The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like His.
C S Lewis’s only purpose was to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering.
In the introductory chapter Lewis describes his view before he became a Christian:
The earth is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another … attended by pain … pain of being born … in pain they mostly die … man by reason is enabled to foresee his own pain … preceded with acute mental suffering … to foresee his own death. A history of crime, war, disease and terror. But all civilisations pass away … all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter. How on earth did human beings ever come to attribute this to the activity of a wise and good creator?
Consider that all the great religions were first preached, and long practised, in a world without chloroform!
In all developed religion there are three strands – Christianity has one more.
The numinous – of or pertaining to a numen; arousing elevated or religious feelings.
Numen – a deity; a divine power or spirit.
Awe or fear – feelings that do not come from the visible universe – part of human nature – quite separate from a physical recognition of danger – a direct experience of the really supernatural – an interpretation of the universe or an impression he gets from it.
The numinous is not the same as the morally good. Someone overwhelmed with awe is likely to see it as something beyond good and evil.
Throughout history people have recognised some kind of morality (the ought’s and should’s that cannot be logically deduced from the environment and physical experiences of the man who undergoes them. Morality, like numinous awe is a jump that goes beyond anything that can be ‘given’ in the facts of experience. Moralities accepted among men may differ but they all agree in prescribing a behaviour which their adherents fail to practise. All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt.
The moral experience and the numinous experience are quite different and may exist for quite long periods without establishing a mutual contact (worship of the gods and ethical discussions have very little to do with each other). The third stage in religious development arises when the numinous power to which they feel awe is made the guardian of the morality to which they feel obligation. But why should a savage haunted at once by awe and by guilt think that the power that awes him is also the authority that condemns his guilt? The behaviour of the universe that the numinous haunts bears no resemblance to the behaviour which morality demands of us.
Non-moral religion and non-religious morality still exist. Was it with the Jews that the two really came together by revelation?
The fourth strand is the claim made by Jesus. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type. Or else He was, and is, precisely what He said. There is no middle way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you must submit to the second. And if you do that, all else that is claimed by Christians becomes credible – that this Man, having been killed, was yet alive, and that His death, in some manner incomprehensible to human thought, has effected a real change in our relations to the awful and righteous Lord, and a change in our favour.
Christianity is not the conclusion of a philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event following on the long spiritual preparation of humanity. Pain is a problem because side by side with our daily experiences in a painful world, we have received what we think a good assurance that ultimately reality is righteous and loving.
At every stage a man may rebel without absurdity. He can close his spiritual eyes to the numinous if he is prepared to part company with half the great poets and prophets of his race. He can regard the moral law as an illusion. The incarnation is not something we could have invented – it has the master touch!
Divine omnipotence (power to do all or everything)
If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power or both.
Are the words good, almighty and happy equivocal (able to have different meanings that are equally possible)? Some things are impossible, such as carrying out two mutually exclusive alternatives at the same time. But beware of human reasoning – we might think things possible that are really impossible and vice versa (conjuring tricks?). Even omnipotence could not create a society of free souls without having unpredictable results.
We live in a world where we are conscious of the need to co-exist.
Fire comforts the body at a certain distance, but it will destroy if the distance is reduced. Even in a perfect world there is a need for danger signals. It is not possible for the matter of the universe to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society. One may be going uphill and the other down!
There is a place for courtesy, respect and unselfishness by which love and good humour and modesty express themselves – but at the same time there is the possibility of competition and hostility and the ability to hurt one another – which can result in an unjust victory.
The whole natural order is the limit within which our common life is confined – if we try to exclude suffering we exclude life itself!
Divine goodness – the doctrine of ‘total depravity’ – where our ideas of good mean nothing – turns Christianity into a form of devil worship?
The two trees – are good and evil the same in our eyes as in the eyes of God? What seems evil to us might not be!
Where do our moral standards come from? How do we influence each other? Do we learn from those who are older and wiser? When we recognise new standards is there a sense of shame and guilt? Do we recognise that we have blundered into a society that we are not fit for? Change takes time!
Jesus calls men to repent – an appeal to existing moral judgment.
