Thursday, September 2, 2010

What have we done by violating the moral law?

[W]e have not yet got as far as a personal God—only as far as a power, behind the Moral Law, and more like a mind than it is like anything else. But it may still be very unlike a Person. If it is pure impersonal mind, there may be no sense in asking it to make allowances for you or let you off,math-girl just as there is no sense in asking the multiplication table to let you off when you do your sums wrong. You are bound to get the wrong answer. And it is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort—an impersonal absolute goodness—then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952, this edition: 2001) 30-31.


  1. "We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it."

    Now we're getting to the real meat, aren't we?

  2. Quite sobering. God is the only comfort, He is also the Supreme terror. Unfortunately I have seen both sides.

  3. How good are you at accepting constructive criticism? I now have read your posting 3 times and I am having difficulty getting my head around at what you are trying to say. Quite obviously Margaret E. understood it.

    I sense some grammatical issues.

    Your statement below puzzles me.

    "We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from."

    You are describing God as a paradox which He is not.

    God is indeed a comfort to all John 3:16 reveals Him as He truly is. I do have difficulty with supreme terror. Suppose that you are a parent. You obviously love your child but I cannot perceive you a terror to that same child that you love so dearly that may have offended you or disobeyed.

    Again goodness can never be a danger go read John 3:16 again and again untill it permeates your whole being.

    I must confess I have fallen short, too numerous to mention and God has never been a terror or abandoned me, it was always I that has broken that connection that He desires to have with me and each and everyone of us.

    It is guilt that causes us to hide from Him like Adam and Eve did in the garden, and who was the cause behind the guilt, certainly not God our Father.

  4. First of all, Anonymous, Ken will not be hurt by your constructive criticism, because this is not his work. Your issue is not with Ken, but with the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, whom Ken is merely quoting. This is a passage from Lewis' famous compilation of radio essays called "Mere Christianity."

    Perhaps I understand this passage because I've read the whole book, and I know that Lewis' argument doesn't end here. If you continue to follow this blog, day by day (and you may need to back track a little), you'll see that argument unfold and I believe all will become clear! Lewis, here, is talking about God in all His wonderful, terrible, unreachable perfection. This is God as "The Law." Lewis is setting up the "problem," but has not yet given us the "solution," which is where John 3:16 enters the scene. Just keep reading to see how Lewis gets us there!

  5. My apologies to the blog master.

  6. Anonymous,

    Sorry if today's reading was puzzling. I'm trying to do a tricky thing -- take an argument which C.S. Lewis develops over 32 pages, trim it down and then cut it up into daily snippets. It's more challenging than I thought it would be.

    If you want to better understand today's reading, I would recommend reading from the August 19 reading back through to today. It will make much more sense.

    The heart of today's reading is that within each human being is a deep awareness of right and wrong. And not only that but a clear sense that I have fallen short of what I "ought" to have done. God is good, but I am not.

    Lewis's argument is philosophical and reflective, but this notion of God's goodness and my own sense of how short I've fallen even of the moral law within me is not unlike the experience of Isaiah (see chapter 6).

    And Gary... You said, "God is the only comfort, He is also the Supreme terror. Unfortunately I have seen both sides." I'm pretty sure Lewis would say "Fortunately, you have seen both sides." You've had an Isaiah 6 experience and lived! God has changed you and given you a whole new life. Hallelujah!