The Question Of God Summary (8/10) — Unearned Wisdom
Written by Armand M. Nicholi, The Question of Go d reads like a dialogue taking place between the atheist founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and the renown Christian apologetic and former atheist, C.S. Lewis. Throughout the book, we learn about the perspective that both men had on God, evil, morality, love, and death.
Below are the highlights.
Lewis added that among those who believe, another division exists: one group, the Hindus, believe “God is beyond good and evil “; the other group, the Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians believe “God is definitely ‘good’ or ‘righteous,’ a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred.” The biblical worldview states “that God made the world . . . space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables . . .” but also “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.”
But God was not the only supernatural being. There was also “a Dark Power in the universe . . . the Power behind death and disease, and sin . . . [who] was created by God, and [who] was good when he was created, and went wrong.” Lewis asserted that this Dark Power is “ the Prince of this world” and we now live in “enemy-occupied territory.”
Why would a good, omnipotent Creator make a world that could go and has gone so wrong? “God created things which had free will-and free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or joy worth having.” The abuse of this freedom, however, has made the human race a horror to God and to itself. The result is human history, with its slavery, war, prostitution, and poverty, “the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Lewis describes how God has intervened repeatedly in our lives. “First, He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying . . . to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded.” Second, God gave the human race stories “scattered throughout the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men.” Third, God selected a particular people-the Jews-to instruct them in the kind of God he was, “that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct.” The Hebrew Scriptures record this period of instruction.
Then something shocking happened. “Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God.” Lewis wrote that if this man turned up among Hindus or other Pantheists, where people often say they are one with God or a part of God, we could understand his claim. But this man was a Jew, to whom God “meant the Being outside the world Who had made it.” Lewis argued that in this context this man’s claim to be God “was the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.”
Freud’s psychological argument against the spiritual worldview rests on the notion that all religious ideas are rooted in deep-seated wishes and are therefore illusions-false beliefs. He writes in his widely read Future of an Illusion, “We shall tell ourselves that it would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent providence and if there were a moral order in the universe and an afterlife, but it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.”
Freud therefore concludes that belief in God is merely a projection of powerful wishes and inner needs. He writes: “. . . religious ideas, which are given out as teachings . . . are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of these wishes.”
Freud writes in his 1910 paper on Leonardo da Vinci, “has shown us that a personal God is, psychologically, nothing other than an exalted father . . . and it brings us evidence every day of how young people lose their religious beliefs as soon as their father’s authority breaks down.”
C. S. Lewis countered Freud’s wish-fulfillment argument with the assertion that the biblical worldview involves a great deal of despair and pain and is certainly not anything one would wish for.
He argued that understanding this view begins with the realization one is in deep trouble, that one has transgressed the moral law and needs forgiveness and reconciliation. He wrote that this worldview begins to make sense only “after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power.” Only after we realize that our position is “nearly desperate” will we begin to understand the Scriptures.
Although this biblical faith is “a thing of unspeakable comfort,” Lewis wrote, “it does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay.” And “it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.”
Until one experiences the dismay of realizing how far short one falls of meeting the Creator’s standards and how much one needs alteration, one can never experience the comfort of belief. Lewis wrote that in faith “as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth-only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”
In addition, Lewis astutely notes that Freud’s argument stems from his clinical observations that a young child’s feelings toward the father are always characterized by a “particular ambivalence”-i.e., strong positive and strong negative feelings. But if Freud’s observations hold true, these ambivalent wishes can work both ways. Would not the negative part of the ambivalence indicate the wish that God not exist would be as strong as the wish for his existence?
Lewis found this to be true in his own life. He notes in his autobiography that as an atheist his strongest wish was that God not exist. Lewis wanted no one to interfere with his life. “No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference, “ he wrote in Surprised by Joy.
And he found himself acutely aware that the Old and New Testaments “placed at the center what seemed to me a transcendental Interferer.” Atheism appealed to Lewis because it satisfied his deep-seated wish to be left alone.
Freud’s atheism and the atheism Lewis embraced for the first half of his life may be explained in part on the basis of early negative feelings toward their fathers. A considerable amount of evidence supports this notion.
