The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

Christianity is Hard and Easy

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Typically, when we come to believe something, we simply add that belief to other beliefs that we already have. When we join or agree to something, we simply add that association in with the other things that we are already about.

CS Lewis says:

The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else call it “morality” or “decent behavior,” or “the good of society” has claims on this self:  claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by “being good” is giving in to those claims…But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on.

 

But Christianity is not like this.

We don’t join a club that meets on Sunday mornings and leaves the rest of our lives alone. At least we don’t if we take the teachings Jesus seriously. The call of the gospel is complete. It is for our whole lives. There is no piece of one’s life that remains untouched given the strong claims Jesus makes. Jesus says that to follow him, we must take up our cross. Just think about how drastic this is. He likens our call to discipleship to being on the way to one’s own execution. When it was time for a prisoner to take up his cross, the prisoner’s life was over with no exceptions. At least in prison, there is something of a life, albeit one that is highly regulated and hindered in various ways. All of that is past as one shoulders one’s own death instrument.

Lewis goes on:

The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself; my own will shall become yours”

 

The call of the gospel is to make Jesus Lord. And this is hard indeed. We like being lord. It fights against everything deep within us to not be lord. Many religious folks have never accepted the gospel precisely because they approach religion on their own terms. They remain lord over their religious activities. But notice that is not the Christian gospel. The gospel calls for our entire selves with all of its desires, plans for career, relationships, our marriage or whether we’ll even get married, our children, our commitments, goals, wishes, hopes, etc. It requires all of that. Anyone who thinks this is a breeze has likely only joined the club of Christianity that meets on Sunday mornings for a moderately enjoyable time of music, community and coffee. The genuine call of discipleship, by contrast, is a hard call indeed.

But it is a good call and it is life. In fact, according to Lewis, there’s a sense in which it is easy.

He says:

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way—centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.

 

The problem is that we can’t remain lord, as tempting as it may be, and find genuine satisfaction. When our lives are all about us, then even our best of moral actions are hollow attempts at pleasure. For example, if it’s all about us and we agree to help a friend, it seems we will only be using our friend for the pleasure it brings (or perhaps the pleasure it brings later given that our friend now “owes us one”). But this is hollow and fleeting. With our own pleasure as our goal, we often find ourselves miserable. This is the (so-called) paradox of hedonism.

Again, most religious folks make Christianity all about them. But Christianity as a mere religion (i.e., devoid of the gospel) is not all that great. There are, it seems to me, far better and more interesting religious traditions. Christianity, qua religious tradition, especially the protestant and non-liturgical version is average, at best!

But there’s the gospel. And it is good news.

Lewis goes on:

And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

 

Christianity is easy precisely because it is not about trying hard. It is not about trying at all. It is about stopping. It’s about giving up. You literally cannot set out to make, through effort, Christ Lord of one’s life. If we are using efforts to achieve this end, then we back to only being religious. We are forcing Christianity on our own terms and we haven’t accepted the gospel. The gospel is one of surrender of taking up one’s cross. Though this is extremely hard, in one sense, it is extremely easy, in another, since there is nothing I have to do.

It is why Jesus can say that his “yoke is easy.” A yoke is only easy when the young ox stops striving against and submits to the older and larger ox. There is, according to Jesus, rest to be found here to the extent that he calls all who are weary and all who are heavy laden to come.

Though it is hard, it is what makes us whole. It is in giving up our efforts for pleasure where we find genuine pleasure.

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One Reply

  1. Excellent thoughts. I tried for a long time to hold on to my control and it wrecked havoc in my life. Now trying more and more to make him Lord — “Jesus take the wheel.”