CSL hopes at this point to suggest that some concepts that tend to dominate our thoughts might be open to criticism. Do we look for a grandfather in heaven who likes to see young people enjoying themselves, so that at the end of the day, a good time had been had by all? Maybe our conception of God’s love needs correction! Love and kindness are not the same! God is love, but He rebukes and condemns – but never regards us with contempt? We know from the cross the depth of that incredible love! We are all divine ‘works of art’ – individual stones – temples of God’s Spirit!
Consider the training of a sheep dog – the need for discipline – the resulting two-way love!
Then consider the ideal father / son relationship as expressed between Jesus and his Father –authority and obedience! Then there is the analogy of God’s love for man, and man’s love for a woman!
Consider God’s concern for Jerusalem and the nation of Israel!
The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look upon things as if man were the centre of them. We were made so that God could love us. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God (ascribing to God selfishness and possessiveness?). God can give good, but cannot need or get it? He has everything to give and nothing to receive!
If God who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed – a Divine act of pure giving – to which we can respond! To experience the love of God in a true, and not an illusory form, is therefore to experience it as our surrender and conformity.
When we want something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy. God wills our good, and our good is to love Him, and to love Him we must know Him; and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God – though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain. The call is not only to prostration and awe, but to a reflection of the divine life. Whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Unless we accept what we are given there will be no growth!
Human wickedness – You can have no greater sign of confirmed pride that when you think you are humble enough.
“We have used our freewill to become very bad” – CSL suggests that this is so well known that it hardly needs to be stated as the Christian answer to why men need to change.
When the apostles preached they could assume, even in their pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving divine anger. He suggests that the gospel brought good news of possible healing to men who knew they were mortally ill.
But now only kindness is good; cruelty is really bad! What place mercy?
So easy to think our heart is in the right place, and that we wouldn’t hurt a fly, but never make a sacrifice for a fellow creature. What has been the place of psychoanalysis? Shame is said to be a dangerous and mischievous thing! A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity! If, we will not recognise that we are part of the world that He came to save and are almost certain to bear a certain resentment against God as to one who is always inexplicably angry.
The worst many people feel they have done to God is to leave him alone!
What happens when we really feel guilt? How often do we simply make excuses? A God who did not regard this with unappeasable distaste would not be a good being – but we cannot even wish for such a God.
When we say we are bad the wrath of God seems a barbarous doctrine, but when we perceive our badness it appears inevitable. To retain such insight is indispensable.
The need to step out of a fools paradise and utter illusion.
We must not compare ourselves to others – what about our habits?
The need for a social conscience – part of an iniquitous social system – but don’t let corporate guilt distract from personal guilt. How often do we evade the real issues?
We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin – the need for repentance.
CSL refers to God remembering the schoolboy pulling the wings off a fly – maybe salvation consists not in cancelling these eternal moments but in the perfected humanity that bears the shame forever … perhaps the lost are those who dare not go to such a public place.
Beware of the peer pressure of small groups – pockets of evil!
What value justice, mercy, fortitude and temperance?
As we look at society it is heading for disaster (1940).
There are endless examples of empires through the ages – all part of the journey!
Could God be content with what we are?
Are we trying to reduce all virtues to kindness?
The holiness of God is something more than moral perfection.
The moral law may exist to be transcended, but there is no transcending it for those who have not admitted its claims upon them, and then tried with all their strength to meet that claim fairly and squarely, and faced the fact of their failure.
Let no man, when he is tempted say, “I am tempted of God”
Perfect obedience is not possible but …
CSL rejects the doctrine of total depravity – partly on logical grounds and partly because experience shows us much goodness in human nature. The emotion of shame is to be valued because of the insight to which it leads (but it can lead to unnecessary emotional problems).
CSL suggests that we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to rejoice as much as anything else.
The Fall of Man – man is now a horror to God and to himself as a result of the abuse of freewill!
CSL suspects that the story of the two trees is far more profound!
Freewill by its very nature includes the possibility of evil.
If a loving Father forgives us, He is not going to hold as responsible for the faults of other people?
Man has spoiled himself – the need for remedial and corrective good!