursuit of happiness. When we put God first, we have centered our life on happiness. When we put ourselves first, we have centered our life on the fickleness of our own tastes, opinion, wisdom, and ability to control circumstances.

“But why don’t I always experience happiness when I pursue God?” is the natural (and good) question that comes in reply. We do not always experience happiness when we pursue God because the world is broken, not because God is broken (in error or holding out on us).

It is as if we have an appointment and when we arrive we find the office closed. We look at our watch and feel offended that the person forgot our appointment. Yet we do not consider whether our watch is broken. God wants to challenge our watch (happiness-tracking device). He says it is broken by the effects of sin and only He is the reliable source of telling right time (finding true joy).

In conclusion, I would simply ask, “After several decades of intensely teaching to ‘love yourself first’ has our culture become a happier culture? Has the rate of depression, divorce, substance abuse, or suicide gone down or up?”

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Counseling Theory” post which address other facets of this subject.