Category Archives: Books

Book: Mere Christianity

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Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis has an extraordinary ability to take what you already know – or what you think you know – and make you think about it in ways in which you have never before. When we wake up every day and live out our lives, there are so many things working in the backgrounds of our minds which help us make sense of our world. Very often, we take these things for granted, and for the most part, we hardly even notice them. In Mere Christianity, Lewis directs our attention to these unnoticed aspects of our daily experience with grace, wit and razor-sharp logic, and uses this to present an endlessly fascinating account of how Christianity works. What I have found particularly refreshing is that Lewis starts with nothing, and builds his case from the ground up. There are no assumptions. He begins with what we all know, and experience, and feel in our day to day lives – and then he goes from there.

Let’s put things in context. The year is 1942, and Great Britain is at war. The front line is at the doorsteps of the civilians themselves, as planes bombard this small island nation each night. C. S. Lewis is called to deliver a series of radio broadcasts on BBC on the Christian faith, and these speeches were eventually gathered into a single volume and printed. See, Mere Christianity was not originally a book. It was a series of radio speeches to a broken and war-weary nation.

Here are some of the nuggets of truth and insight I have gleaned from Mere Christianity:

1. The reality of the moral law. “Hey, that’s not fair!” – “Come on, you promised…” – what occurs so naturally to us is that there is some sort of standard of behaviour which we expect other people to follow. Yet, this standard, or ‘law’, is very peculiar if you think about it. Consider the idea of science for a second. Science is able to observe the world around us, and tell us how the world works. It can provide ‘laws’ which describe the world – Newton’s laws of motion, Mendel’s laws of genetics. But the ‘moral’ law is different – it doesn’t actually describe anything that we are doing. Instead, it describes what we should do. In fact, many times what we are actually doing is contrary to this moral law. So, this moral law is very real… but at the same time, it isn’t really “real”. It’s a thing, but it’s also a not-thing. This is something that we can’t learn from external observation. We can observe humans, but unless you were actually a human – you wouldn’t experience, and thus understand, this idea of a ‘moral law’. Where does this experience come from? What lies behind this ‘moral law’? Our experience of the moral law raise many questions, and it is in this context which Christianity starts to speak.

2. The person of Christ. We look for something to help explain our ‘moral law’. Enter first century Palestine, and we see a man – Jesus of Nazareth – make the preposterous claim that he is able to forgive sin. This phrase – ‘forgiving sin’ – is a phrase that we have difficulty understanding. We throw the phrase around often, and we don’t realise the scandalous implications of what it actually means. Consider this. Let’s say you punch me, I forgive you. Or you steal my money, I forgive you. But let’s say you hit me, and a stranger off the street – completely irrelevant to our situation – comes up to you and says, “I forgive you”. You would make him out to be a fool. “Get out of here”, you’d say. So, we see Jesus acting like he’s the chief party concerned in any offence. And if you think about it carefully, Jesus is claiming to be the power behind the ‘moral law’ I spoke of above. He’s the one who sets what is right and wrong. He is the one who you are offending every time you break this moral law. And so, what can we conclude something about this man, Jesus of Nazareth? He is a lunatic. Or, he is a liar – a really great actor. Or, he is God himself. How do we approach the person of Jesus?

3. The root of evil. Lewis spends an entire section of the book talking about Christian ‘virtues’ or ‘values’ – ways in which Christians should live and behave, and how to make sense of them. There is so much good stuff here I cannot possibly write it all down, I may as well quote the entire book! So, if I was to draw attention to one thing which really stuck out to me, it is what Lewis calls the centre of Christian morals: “the essential vice, the utmost evil – Pride”. Pride is the vice that leads to every other vice, and is the complete anti-moral, anti-God state of mind. We aren’t proud of having something, but rather, we are proud for having more of it than the next person. See, the very essence of pride is competition. Once we take away competition, there is no pride. Pride, as Lewis says, is enmity. I’ll keep quoting Lewis (I can’t think of any better words to say): “For Pride is spiritual cancer, it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”.

4. Heaven and Longing. This idea of ‘heaven’ is central to popular views of Christianity – “I want to go to heaven” is a popular sentiment. Whilst this idea is common misunderstood, I think there’s something quite important and insightful here. Here are a few things that Lewis says. “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither”. Or, “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.” Interesting.