The Moral Law
The universal moral law, according to Lewis, finds expression not only in the Old and the New Testaments but also in our conscience. This law, Lewis thinks, is one of the many signposts pointing to the Creator. Lewis says we have two sources of evidence for the existence of this Creator: “One is the universe He has made . . . the other is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds.” The moral law is better evidence because “it is inside information . . . you find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built.
Freud thought that we learn morality from parents and teachers.
Lewis agrees that we learn the moral law, in part, from our parents and teachers, and that this helps develop our conscience. But this does not mean that the moral law is simply “a human invention.” Lewis explains that our parents and teachers did not make up this law any more than they made up the multiplication tables which they also teach us. He points out that some of what our parents and teachers teach us “are mere conventions which might have been different-we learn to keep to the left of the road, but it might just have been the rule to keep to the right-and others of them, like mathematics, are real truths.”
Mores or customs change with time; morals and the moral law hold firm.
But Freud saw that it was possible for knowledgeable and intelligent people to commit evil acts, such as the Nazis did. Thus, moral knowledge was not a sufficient bulwark against evil.
Freud thought that a child, at about age five, internalizes the morality of their parents. And this becomes their conscience, rather than a divinely given moral law.
C.S Lewis thought that there was a social danger in psychologizing away morality.
When the apostles preached, they could assume even in their Pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving the Divine anger,” Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain. Our culture, Lewis believes, has lost that sensitivity. One reason for this loss “is the effect of Psychoanalysis on the public mind.” “The doctrines of repressions and inhibitions” imply that “the sense of Shame is a dangerous and mischievous thing.” Lewis writes, “We are told to ‘get things out in the open’ . . . on the ground that these ‘things’ are very natural and we need not be ashamed.”
So we tend to accept uncivil behavior-”cowardice, lying, envy, unchastity”-more readily than many earlier cultures. Within this context, Lewis says that the biblical concept of the universal need for atonement and redemption makes little sense.
In a famous passage in Totem and Taboo, Freud explained that he had had a “vision”: “The father of the primal horde, since he was an unlimited despot, had seized all the women for himself; his sons, being dangerous to him as rivals, had been killed or driven away. One day, however, the sons came together . . . to kill and devour their father, who had been their enemy but also their ideal.
Freud imagined that this killing of the father is the deed “from which sprang man’s sense of guilt (or ‘original sin’) and which was the beginning . . . of religion and of ethical restrictions.” Quoting from Faust who paraphrased the Gospel of John, Freud wrote: “‘in the beginning was the Deed Freud developed his theory further by conjecturing that the clan members substituted a totem-usually an animal, for the primal father-and eventually “the primal father, at once feared and hated, revered and envied, became the prototype of God himself.
People feel guilty, according to Freud, not because they break the moral law, but because they have inherited guilt over the killing of the primal father. Depending on one’s worldview, this work is either an extraordinary and daring attempt to rewrite human history, or it is a matter of pure fantasy.
However, even on its own terms, Freud realized a problem. If the killing of the primal father was the beginning of all ethical restrictions, and if his definition of conscience as an internalization of these restrictions holds true, then the sons who killed their father would not yet feel guilty. They had not yet developed a conscience.
Lewis also saw this flaw in Freud’s hypothesis. He pointed out that “attempts to resolve the moral experience into something else always presuppose the very thing they are trying to explain-as when a famous psychoanalyst deduces it from a prehistoric parricide. If the parricide produced a sense of guilt, that was because men felt that they ought not to have committed it: if they did not so feel, it could produce no sense of guilt.”
Freud responds with a semantic shift. He said that the sons who killed their father felt “remorse,” not guilt. It relates only to a deed that has been done, and, of course, it presupposes that a conscience-the readiness to feel guilty-was already in existence before the deed took place.
If we continue to have difficulty with Freud’s reasoning here, we join many of Freud’s biographers, and Freud himself. Freud expressed doubts about his conclusions soon after finishing Totem and Taboo. “I have reverted very much from my original high estimate of the work, and am on the whole critical of it,” he wrote to several of his colleagues. Freud feared a negative reaction to the book; he was right.
A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right . . . Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” Lewis says the more we struggle with our bad impulses, the better we know them. The more we give in to them, the less we understand them. He writes, “Virtue-even attempted virtue-brings light; indulgence brings fog.”
