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

“But pleasure, money, power and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way (p. 42).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The phrase, “Is it so bad for me to want [blank]?” is a dangerous question. It is a chief culprit of many a discussion, turned argument, turned broken relationship. The speaker feels completely justified in his/her actions (notice the change from desire/want to behavior/attitude) because his/her motive was legitimate.

The conversation can go in dozens of satirical directions:

  • “I guess I don’t know anything if it is wrong to want that.”
  • “Well, tell me you wouldn’t be upset if you had to do without that.”
  • “I read a book and it said this was a ‘need’ of people.”
  • “If you don’t do/give what I want, then you’ll have to do without what you want.”

The problem is that the speaker does not hear what he/she is saying. The reason process goes like this:

  1. If I have a good desire
  2. Then my actions are righteous
  3. You are mean, crazy, insensitive, or stupid if you do not cooperate

The striking thing about what C.S. Lewis has to say is that “desperately wicked” people want good things. That should cause us to pause.

What does it mean to pursue a good thing in the wrong way?

  1. To love that thing in a way that results in replacing God as our source of joy, security, contentment, identity, hope, or peace. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the absence of the “good desire” is perceived as a threat.
  2. To love that thing in a way that allows us to dishonor, ignore, cheat, violate, or abuse another person in the pursuit of what we want. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the other person is demeaned and trivialized in the pursuit of the “good desire.”

As I consider this (again), I realize how much my greatest battle is within me. It is so easy to be blind to this. I can go through my day pursuing the things God wants me to have and quickly/quietly drift into idolizing those desires and demonizing my closest companions—the whole time providing proof texts and research to substantiate my blindness.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Humility expressed in community. Notice how little listening is going on in the conversation snippets above. Humility invites critique (both of desire and pursuit). However, unless we are regularly inviting people to speak into our lives this way we will not have the attitude or access to receive perspective in our moments of temptation.