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Thursday, 22 July 2010

Mere Christianity

By far, Mere Christianity has to be one of the best books ever written. My dad read it 30 plus years ago and it in part led to his becoming a christian. I read it for the first time in a C.S. Lewis devotional study where it and about 5 of his other books were broken apart, one page at a time so you could digest this mans intellect and the power with which God spoke through him a little bit at a time.

Lately I've been re-reading the book and I can't seem to get enough. So much so that I decided the youth at our church would really benefit from reading it as well but instead of giving them all a copy and wishing them luck I decided to teach on the book during our Wednesday night Influence meetings. We've had two so far and we haven't even touched on christianity yet. The first week we talked about the Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, Law of Decency or Fair play. We talked and came to agreement that there was such a law pressing on each of us and we talked about how it describes not the behavior that we do exhibit as humans but the behavior we "ought" to exhibit.

So point one in lesson one was there is a moral law. Point two was we break it.

Simple enough, the group seemed to enjoy the interaction and the excuse to use their brains during their summer holidays.

Lesson two started last night and I got so pumped up in preparing that my notes alone were 13 pages long. As the night approached I got more and more intimidated by the study and the power of the words of the book and its implications and really had to give it all over to the Holy Spirit to say what he wanted me to say. We started with instincts and impulses and how the Moral Law is not one of our insticts but instead is the voice you hear that helps you to judge between two competing insticts (Millo saving Josh who is currently drowning in the Mersey (instinct to help someone) versus his instict not to drown (instinct for self-preservation). The moral law says it really doesn't care how difficult or how dangerous something is to do, if it's the right thing to do then we should do it all the same.

We discussed about whether the moral law was simply something passed down to us and taught to us by our parents and our teachers and we discussed that yes it probably is but we also discussed how there are two classes of things that are taught to us, 1) the class of things which could be different depending on where you live or the time you live in (driving on the right hand side of the road in America versus the left hand side (in England)


2) pure truths (multiplication table 2x2 = 4 everywhere you go).

Our goal was to determine which one the moral law belonged to.

As the moral law is the standard by which we judge two moralities or two impulses, we concluded that it was pure truth (the real right). This moral law is something we haven't made but nevertheless seems to be pressing on us and it's something that is above and beyond the ordinary facts of mens behavior.

We asked what this tells us about the universe. We looked at science and what the goal of science must be and we discussed how science works by experiment but how science can not say if there is anything behind the things science observes or "why" that something is there or why the universe is there or why it goes on and on, etc. However we do have one thing that we know more about than we could learn from external observation and that thing is man.

Because we are men, we have inside information so to speak and we do find that men are under this moral law. We then talked about how if the moral law showed how we "ought" to behave rather than how we "do" in fact behave (unlike the stone who obeys the law of gravitation, we're showing what the stone in fact "does") then that something else is above the facts and can not itself be one of the facts. We used the illustration C.S. Lewis uses about the architect of a house can not also be one of the walls or doors in the house and just like there is one behind the design of a house there is a mind or power behind the universe. This mind or power must be a great artist (because the universe is very beautiful) but he must also be very merciless to humans (because the universe is also a very dangerous and terrifying place).

Since this mind or power could not make himself any of the facts inside the universe then the only way it could show itself to us would be inside us as an influence trying to get us to behave in a certain way and this is exactly what we do find. This bit of evidence about a "somebody" behind the universe shows he's intensely interested in right conduct, in fair play, in unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness. C.S. Lewis talks about this power behind the moral law being tough as nails and there was no pointing in asking it to let you off any more than it would make sense to ask the multiplication table to let 2x2 = 7 in your case. It's also no use in saying you are not going to bother with him because at least a part of you agrees with him. You disapprove of human exploitation, greed, treachery. You may want him to make an exception in your case but in your heart of hearts you know that unless the power behind the universe really and unalterably detests that sort of behavior, he cannot be good.

BUT if there is an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do and this is the terrible fix we are in.

We read the passage about how we have made ourselves enemies to God and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow. Here is the passage because I think it's one of the most powerful passages I've ever read. "If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the last likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we must need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger - according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way."

Powerful stuff.

The last point for the evening was the fact that Christianity does not make any sense without facing the facts C.S. Lewis has described thus far. Christianity tells people to repent and promises forgiveness. It has nothing to say to those who think they've got nothing to repent of. It is only when you realise there is a moral law and a power behind the law and that you have broken the law and put yourself wrong with that power - it is only then that Christianity begins to speak. When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you realise your position is desperate you will begin to understand what Christians are talking about.

Christianity offers an explanation of how we got into our present state and how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the moral law and yet also a person. They say how the demands of the law that we cannot meet, have been met on our behalf. How God himself became a man to save man from the disapproval of God.

We must all face the facts and if we are honest they are, as C.S. Lewis describes them, terrifying facts.

We have set ourselves up against the God of the Universe. The one that made the sun that would pelvarize you in an instant if you came too close.

Christianity is a religion of unspeakable comfort but it does not start that way. It begins in dismay.

Thank you God for C.S. Lewis and for his brain and for his willingness to allow you to speak through Him and thank you for a youth group that is at least willing to challenge everything they think they know about Christianity...

Next week we discuss Christianity and "the invasion" :))

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