C.S. Lewis and Conscience

CS Lewis Photo

I’ve recently been interested in re-learning how to speak to people who don’t believe what I do about God.

When I think back to my undergraduate days, I have to face the facts that I was an evangelistic flop. I didn’t “convert” anybody, though I can’t say I didn’t try, and hard. Despite all my efforts, I couldn’t by reasoning alone strong-arm any of my friends to Christ. Their postmodern worldview juked my Christian tackle and they proceeded, unfazed. I’ve since come to the realize that reasoning alone won’t do, but the Lord, through His Word, prayer, and the life-giving Spirit can raise the dead.

That said, I’m still the reasoning type, and have been delving into CS Lewis’ masterpiece, Mere Christianity, to learn how he explains what Christians believe to his countrymen. The first point he makes in that book inspired this post.

(As a note, the origin of the book itself is interesting: During World War II, Lewis was asked by BBC to explain Christianity to all of England over the air in a series of talks. He graciously did just that, and those talks became Mere Christianity.)

Lewis aims at the layman, the nonbeliever who hasn’t yet committed to anything, who does not care for the minor doctrinal quarrels among Christians. He is interested firstly whether he has to worry about God at all. Let’s just say Lewis blows the layman’s mind.

How Lewis Gets Man to Face the Facts

 

To that man who questions the necessity of God, Lewis asks him to consider something he need not question: that he, along with all other men, have some kind of standard for right and wrong which he lives by. Call it the law of human nature, Tao, or something else, but it means that we know right and wrong, and should live according to right.

I’ll give my own examples, by the way, but consider this: when we go out to dinner, we know that whoever pays will be an issue. It must be – whoever pays needs to give up something – whoever doesn’t needs to render gratitude. Labor and compensation similarly is built upon fairness. One comical example of fairness extorted is when the son of a frequent business traveler finds himself – by virtue of his father’s executive platinum status – sitting in a free upgraded business class seat next to someone whose company paid five times what he did. No doubt he smiles to himself, thinking he’s come out ahead on this one. The very fact that he’s pleased shows that he knows what’s fair.

The Law of Human Nature being Unique

 

Two laws are apparent in this scenario of the boy in business class. While the boy is experiencing his “rights” as a business class passenger, the plane is experiencing the law of aerodynamics.

But there’s a big difference between what the boy experiences and what the plane experiences. The law of the good boy states that he should not smirk and boast of being in that cabin at such a low price (and if he does, we’ll hold him as a little jerk). The law of aerodynamics, on the other hand, simply states that a certain amount of lift will overcome the law of gravity, and thus the plane is airborne.

Rather than describe only what actually happens as do the laws of gravity and aerodynamics, the law of human nature describes what should happen. The fatal flaw, though, is that nobody really lives under that law. You don’t have to be very old to know that when you should keep quiet you laugh, or when you should help your buddy you shy away. So we’re faced with a very interesting dilemma. We know within ourselves that we should be just, loving, pure, and faithful and so on, but we find that we and everyone we know are extortionate, loveless, mixed, and unfaithful.

What the Law of Human Nature Indicates

 

The human condition is of believing in a real right and wrong, yet knowing that oneself is wrong, and further that none of us is really right.

Sound like Romans 3:23? Lewis thus uses man’s conscience as the key through which he presents the existence of God. Simply put, he states that the existence of a real right and wrong (and not just some human instinct) must indicate that Something or Someone put it there to act upon us. He goes further to prove that that Someone is necessarily supremely good, since evil is actually never extant of itself. Finally he concludes that since all of us are obviously wrong in so many ways, we are in deep trouble. Now we’re ready for the gospel.

Since I was also fascinated by how Lewis dealt with some of the objections to a universal right and wrong, I’m hoping to post those in a follow-up soon.

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8 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis and Conscience

  1. Welllllllllllllllllllll, a we bit too much mental reasoning for me. I’m not sure such an approach would have reached me. What I really got touched by was talking with someone who really knew the Bible, and turned on some lights for me concerning what that book is all about.

    1. Todd, I appreciate your feedback and hearing what did work for you. My own experience tells me that reasoning alone is limited. I don’t plan on spending too much time on this line, but I need to do one more follow up post.

  2. Wow, this is a good way to get to the conscience. I’ve heard before that to preach the gospel to people, we often must touch people’s conscience before they realize that they need to receive the Lord. Although some people may respond by denying the fact that this Someone exists, they can’t deny that there is nothing wrong with the contradiction in the fallen human condition.

    1. I’ve heard the same thing about conscience. If we can bring people to the sense of their need for God much ground will have been covered. I bet we could learn much from Paul’s gospel messages; I’d like to take some time to dig through them.

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