5. Life and transformation. The last thing I want to say, and probably the most profound thing I have learnt. We say that ‘Christ has come to give us life’. Hold on, aren’t we alive already? Why do we need to be given life? So, Lewis makes a distinction between natural, biological life, called ‘Bios’, and Spiritual life, called ‘Zoe’. Imagine bringing a tin soldier to life. This is what it’s like bringing a being from Bios to Zoe. When we put our faith in Christ, we aren’t just committing ourselves to follow another set of rules, but rather, we are being given life and being transformed into a timeless, spiritual being.

What I’ve written so far is completely inadequate in capturing the spirit of Mere Christianity. There are so, so many nuggets of insight strewn throughout its pages – so many little word-bites that get you thinking long after you’ve read them. If you haven’t read it before, I must recommend it. This is definitely a book which I’ll be revisiting again and again.

Crazy Busy

Life can get terribly… busy.

I mean, even in the holidays (it’s the last day as I write this!), it feels like there’s an endless list of things to do. Thrilled to to see how busy the term will get. In my life, there’s always this feeling that I need to be doing something. I’m sure it happens in yours too. There’s just so much to do, and so much that can be done. But alas, we are given 24 hours a day, and that’s it, so I guess that’s something we just need to deal with.

What can happen though is that busyness turns into stress. Sometimes, I feel completely overwhelmed by the ten million different things I need to do, and it feels hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. You don’t know where to start, you don’t know what to do. Need to do this. Oh, but don’t forget that. And that other thing you had to do. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Please stop. Life just generally sucks when you’re stressed, doesn’t it?

Before the holidays started, I picked up a book called ‘Crazy Busy – A (Mercifully) Short Book About A (Really) Big Problem’ – by a guy called Kevin DeYoung. It’s a book written from the Christian perspective on busyness, what it means, why it happens, what to do about it, so forth. Here are a few things I got out of it:

We are finite beings.
Bluntly put, we can’t do everything. We are limited beings constrained by our physical bodies and mental needs. We are not God, because God is God. That’s really important. We can’t do everything or serve everyone simply because we are finite. Often we forget this, and we try and do way too much, which makes us busy, then stressed. Accepting our finitude   also means to set priorities – because you cannot do everything or serve everyone. This is important if we are to keep ourselves from becoming crazy busy.

We are prideful beings.
Pride is one of the things which can make us really busy. Sometimes, we try and do things for the purpose of glorifying ourselves – making ourselves look good. Other times, we try and do things to please people. I guess, these are all manifestations of pride. We should question who we are doing it for. Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good? I mean working hard isn’t bad – but when you work to feed your pride, things can go crazy.

Sleep is important!
Sometimes, one of the most productive things to do is sleep. As physical human beings, we need sleep. You simply just can’t ignore it, or sooner or later, you’ll crash. It is hard work indeed to let go, trust God, and go to sleep. Yeah. Sleep. Good stuff.

Rhythm is important too.
Like sleep, rhythm is important. I guess they are all linked. Rhythm means purpose and order – if you have a rhythm of doing things, things become easy to do. It makes things less stressful. It makes things seem less busy. It’s important to have a rhythm of work and rest.

Lastly, and most importantly, we need more Jesus.
Life can get so crazily busy that we forget the most important thing. Coming before God, learning more about Him, spending time with Him, in a world where we need to do this and do that, is the single necessary thing. I guess, the last sentence of the book sums it up quite well – “What is wrong – and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable – is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need”.

So yes, there we go, 5 points that I took out of the book (there’s plenty of other good stuff which I haven’t included though). Busyness is something I continue to struggle with. Hoping that through this busy year of HSC, I place my trust more and more in God, who unlike us, is infinite, is powerful, and is in control.

I want to end with a rather lengthy quote from the book. I think it ties everything above nicely together.

“Busyness is as much as a mind-set and a heart sickness as it is a failure in time management/ It’s possible to live your days in a flurry of hard work, serving, and bearing burdens, and to do so with the right character and a right dependence on God so that it doesn’t feel crazy busy. By the same token, it’s possible to feel amazingly stressed and frenzied while actually accomplishing very little. The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude and trust in the providence of God.”