Perhaps, Freud’s life speaks more loudly than his words. Perhaps his recognition of an “impulsion” within himself to be “thoroughly decent” may be a clear indication that, to quote St. Paul, “the law is written on their hearts.” Or, as some scientists have argued recently, this “impulsion” to “be decent” may be an adaptive mechanism that entered the gene pool without divine assistance. Both Lewis and Freud tried to obey the moral law, but only Freud rated his performance by comparing himself with others, concluding that he was “better than most other people.”
Both Lewis and Freud agreed on the most important question concerning the spiritual worldview: Is it true?
The field of psychiatry, strongly influenced by Freud, has tended until relatively recently to ignore the spiritual dimension of a person, and to dismiss all faith as “neurotically determined,” “an illusion,” “a projection of childhood wishes,” “a hallucinatory psychosis,” etc. During the past several years, however, physicians increasingly recognize the importance of understanding the spiritual dimension of their patients. At the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association held in May of 2000, no less than thirteen of the proceedings focused on spiritual issues, the highest number of such events in the history of the organization.
First, Lewis read G. K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man, a book that profoundly impressed him with arguments he later used in his own writings. Chesterton was a prolific British author, journalist, poet, and literary critic.
Then a second event happened that had “a shattering impact.” One of the most militant atheists among the Oxford faculty, T. D. Weldon, sat in Lewis’s room one evening and remarked that the historical authenticity of the Gospels was surprisingly sound. This deeply disturbed Lewis. He immediately understood the implications. If this “hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew” thought the Gospels true, where did that leave him?” In his book Miracles, Lewis explains that God sometimes uses myth to foretell what will eventually occur in history: “.
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened… ,” writes Lewis to Greeves.
He noted both the style and content of the Gospels: “Now as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend (myth) and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don’t work. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us . . . and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so.”
First, Lewis points out that Jesus made the “appalling claim” to be the Messiah, to be God. He quotes Jesus Christ saying, “I am begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am”; Lewis continues: “. . . and remember what the words ‘I am’ were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.” As a philologist, Lewis focuses on passages in the New Testament that refer to Christ as “begotten, not created” and “only begotten son.” Lewis explains that “to beget is to become the father of: to create is to make . . . What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is.”
Lewis noticed that this Person also claimed to forgive sins, to forgive what people did to others. He wrote later: “Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself . . . But what should we make of a man . . . who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money?
Even Freud seemed to realize the uniqueness of this claim. In a letter to Oskar Pfister, Freud writes: “And now, just suppose I said to a patient: ‘I, Professor Sigmund Freud, forgive thee thy sins.’ What a fool I should make of myself.”
Lewis argues that the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah and to forgive sins rules out the possibility of his being simply a great moral teacher. Here he was influenced by Chesterton. In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton pointed out that no great moral teacher ever claimed to be God-not Mohammed, not Micah, not Malachi, or Confucius, or Plato, or Moses, or Buddha: “Not one of them ever made that claim . . . and the greater the man is, the less likely he is to make the very greatest claim.”
The claim of Jesus Christ to be God and to have the authority to forgive sins left only one of three possibilities: he was either deluded or deliberately attempting to deceive his followers for some ulterior purpose, or he was who he claimed to be. As Lewis continued his reading of the New Testament documents, he agreed with Chesterton that the evidence weighed against this Person being evil or psychotic.
Psychiatrists do indeed see people who claim to be God, but they are invariably severely impaired in their functioning and have a distorted concept of reality.
For Lewis the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament did not reflect the teachings of a lunatic. He notes “the general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of His immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purest and best . . . it is full of wisdom and shrewdness . . . the product of a sane mind.
Later he closed a chapter in his most widely read book with “A man who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic . . . or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice . . . 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 with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The word “Gospel” means good news. Chesterton notes that it is “news that seems too good to be true.”
The news is good because it offers a way out of the despair of trying to keep the moral law and failing-as Lewis did. As he continued to read the Bible seriously, he noted that none of the main characters (except one) kept the moral law. Adam blamed Eve for his disobedience-the Fall, which marked the separation of the human race from the Creator and the beginning of disease and death; Abraham lied about his relationship to his wife Sarah; David committed adultery and murder; even the apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus.
