How C.S. Lewis Rationalized His Faith
By Jeff Lukens

Over the past two decades, Clive Staples Lewis has attained a rock star status within the Christian community. A new movie based on his books, "The Chronicles of Narnia," is now a blockbuster hit. His books continue to be among the best selling in Christian literature, which is quite a feat for a reserved British intellectual who has been dead for more than 40 years.

Lewis' early experiences help explain why Lewis turned away from Christian belief. His mother died when he was 9 years old, and he was afterwards sent to a boarding school run by a sadistic headmaster. As a young man, he endured the horrors of trench warfare in World War I.

Following the war, he committed himself to scholarly pursuits that emphasized clarity of thought free from emotion and subjective speculation. He considered Christianity on the same level as Greek and Norse mythology.

After years of intellectual soul-searching -- and with the help of J.R.R. Tolkien and others -- Lewis finally embraced Christianity at age 33. He did not discard his academic training, however, for self-righteousness. Instead, he used his creativity and scholastic discipline to become a celebrated champion of the faith.

The intellectual journey that Lewis provides to his readers in his masterwork of apologetics, "Mere Christianity," is amazing. In it, he sought to explain the doctrines that Catholic and major Protestant denominations agreed upon. He drew upon his former skepticism to help explain Christianity in a common, non-theological way.

To begin, Lewis notes a predisposition in people to search for a standard of absolute truth. It seems all people across cultures and time generally agree that they should not put themselves first, and they ought to be honest, fair, unselfish, and courageous. He calls this tendency the "Law of Human Nature" because everyone knows it almost instinctively.

Lewis then makes a second observation. While people everywhere have a notion that they should behave in these ways, they do not do so themselves. He says, "They know the Law of Human Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe in which we live."

Lewis reasons that just as the laws of physics or mathematics are real, this Law of Human Nature must also be real. It must have been created as part of a universal truth, and not by man. "I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong."

He also reasons there must be a "perfect goodness" behind the universe interested in what we do. If that perfect goodness exists, it must disapprove of much of our behavior. "I think we have to assume," he explains, "it is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know." Perhaps that is because it has rules. To Lewis, that perfect goodness, that Being, is what we call God.

Lewis believes that in the end, God is our only reassurance, and we have made ourselves his enemy. What we need most is that from which we want to hide our behavior.

Once we understand the Law of Human Nature, that there is a power behind that law, and that we have put ourselves in the wrong with that power by breaking it, Lewis says we then begin to understand what Christians are saying about the Gospel message.

If we are free to choose between good and evil, Lewis reasons, then evil must be a genuine possibility. An all-powerful God could surely prevent evil, but he could only do so at the cost of human freedom.

Lewis also observes that this powerful Being selected a specific group of people, the Jews, and spent hundreds of years hammering into them what kind of God he was. He also showed He cared about their conduct. The Old Testament chronicles this relationship.

Then, he says, comes the real shock. Among the Jews, there suddenly appeared a man who claimed he has always existed, forgave sins, and traveled around talking as if he were God. "He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time . . . What he said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips."

This man told people that their sins were forgiven. However, he never checked with others to whom those sins had wronged. He acted as if he were the primary one offended by their wrongdoing.

"In the mouth of any speaker who is not God," Lewis says, "these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any other character in history." Jesus' words make sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded by our sins.

Lewis explains that some people may say, "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." He responds, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher . . . You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse."

"You can shut Him up for a fool," Lewis exclaims, "you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

We know which choice C.S. Lewis made. To him, this rationalization was only the mere essence of Christianity. He questioned the underlying assumptions of the faith, and found a firm foundation. While his many books have been an encouragement to people over the years, they continue to be an inspiration to those newly acquainted with his work today.


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Copyright 2000-2007, Jeff Lukens