Temptation & Realism: A Lewis Perspective

C. S. Lewis, in his Mere Christianity, has an interesting take on temptation that may run counter to what many think. Of course, he has interesting takes on quite a few concepts, but this one stands out to me today. He begins with this:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

It’s the “good” people who have actually grappled with wrong desires; they are the ones who have engaged in the battle. Others have already surrendered before the battle has even started. He continues,

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Lewis turns typical reasoning on its head by asserting that it’s not the Christians who are sheltered, but those who have never known anything but giving in to temptation. They are the ones living in a fantasy world, not those who are derided and mocked for being “sheltered” in a Christian environment.

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

When we follow Christ’s path and refuse the temptations offered to us by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we then become realists as well. We’re not the naive ones; rather, we know the reality of evil and embrace righteousness instead because we see results of both.

Hebrews 4:15 is an encouragement for all who have chosen the road to discipleship:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Lewis: Screwtape on Middle Age

One of the books that catapulted C. S. Lewis to worldwide fame was The Screwtape Letters, published in the early 1940s. It was a fanciful interpretation of how a senior devil—Screwtape—gives advice to a junior devil—Wormwood–on how to lead people into sin and ensure they never enter into a relationship with God. Here’s part of that “advice”:

The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it—all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.

If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.