Book Two of Mere Christianity is largely concerned with the Christian definition of God—the almighty being who creates the moral law (as discussed in Book One—see above). As Lewis shows, Christians define God as an all-powerful being of infinite goodness. Right away, such a definition raises an important point—if God is infinitely moral and powerful, how could he allow pain, suffering, and other forms of evil in the world? In order to resolve this problem, Lewis will turn to the concept of free will—in other words, human beings’ ability to choose what to do and how to act without being controlled by God, Satan, or anyone else.
Lewis’s first task is to show that God can be infinitely good and yet create a universe with evil in it. He argues that God exists outside of time and space, meaning that he created the universe from nothing (as described in the Biblical Book of Genesis). It’s important to notice that Lewis makes a distinction between God and the universe. Even if the Christian God himself is infinitely good, his creations need not be infinitely good, or even particularly good at all. (In this sense, Lewis claims, Christianity is markedly different from other religions, such as Hinduism, which claims that God is the universe and that apparent evils like pain and disease are actually divinely good.) Lewis, following in the footsteps of the philosopher Plato and the theologian Thomas Aquinas, defines evil as a form of corrupted good; a good impulse that has been twisted or blown out of proportion (for example, alcoholism could be considered a “corruption” of the desire to drink and be merry). In this sense, the Christian God creates a “good” universe, but one in which good has the potential to become evil.
But even if it’s possible for an infinitely good God to create a universe with evil in it, Lewis hasn’t yet shown why God would do so. Lewis’s answer is that, in a universe containing both good and evil, human beings must make a free choice between two moral options. Some human beings will choose to be good and worship God; these people will ascend to Heaven after they die. Others will exercise their free will and choose to embrace evil; they will be punished for their sins. If human beings had no free will, there would be nothing noteworthy about being good: humans would be like robots, mindlessly carrying out whatever commands God gave them. Interpreted in this way, free will is a kind of “gambit” (a short-term sacrifice that enables some greater result). By giving humans the ability to choose evil freely, God leaves some of his own creations to damnation. However, in doing so, God also gives good Christians the chance to be honest, virtuous, and—eventually—to become partly divine (see Theme Five). In all, the existence of free will in Christian theology achieves more than holding human beings accountable for their actions; it arguably legitimizes and justifies the existence of good and evil themselves. Good and evil exist as moral choices for the human race—the punishment for making the wrong choice is severe, but by freely worshipping good, Christians can purify themselves and achieve a state of salvation.
Good, Evil, and Free Will ThemeTracker
Good, Evil, and Free Will Quotes in Mere Christianity
Or put it the other way round. If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves.
Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.
For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.
Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
Badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.
What [science textbooks] do when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually believe. What the scientists believe is a mathematical formula. The pictures are there only to help you understand the formula. They are not really true in the way the formula is; they do not give you the real thing but only something more or less like it. They are only meant to help, and if they do not help you can drop them. The thing itself cannot be pictured, it can only be expressed mathematically. We are in the same boat here.
There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names—Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods […] I am not saying anything about which of these three things is the most essential. My Methodist friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion) about the other two. But I am not going into that. Anyone who professes to teach you Christian doctrine will, in fact, tell you to use all three, and that is enough for our present purpose.
The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education,
must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists—not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time.
Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was.
Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?
Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. […] It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.
That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the Presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people.
Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.
Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
What matters is the nature of the change in itself, not how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.
You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it, but then the moment at which you have done it is already 'Now' for Him.
And the present state of things is this. The two kinds of life are now not only different (they would always have been that) but actually opposed. The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself.
Do not misunderstand me. Of course God regards a nasty nature as a bad and deplorable thing. And, of course, He regards a nice nature as a good thing—good like bread, or sunshine, or water. But these are the good things which He gives and we receive.
Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way (i.e. all reflecting it), they would all look alike? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are.