Mere Christianity, Book Two, Chapter 3: “The Shocking Alternative”

Mere Christianity Leaders’ notes:

  • Christians believe that “an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World.”
  • Problem: Is this in accordance with God’s will?
  • “If it is, He is a strange God… and if it is not, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?”
  • God created things with free will
    • Free will means those things can go right or wrong
    • Free will makes evil possible
    • “… Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata — of creatures that worked like machines — would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.”

    • “Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently he thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong and more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will — that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings — then we may take it it is worth paying.”

  • The better stuff something is made of (“the cleverer and stronger and freer it is”), the better it is when it works right and the worse it is when things go wrong.
  • “How did the Dark Power go wrong?”
    • having a ‘self’ gives us the opportunity to put ourselves first — before God.
    • wanting to be the center — wanting to be God.
    • Lucifer tried to become God
    • Satan (the fallen Lucifer) put the seed of “becoming like God” into Eve’s (and presumably Adam’s) ear.
    • “And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

    • [I call this The Sin. Because, really, there is only one sin — putting ourselves before or in place of God. Any time we try to replace God with food or drugs or sex or relationships or money or perversions, we are ultimately trying to put ourselves in the place of God. Atheism is the perfect example of people who would rather worship themselves than to worship God.]
  • Why it will never succeed
    • “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on [gasoline], and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

    • This is the key to history — civilizations grow up with good institutions, but always a fatal flaw brings the evil and corrupt people to power, and it crumbles, and the machines grinds down on itself. “They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”
  • So, what did God do about this?
    • He left us our conscience, telling us right from wrong.
    • He sent “good dreams”: those “queer stories” about a God that comes to men and dies and returns to life — a story that is scattered across all cultures and people.
    • He called out the Jews, and revealed Himself to them through history

The the shock!

  • a man turns up among the Jews who “goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He is has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.”
  • This is particularly strange because, although this would be of no special account among pantheists, this is completely outside of Judaism.
  • Coming from a Jew, the claim to be God cannot be dismissed as anything other than the Christian understanding of Jesus being the creator.

Special note — the claim to forgive sins

  • Sometimes we fail to grasp the power of Jesus’ claim to forgive sins.

    “I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announces that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money?”

  • This is exactly what Jesus did!
  • Jesus acted as if he were the party principally offended by all sins!
  • How absurd!
  • We are not given the impression that his enemies found him silly, conceited or comical or insane.
  • He describes himself and “humble and meek,” and yet this behavior is completely opposite of that…

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. 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. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come away with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Two, Chapter 4: “The Perfect Penitent” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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