journey post 19: It’s complicated….
Simplicity. Don’t we all long for it in some way or another? Many pine for a “simpler time” in America when there wasn’t quite so much unrest or change. Yet I cannot think of a decade in the last century when there hasn’t been unrest, disarray, fear, and social upheaval.
Life comes at us relentlessly, in all its variegated complexity, in ways that we cannot predict or control. My younger son was once fond of saying, “Life sucks and then you die.” We can occasionally escape through temporary periods of nostalgia or mental illness, a hobby or fun vacation or party. The only hope we have in facing life is what goes on within, at the level of the soul.
Religion applies at this level. You might call it spirituality. Some call it an escape. Karl Marx famously called it “the opiate of the people.” I’ve not studied his early life, but I do know that he wrote a paper as a young man on spiritual union with Christ. Perhaps he was disenchanted by the disconnect between what Christianity seemed to teach and how people were actually living; Gandhi certainly was. Gandhi’s commentary: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Young Gandhi in Great Britain
What strikes me now, as I read again C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, is his unflinching commitment to reality and complexity and practicality, and his ability to explain same with simplicity. His is an almost deceptive simplicity—perhaps because he was intelligent and wise enough to know that, unless one wrote as an ordinary human being, ordinary human beings would not grasp the relevance of what he wrote and apply it to the painful realities of our universe in any satisfactory way.
C. S. Lewis
In 1970, when I first read this little book, I was looking for reality, i.e., whether Jesus and Christianity were real. Lewis helped me understand that Jesus is indeed real, no matter how many Christians might turn out to be “so unlike your Christ.” Having now been a Christian for forty plus years, I find his approach more real and relevant than ever: I am, frankly, tired of playing church.
I am an evangelical Christian. That means that, not only am I a follower of Jesus, but I believe others need to know him as well. Jesus taught his apprentices (disciples) the good news of his kingdom: that, as we receive him by faith, we become children of the Father and are forgiven. His love would bear fruit in our lives, showing itself as we learn to love the Father and his will, to love others as we love ourselves, and to be light to this world and make disciples of Jesus (no one else). Others would know that we had actually learned from Jesus by our being servants to others, especially within the church.
Far be it from me as an evangelical Christian to state the obvious and say that we have not done a very good job of it. We have been “so unlike” our Christ.
Michelle and I went off to Bible school only a year after we came to faith. We were so immature and unready to handle the expectations and pressures. The school was evangelical and fundamentalist and very legalistic. At 24, we were so young, but the rest of the student body was made up of mostly 17- and 18-year-olds, mostly single. As a married couple, we were expected to be more “mature” and to set an example. These young single people weren’t allowed to hold hands, much less kiss or date. The teaching staff keenly felt the responsibility of protecting their charges from raging teen hormones. There were kids (we were all kids, actually) from Christian, even missionary families, and many were new Christians with no Christian background.
We young men were expected to show a growing understanding of and ability to explain spiritual truth. (I’ll leave the competition angle to your imagination—just keep in mind that it would be considered unspiritual and prideful to consciously compete with others to show how mature we were becoming…yeah, right.) The girls, of course, were always smarter, and it showed, but were also mindful of being “submissive” and “modest.” I think they were held to a higher standard than the boys.
We were also expected to witness to our faith on a regular basis. We tried our best with such subtle approaches as, “Do you know where you will go when you die?” We, after all, didn’t want people to go to hell, so we would press them to understand how sinful they were and deserving of hell, while God graciously provided a way to heaven (some might say “ticket”) when Jesus was crucified and rose again. I had left behind most of what I’d learned from Lewis except that I used his worldwide renown to validate my own short, scary version of the good news that I pressed upon my listeners. If anyone became a Christian from what I said back then, it was certainly God’s doing and not mine.
In light of my less-than-stellar record of explaining Christianity in those early days, I was greatly interested on this read-through to consider how Lewis set about that task. He did not do it in such a way as to play upon emotion. No fledgling believer he; it is noteworthy that he began discussing “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe,” as I pointed out before, with us and our very natural human wonderings.
Lewis began with the most important questions that human beings ask in life. He did it in a way that showed respect for the intelligence and ordinary humanity of his readers. And he did so in simple conversational style, albeit he was thorough and profound. These are not simple questions, but he knew it was essential to answer them in an intellectually satisfying way if ordinary human beings were ever to know true peace. Questioning right and wrong would naturally lead people to wonder about a god and guilt and eternal accountability. That in turn would lead one to ponder what God may be like, if he exists; and if he is good, why is there so much pain, and suffering, and evil in the world? You may be surprised to learn that our free will plays an important part in his answer—an answer I believe correct. Some theologies acknowledge “free will” while defining it in a way that makes it synonymous with fate—which only compounds the question about God’s goodness and leaves many sunk in despair.