Book IV: Beyond personality… (Continued)
I continue flitting about the book and alighting on points I deem interesting.
Nice people or new men
God demands perfection from us. Of course, we cannot achieve it on our own without help from Him who demands it. It would therefore logically follow that Christians would be the nicest people around.It doesn’t take much to notice that we aren’t, and Lewis asks why in this chapter.
If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians? What lies behind that question is partly something very reasonable and partly something that is not reasonable at all.The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity make no improvement in a man’s outward actions … then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary… Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in illness ‘feeling better’ is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up. … In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit … When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.
That last line sounds a lot like the Apostles’ call to make the gospel attractive. Even without quoting the Bible, Lewis makes very biblical arguments.
Going on to the illogical part of the question, Lewis says that the situation in the real world is complicated, as the world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 per cent non-Christians. The comparison of who is nicer therefore falls apart at some point. But what if, instead of generalising, we decide to compare two real people in our neighbourhood?
Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one. … Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so.
It is secondary whether the natures of the people in question are nasty or nice. The main issue is whether they will offer their natures to God for Him to change them. Nice Dick has the chance to allow God to turn his nature into the beauty of an eternal spirit, and he hasn’t yet taken it.
There is a paradox here. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realises that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God—it is just then that it begins to be really his own.
We shouldn’t be surprised if we find a number of nasty Christians, after all, Christ came for those who need a doctor, not for those who are well. “If you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily to you—beware!” Beware because it may be harder for you to recognise your need for Christ.
[R]edemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.