Mere Christianity | Book III, Chapter 11

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book III | Christian Behavior
Chapter 11 | “Faith” [Part One]

Question: What is the first way Christians speak of faith?

Answer: Faith in the first meaning is thinking Christianity is true—accepting the beliefs of Christianity as true.

Q: What used to puzzle Lewis about this?

A. Why is faith in this sense a virtue? As Lewis puts it, “What is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements?” If we are thinking well, we accept or reject any statements based on evidence. Believing things we think are true is not virtuous. And believing things we know are not true doesn’t make us bad, but “merely stupid.”

Q: What did Lewis not understand at first?

A: He had an assumption that we are ruled completely by reason. In other words, once the human mind “accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up.” But Lewis says this “is not so.”

Q: What three analogies does Lewis offer to explain what he means?

A: The first one is going into surgery. He understands, based on good evidence, that the surgeon is not going to begin his work on him until he as the patient is out completely. But when he is lying on the table and they put a mask on his face, he suddenly has fears of choking or not being completely out when the surgeon begins cutting. In this moment, he is facing a battle between his faith in anesthetics on the one hand and his imagination and emotions on the other hand. His struggle of faith is not based on reason, but emotion.

The second is a pretty girl who doesn’t keep secrets. Lewis knows he can’t trust her, “but when he finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge and he starts thinking, ‘Perhaps she’ll be different this time.’” She’s not and Lewis tells her something he shouldn’t because “his senses and emotions have destroyed his faith in what he really knows to be true.”

The third is someone learning to swim. You can know in your head that people don’t necessarily sink in water. You’ve watched people float and swim. But in the midst of a swim lesson, when the instructor takes away their supporting hand, you can panic and go under.

Q: How do these analogies relate to Christianity?

A: Once a person has decided Christianity is true (and Lewis says he is not asking anyone to believe Christianity if they don’t think it is true), there comes “some moment . . . at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true.” We’re with a certain group of friends or facing a particular temptation and some emotion or mood comes up against our faith.

Faith in this sense is “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” This is where faith becomes a virtue. Faith informs your emotions rather than the other way around. Faith keeps you from being storm-tossed by moods.

Q: How do we train the habit of Faith?

A: Recognize that moods change. Once you’ve come to terms with the truth of Christianity, then hold the truth of Christianity before your mind every day. “This is why daily praying and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.” Lewis believes there is a danger in falling away. That most people do not leave faith because they stop thinking it is true, but that they “simply drift away.”

Q: What is the second and higher meaning of Faith?

A: The way to understand this “is to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues” for at least six weeks. To find out how strong an inner evil impulse is, try to resist it. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” One problem with bad people is that they “know very little about badness” because they are always giving in to temptation.

What makes Jesus unique is that he is the only person who never gave in to temptation. He is “the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”

Q: What do we learn by trying to be good?

A: We fail. We have to let go of the idea that Christianity is some sort of moral exam that we have to pass or something we can earn and deserve so that God in some sense owes us. Christianity blows up this idea that we can ever be good enough of that his justice would be good for us. In fact, “God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt.”

Q: What is the other discovery we make?

A: Everything we have comes from God. In a sense we are the child who takes money from their parent to buy them a birthday present. The parent is pleased but they understand their bottom line hasn’t increased. We cannot give to or do anything for God.

And so these two realizations—we can’t be good enough and everything belongs to God—will lead us next week into a second chapter on faith.






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