#myhumblereads: Mere Christianity
In Dec 2019 (also the same month in which COVID-19 hit), I picked up this book and only managed to read 3–4 chapters and I gave up because I was either not ready to understand the “deep” theology of Christianity or perhaps I gave up one quarter way because the pandemic happened, and totally threw me off guard, or you could say distracted.
This July 2021, I was asking God for a book that He felt that I should read and He led me to this book. I was hmmm why God and after finally after finishing, I understood why.
This book, Mere Christianity, written by C. S. Lewis is a lot on defending the Christian faith. The origins of this book begun as a series of BBC radio talks broadcast during the dark days of World War Two and it aimed to give people a lot of encouragement, hope and more specifically eternal hope.
By the way, does C.S Lewis sounds familiar to you? C.S Lewis was also the author of The Chronicles of Narnia — a series of seven fantasy novels. Honestly, the C.S Lewis I first knew about came from the movies. When I was younger, I watched the famous novel illustrated called The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in the theatres and recalled briefly that it was a meaningful show. Never knew he wrote Christian theology books.
I am in disbelief that CS Lewis was a strong atheist, turning into a strong Christian and finally becoming one of the most crucial apologetics writers in the 20th Century, 1952.
After reading the first few chapters (again), I was drawn to this book as He touched on the concepts of morality and how it simply cannot exist without moral laws set in place. Recently, I have a keen interest in morality especially picking up Ravi Zacharias’s book on Logic of God (which I will share my review another day).
Just like old habits, I will share some of my favourite phrases, quotes and paragraphs. Those that struck a chord in my heart especially.
“It is after you have realised that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power — it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.”
“Morality then seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.”
I never studied morality that much growing up. The closest I could get was in Singapore, where we have tons of laws and legislations in place to protect our small and vulnerable country. That was my mere concept of Morality where if I would do something “wrong”, it would be wrong because the law deemed as wrong. Then again, wrong or right is always in the question of “In whose eyes?” together with this concept of “justice”. In this case, if I litter, it will be judged as illegal (law) and I will be put to a fine (justice). That was my understanding.
Another angle of morality I was exposed to mere examples at the top of my head: like how killing people was wrong, cheating on your spouse is wrong, stealing your friends notes is wrong, throwing down books down the rubbish chute (true story) is wrong. How I knew it was wrong was because my social circle would deemed as a no no and things we should not do.
This part is the part where things gets interesting:
C.S Lewis goes on to share how to think about morality where we need to have three departments:
1) Relations between man and man
2) Things inside each man
3) The relations between man and the power that made him.
“We can all co-operate on the first one: disagreements begin with the second and becomes more serious with the third. It is dealing with the third that the main differences between Christian and non-Christian morality come out.”
Pondering over this for a bit for 1) It is true how a lot of times I catch myself and my friends saying things like “He shouldn’t have done xyz to her.” “He should have been nicer.” “My boss shouldn’t have been so mean” “I wish she could have more patience.” “My mum has hurt me”. It’s absurd we hold standards to our relationships out of pure societal norms and that’s all. Yet, there are some who would say nothing’s never wrong until it hurts some other human being.
Almost all people at all times have agreed that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful to one another. But though it is natural to begin with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go on to the second thing — we are only deceiving ourselves.
For 2) It is how like sometimes I question my own morals. Being envious of my friend’s success is not right. Being jealous of my friend’s success isn’t right. Stealing nor lying isn’t right or even simple things like I could have been kinder. These thoughts literally go through my head a lot.
For 3) CS. Lewis assumes that if Christianity is true, we have to consider the fact we don’t live for just seventy years and that if so, our lives are incomparably more important than any other state or nation or civilisation. In another Driven By Eternity book by John Bevere, it talks about how time here on earth, compared to eternity is almost negligible yet the way we LIVE out life here truly will make a difference to eternity / where we are heading after physical death.
Another quote that I really spoke to me was:
“We might think that provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it — whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reasons do not help to build the internal quality or character that really matters.”
One of my recent revelations are also close to what Lewis mentions about. I have been thinking about how sometimes we see how a particular person is able to e.g speak well, speak confidently right. And, we think to ourselves, wow! This is the right way to be doing and learning public speaking. This is the skill and personality I want to be build up. Yet, who knows, this person whom I just admired could be doing these public speaking for the so-called wrong reasons, perhaps trying to impress and make someone feel bad about themselves intentionally or trying to prove themselves right. In summary, we might externally feel impressed by someone’s behaviour or actions but its root internally is evil and ugly, out of pride, greed, jealously, envy etc.
