Monday, October 1, 2012

Let's Pretend—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis spins a true tale of divine make-believe by starting with two stories: "one is ... Beauty and the Beast. The girl ... had to marry a monster for some reason. And she did. She kissed it as if it were a man. And then, much to her relief, it really turned into a man and all went well. The other story is about someone who had to wear a mask; a mask that made him look much nicer than he really was. He had to wear it for years. And when he took it off he found his own face had grown to fit it. He was now really beautiful.... Up til now, I have been trying to describe factswhat God is and what He has done. Now I want to talk about practicewhat ... difference does all this theology make?

"Think about "the Lord's Prayer. Its very first words are Our Father.... You are putting yourself in the place of a son of God ... you are dressing up as Christ ... [but] you are not a being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit.... What is the good of pretending to be what you are not?... When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do ... is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.... 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. [Children] are always pretending to be grown-upsplaying soldiers, playing shop. But all the time they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretense of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

"The moment you realize 'Here I am, dressing up as Christ,' it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretense could be made ... more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind that would not be going on there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them.... The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretense into a reality.... He is beginning to 'inject' His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin."

God "works on us in all sorts of ways: not only through what we think our 'religious life.' He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences that seem (at the time) anti-Christian. When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going—provided he does it for honesty's sake ... the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him then than it ever was before. Above all, He works on us through each other.... But do not forget this. At first it is natural for a baby to take its mother's milk without knowing its mother. It is equally natural for us to see the man who helps us without seeing Christ behind him. But we must not remain babies. We must go on to recognize the real Giver.... If we do not, we shall be relying on human beings. And that is going to let us down. The best of them will make mistakes; all of them will die. We must be thankful to all the people who have helped us, we must honor them and love them. But never, never pin your whole faith on any human being."

"The New Testament ... talks about Christians 'being born again' ... about ...'putting on Christ'; about Christ 'being formed in us'; about our coming to 'have the mind of Christ'.... A real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you ... a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world ... killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods. Finally ... turning you permanently into ... a new little Christ, a being that, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; that shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity."

"We begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard.... They would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated...[but] surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.... Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul. Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we doif, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are ... the change ... I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about."

"Everything that really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.... We, at most, allow it to be done to us.... The Three-Personal God ... sees before Him ... a self-centered, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says 'Let us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man.... Let us pretend that it is also like Him in Spirit.... Let us pretend in order to make the pretense into a reality.'... This idea of a divine make-believe sounds rather strange at first. But ... is not that how the higher thing always raises the lower? A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does. We treat our dogs as if they were 'almost human': that is why they really become 'almost human' in the end."

Highlights from Chapter 7: Let's Pretend, Book 4: Beyond Personality, or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Click here for a clear view of how this chapter relates to the whole book. 

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