Mere Christianity, Book Four, Chapter 7: “Let’s Pretend”

Two pictures:

  • Beauty and the Beast
  • A masked man

This is a discussion about practice, the things we do as Christians.

  • When we say “Father,” we are pretending to be sons of God.
    • We are ‘dressing up’ as Christ
    • We find it absurd
    • We also find that we are instructed to do this
  • Why pretend?
    • We often find that when we pretend to be better than we are, we end up being better than we were
    • Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.
    • This is why children’s games are important — they forge the characteristics we want them to have as adults.
  • When we ‘dress up as Christ,’ when we pray…
    • We will usually have some failure of our own come to mind
    • If that failure is something we should be doing instead of praying, we should get up and go do it — now
  • This is how God shapes us through our prayer life
    • Our conscience would answer any question one way
    • Our ‘putting on Christ’ will lead us to a different answer
    • Attempting to ‘put on Christ’ leads us to “more like painting a portrait than like obeying a set of rules.”
    • “And the odd thing is that while in one way it is much harder than keeping rules, in another way it is far easier.”
  • The real Son of God is at our side
    • He is turning us into something like Himself
    • He is ‘injecting’ his Zoe into us: the tin coming to life
    • The part of us that does not like it is the part that is still ‘tin’
  • Some people may feel like this “Jesus beside us” has never happened
    • That other people have helped them, but not an invisible Christ
    • Illustration of the woman who wasn’t worried about a bread shortage because her family always ate toast!
    • Christ very often helps us by helping other people help us
    • “He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences which seem (at the time) anti-Christian.”
    • Mostly Christ works in us by working on us through each other
  • Men are ‘mirrors’ or ‘carriers’ of Christ to other men
    • Sometimes unconsciously
    • Sometimes unwittingly through unbelievers
    • This is why the Church (the whole body of believers) is so important
  • It is natural for ‘babies’ and you believers to not see Christ working through the people who help them
    • But we must not remain babies
    • We must start to see the Real Helper/Giver
    • If we don’t realize that it is Christ helping us through others, we are heading for disaster
      • All people fail, stumble, die
      • We must be thankful for those God worked through in our lives, thank them, honor them, love them
      • “But never, never pin your whole faith on any human being: not if he is the best and wisest in the whole world. There are lots of nice things you can do with sand: but do not try building a house on it.”
  • Now we are starting to see what the New Testament is saying
    • Christians are born again
    • we ‘put on Christ’
    • Christ is ‘formed in us’
    • we should have the ‘mind of Christ’
  • These are not fanciful words

Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out – as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity. And soon we make two other discoveries.

  • 1) We begin to be alarmed at not only what we do, but what we are — sinners
    • We always have excuses for our failings
    • Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.

    • The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul.

    • The cellar is our unconscious will
    • While we have some control over our actions; we have no direct control over our temperament
    • If what we are is more important than what we do, what we do is the evidence of what we are (!)
    • So, the changes we need to make, or need made, are beyond our voluntary efforts…
    • And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act?

    • But we can’t give ourselves new motives
    • After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

  • 2) Up until now, Lewis has been speaking largely as if we did all of the doing
    • In reality, God must do everything and anything
    • We ‘allow’ it to be done to us (human responsibility meets divine sovereignty)
    • In a sense you might even say it is God who does the pretending. The Three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a self-centred, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says `Let us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is also like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were what in fact it is not. Let us pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality.’ God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one. I daresay this idea of a divine make-believe sounds rather strange at first. But, is it so strange really? Is not that how the higher thing always raises the lower? A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does. We treat our dogs as if they were ‘almost human’: that is why they really become `almost human’ in the end.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Four, Chapter 8: “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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