It speaks similarly to this verse: ‘You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.’ (Matthew 7:16–20)
Reasons for the division in Christianity
“You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.”
I’ve always wondered as well why would the body of Christ be sometimes be more divided than even the non Christians themselves. A glimpse of this answer would be what Lewis’s writes and expounds on how we are never a 100% christian.
Sometimes, the people whom are so close to knowing God and Christianity do not see themselves as a Christian. More so, a person who thinks they are a Christian and yet not following the full gospel claims they are a Christian. As such, if we pick the convictions like how we pick our cherries, it could be the reason why two individual “Christians” could be advocating for certain beliefs and ideals at opposite ends. Yet there is hope, read to find out.
“Being in love is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
“People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the nee love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last.”
Didn’t expect C.S Lewis to also cover about Christian Marriage but I should have guessed since sexual morality is part of the bigger umbrella — Morality. He talks a lot about how to think about being in a marriage, how does morality come in marriage, expounding on the bible talks about the man being the head and not the tail, sharing more about how to sustain your marriage especially when its so difficult to.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthy pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
“Most of us find it very difficult to want ‘Heaven’ at all except in so far as ‘Heaven’ means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.”
Perhaps one of the things I’ve learnt from C.S Lewis is to understand why so many times I struggle with wanting to want Heaven. I simply did not understand what it meant by looking forward to meeting God in Heaven. Perhaps life was hard enough on Earth and hence I devoted all my energy on solving today’s problems, today’s to-dos or today’s pile of work and emails.
This made me realised that actually it is true that deep down, no material things can satisfy me. Promises turn lies that I consumed from buying these material goods came one after another. It is true indeed that I have not trained my mind well to fix my eyes on Jesus, whom is in Heaven and even the things of God, the things of Heaven. I am challenged to look forward to going and wanting to go Heaven and meet my Heavenly Father who knows me.
Lastly, one of the impactful things about this Mere Christianity book is finally answering the question to ‘Is Christianity easy or hard?’
“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
“Both harder and easier than what we are all trying to do. You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, “Take up your Cross’ in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.’ He means both. And one can just see why both are true.”
It was the most interesting to me that being a Christian is easy yet hard at the same time. How is this possible?
Easy in the sense that every time I trust in God, I know who holds my future even in uncertain and uncharted waters. I know that I have God himself, Jesus and the Holy spirit to
1) give me purpose and a direction to live my life (God)
2) be redeemed from my sins and that I can be free to go to God (Jesus)
3) intercede, console, comfort, help, advocate (Holy Spirit)
Difficult as well because the moment I know I entrust my life to God, I am going to need a lot of faith and effort. He is going to transform me from the inside out, just like the dentist analogy C.S Lewis so cleverly referenced. He doesn’t just put a bandaid over the my life and its sins but if I allow Him, He will transform my being to include the mind of Christ but He will journey this life with us together hand in hand. This includes having to ‘kill the flesh’ and ‘feed the spirit’ through reading the bible daily, worship, pray and being in fellowship with His people. This takes effort, discipline and mostly importantly trusting God to be able to make things “easy”. Feels like this cycle never ends. The moment I feel its difficult, with the help of God, it becomes easier.
“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self-all your wishes and precautions to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way-centred on money or pleasure or ambition-and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.”
“And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.”
I guess I can understand why C.S Lewis talks about how the real challenge of a Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment we wake up each morning, where the busyness of the today consumes us, our dreams and our hopes haunt us in the back of our heads or even our mum’s nagging (LOL!).
Then he recommends how each morning we need to consistently shove them all back and allowing that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. I think he was referring to also how the difficult parts of life comes in these moments where we do not go look for it, they naturally meet us in our heads, in our minds. I do struggle with that. In the mornings, I’ll be like ‘oh dear, i don’t feel like going to work and do my best at work!’
“When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder-in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
How to find yourself, who am I:
“But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ to so speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that.
“As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange?”
“The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.”
I would really love to read Mere Christianity in another phase of my spiritual growth. Such a 11/10 book that challenges me so much in the way I see God, the way I should come to know God and the way I am making effort in this relationship with Him. Thankful for this read. Thankful for God :)