To be a Christian, Lewis claims, one must accept that the Devil has come to power on Earth. It’s very hard for people to believe this. In order to believe that God is good and the human world has become mostly evil, one must believe in the concept of free will. God makes human beings with a choice about how to behave—they can choose to obey God or disobey him.
In this chapter, Lewis confronts the concept of free will—in other words, that human capacity to choose between good and evil.
The great advantage of free will is that it makes love, goodness, and joy possible—if humans had no choice but to all behave the same, then there would be nothing special about their actions, and therefore no sense of pride or pleasure in them.
If humans didn’t have the gift of free will, then they wouldn’t have any choice in their actions—and therefore, there would be nothing impressive or even meaningful about their obeying moral law.
One might want to “disagree with God” about the problem of free will and say that the evil in the world isn’t a fair “price to pay” for our free will. The problem with disagreeing with God, however, is that God is the source of the disagreeing person’s brainpower. Put another way, arguing against God is like “cutting off the branch you are sitting on.” Perhaps we should just accept that God is right about free will and evil and leave it at that.
Here, Lewis doesn’t offer a logical defense of the concept of free will itself; he points out the fallacy of disagreeing with (an assumedly omnipotent) God about free will. For Lewis, it is only possible for a human being to object to the concept of free will because God gave that human free will in the first place—and so it would just be best to accept the doctrine of free will.
But how did Satan come to pervert God’s goodness into evil? While the Bible doesn’t specifically answer this question, we can guess, based on our own human experiences, that Satan wanted to “be God”—or, rather, be more powerful than God. Some people say that Satan corrupted mankind through sexuality, but the Bible says otherwise. Satan corrupted Adam and Eve by convincing them that they should be more powerful than God and eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. All human suffering is the result of Adam and Eve’s selfish desire to be as powerful as God.
Lewis sees the original human sin as a desire for power and superiority—Adam and Eve wanted to rise above God, and therefore they accepted Satan’s advice to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Lewis does, however, acknowledge that not all Christians agree with his interpretation, and that the Bible is not explicitly clear about the nature of Satan’s sin.
The great flaw in Satan’s revolt against God, and in Adam and Eve’s desire to be more powerful than God, is that it’s impossible to be happy and independent of God. God is the source of all happiness; he is like the “fuel” that supplies our pleasure. Therefore, all attempts to be happy independent of God are bound to fail. Human history is, in a sense, the story of humans’ failed attempts to find something with which to replace God. Every time humans try to find an adequate replacement for God, something goes horribly wrong.
Throughout human history, Lewis claims, people have tried to find alternate sources of happiness, but in the end, they’ve found that the worship of God is the only true source of joy. Lewis here arguably alludes to the atrocities of World War II, including the Holocaust—which have sometimes been analyzed as the result of mankind’s turning away from God.
We can study the presence of God throughout history. Over the course of millennia, Lewis claims, God “scattered” different versions of the story of Christ throughout different civilizations: in each version, a young god sacrifices his life for the good of others. God also chose the Jews to carry his laws for millennia. The Old Testament of the Bible, Lewis argues, is the account of how God “hammered” into the Jews’ heads what his laws were.
Lewis gives the impression that God had to spend thousands of years preparing humankind for the coming of Jesus Christ: first by scattering Christ-stories around the globe, and then by teaching the Jews the moral code of the Old Testament (which Christ would largely reject). However, Lewis doesn’t go into detail about why, precisely, all these thousands of years of “preparation” were necessary on an individual level.
The next step in history was the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ was unique because he claimed that he forgave sins and that God would judge the world at the end of time. Christ also claimed to be a “part of God.” For a Hindu, the idea of being a part of God wouldn’t be very surprising, since, by definition, everyone is a part of God. But Christ was a Jew, meaning that his claim to be a part of God was truly radical.
From the beginning, Lewis portrays Christ as an utterly unique being—both human and superhuman. Though Christ walked on the Earth as he preached to his followers, he also made claims about himself that suggested that he was supernatural.
Lewis now looks at Christ’s teachings in more detail. First, he claimed that he could forgive sins. The idea that a man could forgive other people their sins would be arrogant, and “asinine”—unless that man were a part of God. When we read the Gospels, it’s interesting to notice how humble Christ is. If Christ were “merely a man,” Lewis argues, nobody could possibly describe him as humble, though, considering what he said. The idea that Lewis has been getting at is that it’s impossible to believe in Christ’s teachings and believe that he was anything other than a part of God. There are too many people, Lewis claims, who say that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not divine. Lewis insists that people must decide—either Christ was a great teacher, or he was just a man, and a madman at that. The notion that Christ was a great human teacher is nothing but “patronizing nonsense.”
Christ could not have been a mere man and also been a humble man—since he made many statements that alluded to his own divinity. Lewis’s point is to respond to the often-popular theory of “the historical Jesus.” During Lewis’s lifetime, many of his peers gravitated toward the idea that Christ, while a great moral thinker, was not divine. Lewis’s rebuttal to such a theory is that it’s inconsistent: Christ can either be a great moral teacher or a man, but not both at once. The passage is one of the most famous in the book, and it’s sometimes called the “Christian trilemma”—the idea that one must make a decision about Christ: either he was divine, lying, or crazy.