All this drove home the point that no one except God Himself could keep the moral law. Transgression of the law separated us from God. All needed atonement-to be reconciled to Him. The New Testament affirmed that God sent His “only begotten Son” to make this reconciliation possible-to redeem us.
Half of all marriages end in divorce. From my clinical practice of many years and my research on young adults who come from divorced families, I can say unequivocally that a great deal of the unhappiness in our society results from failure to understand the distinction between being in love (Eros) and loving in the deeper sense (Agape).
Lewis makes an interesting observation that every form of human love can become a form of idolatry and cause one to commit unloving acts in its name. He writes that love “begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” People tend to do things their conscience would never otherwise allow, all in the name of love. “Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself.”
Lewis writes in The Four Loves: “Love for a woman may cause a man to break his vows and neglect his wife and children, love of country may cause a person to commit unthinkable atrocities and love of the church may motivate people actually to do evil.” “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written,” Lewis declares with his usual candor, “it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery . . . We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.”
Freud kept trying to identify our primary sources of pain, perhaps in an effort to understand his own suffering. He writes in The Future of an Illusion: “There are the elements, which seem to mock at all human control: the earth which quakes and is torn apart and buries all human life and its works; water, which deluges and drowns everything in a turmoil; there are diseases, which we have only recently recognized as attacks on other organisms; and finally there is the painful riddle of death, against which no medicine has yet been found, nor probably will be.”
A few years later, in Civilization and Its Discontents, he adds another source of pain-namely, other human beings. “The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other.” Freud concludes that “life is hard to bear” and often results in “a permanent state of anxious expectation.”
Weltanschauung, “ Freud writes: “. . . the pronouncements of religion promising men protection and happiness if they would only fulfill certain ethical requirements [have] . . . shown themselves unworthy of belief. It seems not to be the case that there is a Power in the universe which watches over the well-being of individuals with parental care and brings all their affairs to a happy ending . . . Earthquakes, tidal waves, conflagrations, make no distinction between the virtuous and pious and the scoundrel or unbeliever.”
When it comes to relations between people, Freud said, the good often come away with the short end of the stick. “Often enough the violent, cunning or ruthless man seizes the envied good things of the world and the pious man goes away empty. Obscure, unfeeling and unloving powers determine men’s fate.” Freud argued that the notion that good is rewarded and evil punished by “the government of the universe” just does not square with reality.
Lewis put it differently, suggesting that the “government of the universe” is temporarily in enemy hands. He writes: “One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe-a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease and sin . . . we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel . . . Enemy occupied territory-that is what this world is.”
Freud’s response to this argument is classic. He says people can’t reconcile their suffering with their concept of a loving God, so they conjure up a devil to take the blame. But even the concept of a devil doesn’t let God off the hook. Freud asks, after all, didn’t God create the devil? In Civilization and Its Discontents, he writes, “The Devil would be the best way out as an excuse for God . . . But even so, one can hold God responsible for the existence of the Devil just as well as for the existence of the wickedness which the Devil embodies.” Lewis agrees that God did create the devil-but that doesn’t make God evil or the creator of evil.
Lewis writes: “This Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong.” He explains the relationship between freedom and the potential for evil. “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong. I cannot. If a thing is free to be good, it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.” So why allow for free will in the first place? He answers: “Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.
But one wonders: did not God know this would happen, that all this evil, this horrible suffering, would result? Lewis writes: “Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.”
Lewis, as an atheist, also found himself angry with God. He writes: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of ‘just’ and ‘ unjust’? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line . . . Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless-I found I was forced to assume that one
part of reality-namely my idea of justice-was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple…”
Lewis points out that the New Testament faith “is not a system into which we have to fit the awkward fact of pain: it is itself one of the awkward facts which have to be fitted into any system we make. In a sense, it creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”
Freud and Lewis both write extensively about the devil. Lewis’s imaginative satire, The Screwtape Letters, presents the correspondence between two devils. Screwtape, the senior of the two, draws on keen psychological insights to instruct his junior nephew on how best to lead humanity astray.
