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

“If a man once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real… The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based upon what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map (p. 154).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Lewis is speaking to the person who looks down on theology because they find it to be less real than their personal relationship with God. What I appreciate about his approach is that he affirms what is right in the discomfort without embracing the error.

His use of metaphor makes this possible. If he had merely said, “You are right in [blank], but wrong in [blank],” he would likely lose his audience. The feel of the conversation would be, “Your wrong is more wrong than your right is right.” Even if Lewis and his friend could agree on what was right and wrong, they would likely not walk away feeling chummy.

However, with the use of story Lewis is able to capture the essence of what his friend is fearful of losing in a way that a straightforward statement never could. They can “feel” a walk on the beach in a way that makes a map seem highly impersonal – “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. You get me! You care enough to listen and represent me fairly. You’re a friend.”

With that trust Lewis flips the metaphor in a friendly fashion; never unsaying what he’s already established. The majesty of a walk on the beach is never minimized, but it is used to elevate the essence of the map. A map is the coalescence of many experiences both on the beach and at sea.

A map makes few people fall in love with the ocean, but it keeps many people from getting lost at sea. Yet the more you fall in love with the ocean the more likely you are to get lost unless you have a map. But too much time with the map away from the sea will give you a very tame view of the ocean void of the appropriate awe and reverence for its beauty and power.

Lewis’ metaphor does what no debate could accomplish. It brings two people with seemingly “opposing” views to see how much they need one another. This is not possible with all differences, but is much more possible than we often believe when conversations start as a debate.

In effect, Lewis is modeling what he is teaching. He is creating an experience while he is drawing a map. The metaphor takes you somewhere that you can “feel” the contrast. You sense wanting one (awe of the ocean) and needing the other (a map to navigate). You realize it is senseless to settle for one or the other.

In the midst of this experiential metaphor Lewis is drawing a map of the current disagreement. You can see “where” you are and where you “opponent” is. Points are made, but they are not dry points like reading a map far from the ocean mist. You learn to find yourself (map effect) but do so with the smell of salty breeze (ocean effect).

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