Lewis: Understanding Forgiveness

I like the way C. S. Lewis deals with sin and forgiveness in the following passages. First, he unfolds how people often, but erroneously, think of it:

If you had a perfect excuse you would not need forgiveness: if the whole of your action needs forgiveness then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness,” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.” We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. . . .

What we have to take to him is the inexcusable bit, the sin.

He then zeroes in on the heart of receiving forgiveness, and what must come first:

The demand that God should forgive such a man [one bent on evil] while he remains what he is, is based on a confusion between condoning and forgiving. To condone an evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were good. But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

Acknowledgment of sin and a genuine turning from sin—a.k.a., repentance—are prerequisites to forgiveness.

Repentance & Forgiveness

Lewis on Education: Go to the Sources

C. S. Lewis with BookNot all of C. S. Lewis’s writings are explicitly Christian, yet he brings a clarity to any subject that is drawn from his Christian convictions. One of his favorite subjects, naturally, was education, since he spent a lifetime teaching and tutoring students at Oxford and Cambridge. I find this particular Lewis commentary in an essay titled “On the Reading of Old Books,” to ring true. See if you agree.

I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.

The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.

The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books of Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

In my courses, particularly in the upper-level history courses, I try as much as possible to get students to read the documents from the era and what the people of each era actually said. I don’t avoid using interpretive books also, but I seek those books that are filled with the writings of the principal actors in the history. A good interaction between the historic agents and the modern commentators is a nice mix. I think we need both, yet Lewis is correct in emphasizing the originals. They are essential, so we can judge whether the modern analysts have understood those writings correctly.

This is called real education. We should try it more; students might like it.

Lewis: No Corner without God

C. S. Lewis 5As Christians, we want to believe the best about people. We seek to look beyond what they are now to what they may become once they get their lives in sync with the Lord. Yet we cannot ignore the sinfulness of man; we need to be realistic. C. S. Lewis provides us with a perspective we need to keep in mind in our dealings with everyone. I have two short quotes for you today, but they are related. Let’s begin with this one:

Never, never pin your whole faith on any human being: not if he is the best and wisest in the whole world. There are lots of nice things you can do with sand; but do not try building a house on it.

Even among genuine Christians, we often disappoint one another. The warning is to remember Who is your real cornerstone in life.

Then there is this reminder about the nature of sinfulness:

They [human beings] wanted, as we say, to “call their own souls their own.” But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner.

He fills every corner; there’s no escaping His presence. But once you’ve laid aside your rebellion, that’s not a troubling statement; rather, it’s inspiring. As the apostle Paul once told his audience, “For in Him we live and move and exist.” Thank God.

Lewis on the Conflict between Faith & Sight

FaithPretty good dissertation on the problem we sometimes have with faith. C. S. Lewis helps explain what the problem might be:

There are things, say in learning to swim or to climb, which look dangerous and aren’t. Your instructor tells you it is safe. You have good reason from past experience to trust him. Perhaps you can even see for yourself, by your own reason, that it is safe. But the crucial question is, will you be able to go on believing this when you actually see the cliff edge below you or actually feel yourself unsupported in the water?

You will have no rational grounds for disbelieving. It is your senses and your imagination that are going to attack belief. Here, as in the New Testament, the conflict is not between faith and reason but between faith and sight. We can face things which we know to be dangerous if they don’t look or sound too dangerous; our real trouble is often with things we know to be safe but which look dreadful.

Our faith in Christ wavers not so much when real arguments come against it as when it looks improbable—when the whole world takes on the desolate look which really tells us much more about the state of our passions and even our digestion than about reality.

Lewis: Not Ashamed of the Gospel

C. S. Lewis 3In his customary pithy way, C. S. Lewis reminds us that we do stand for something, and that we had better make that stand:

As Christians we are tempted to make unnecessary concessions to those outside the Faith. We give in too much. Now, I don’t mean that we should run the risk of making a nuisance of ourselves by witnessing at improper times, but there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colours, if we are to remain true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away.

May we demonstrate Christian boldness wherever God has planted us.

C. S. Lewis on Eternal Life

Eternal LifeIn Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis targets those who think their religious beliefs don’t have to be specific. I like his colorful way of expressing his dissent:

A vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in Flowers or music.

Then, in one of his essays, he picks up on the theme of eternal life and spells out the necessary step:

A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.

Amen.

Lewis: False Equality

What could possibly be wrong with the concept of equality? C. S. Lewis shows us that it has its boundaries, and he also reveals its darker underside. Here are his thoughts, taken from two separate essays:

When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget but as an ideal we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. . . .

The demand for equality has two sources; one of them is among the noblest, the other the basest, of human emotions. The noble source is the desire for fair play. But the other source is the hatred of superiority. . . .

Equality . . . is a purely social conception. It applies to man as a political and economic animal. It has no place in the world of the mind. Beauty is not democratic; she reveals herself more to the few than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the careless. Virtue is not democratic; she is achieved by those who pursue her more hotly than most men.

Truth is not democratic; she demands special talents and special industry in those to whom she gives her favours. Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual, or aesthetic democracy is death.