The widespread impact of this book surprised Lewis. In a preface to a revised edition published almost twenty years after the first, Lewis notes that “sales were at first (at least by my standards) prodigious, and have continued steady.” The book’s success contributed to Lewis’s appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Did Lewis actually believe in devils? He answers: “I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils.” He points out that he believes that Satan, “the leader or dictator of devils,” is a fallen angel, and therefore “the opposite, not of God, but of Michael,” the archangel.
Freud points out that feelings toward the father are ambivalent, that is comprised of “two sets of emotional impulses . . . opposed to each other: . . . not only impulses of an affectionate and submissive nature, but also hostile and defiant ones. It is our view that the same ambivalence governs the relations of mankind to its Deity . . . The unresolved conflict between, on the one hand, a longing for the father and, on the other, a fear of him and a son’s defiance of him, has furnished us with an explanation of important characteristics of religion and decisive vicissitudes in it.” The positive feelings reemerge as one’s concept of God; and the negative feelings as one’s concept of the devil.
Last but not least, Lewis agrees with Freud that the pain we experience from other human beings is the cause of most of our suffering. Lewis writes: “When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this perhaps accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.”
As Lewis continued to study the Old and New Testaments, he came to a new understanding of the Creation, the Fall, and the doctrines of Atonement and Redemption. He explained that “God is good; that He made all things good . . . that one of the good things he made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil: and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil . . . man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe-not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will.
The abuse of this free will to transgress the will of the Creator is the primary cause of suffering, illness, and death. In a letter written when Lewis was fifty years old, he explains: “I do not hold that God ‘sends’ sickness or war in the sense in which He sends us all good things.
Hence in Luke XIII:16, Our Lord clearly attributes a disease not to the action of His Father but to that of Satan. I think you are quite right. All suffering arises from sin.”
Lewis says that pain is evil-that God does not produce pain, but will use it to produce good. Many do not acknowledge God until they encounter pain or great danger-for example, when their plane hits turbulence. Lewis writes: “. . . pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” But Lewis warns pain may also drive people away from God.
He writes: “Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion.” Lewis says God may use pain to help us realize our need for Him but sometimes we respond, not by turning to Him, but by turning our backs on Him.
Lewis writes that “if you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.”
To fully live, one must resolve the problem of death. When left unresolved, one spends excessive energy denying it or becoming obsessed with it. Freud left no doubt as to how he handled the problem. He became obsessed with death, extraordinarily fearful and superstitious about it. Freud dreamed about death continually.
In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’s devil encourages murder and suicide. “If he is an emotional, gullible man,” the devil advises his representative on earth to “feed him on minor poets and fifth-rate novelists of the old school until you have made him believe that ‘Love’ is both irresistible and somehow intrinsically meritorious. This belief is not much help, I grant you, in producing casual unchastity; but it is an incomparable recipe for prolonged, ‘noble,’ romantic, tragic adulteries, ending, if all goes well, in murders and suicides . . .”
After his changed worldview, Lewis understood death as a result of the transgression of God’s laws and not part of the original plan. Death is both the result of a Fallen Universe and the the only hope for overcoming the Fall. “There are two attitudes towards Death which the human mind naturally adopts,” Lewis explains in his classic work called Miracles. “One is the lofty view, which reached its greatest intensity among the Stoics, that Death ‘doesn’t matter’ . . . and that we ought to regard it with indifference. The other is the ‘natural’ point of view, implicit in nearly all private conversations on the subject, and in much modern thought about the survival of the human species, that Death is the greatest of all evils.”
But neither of these two views of death reflects the view of the New Testament, which, Lewis says, is considerably more subtle. “On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy.” But Lewis explains that death is not only an enemy that defeats every human being; it is also the means that God uses to redeem us. “On the other hand . . . the death of Christ is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent’ . . . It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is . . . our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.” Lewis reminds his readers that “Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane . . .” and “detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.”
Lewis asserts that the central concept of the New Testament story focuses on death. The death of Jesus of Nazareth “has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.” This particular death “is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world.” He warns that this concept is difficult for the human mind to grasp-but that is to be expected. “Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it wasn’t what it professes to be-the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning.”
Unlike Freud, who hated growing old and who referred to the process continually in negative, pessimistic terms, Lewis appeared to enjoy the process. Writing to a friend a month before his death, he exclaims, “Yes, autumn is the best of the seasons; and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life.”
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Originally published at https://unearnedwisdom.com on February 27, 2022.