Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?
from C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was one
of the brightest Christian apologists of the 20th century. He had a uniquely
practical approach to understanding God and his ways. His casual tone of
writing and simple approach to big issues and fiercely-debated topics makes
his works worthy of reading and re-reading. Many of his essays began as
live radio broadcasts in the 1940s and 50s. The following selection of
quotes shows his approach for explaining who Jesus is and why he matters.
A liar, a lunatic,
or the Son of God
Among [the] Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking
as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed.
He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us
get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that
he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have
heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. 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 offences against himself. You tread on my toe 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 announced that he forgave you for
treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity
is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what
Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited
to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured.
He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the
person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really
was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.
In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what
I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character
Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even his enemies, when
they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and
conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble
and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man,
humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute
to some of His sayings.
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 with any
patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not
left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
– Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter
3 "The Shocking Alternative" (Geoffrey Bles 1952, Macmillan, 1952)
What are we to make of Jesus Christ? This question…has, in a sense,
a frantically comic side. For the real reason is not what are we to make
of Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding
what it is to make of an elephant has comic elements about it. But perhaps
the questioner meant what are we to make of Him in the sense of “How
are we to solve the historical problem set us by the recorded sayings and
acts of this Man?” This problem is to reconcile two things. On the one
hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of his
moral teaching, which is not very seriously questioned, even by those who
are opposed to Christianity….
The other phenomenon is the quite appalling nature of this Man’s theological
remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point
that the appaling claim which this Man seems to be making is not merely
made at one moment of his career. There is, of course, the one moment which
led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him,
“Who are you?” “I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you
shall see Me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the Universe.”….
On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims
which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler
was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there
is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked
him “Are you the son of Brahman?” he would have said, “My son, you are
still in the vale of illusion.” If you had gone to Socrates and asked,
“Are you Zeus?” he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed
and asked, “Are you Allah?” He would first have rent his clothes and the
cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, “Are you heaven?”
I think he would have probably replied, “Remarks which are not in accordance
with nature are in bad taste.” The idea of a great moral teacher saying
what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person
who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering
from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. If you
think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast
to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no
chance for you….
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 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 up to things properly...
[Take, for example] the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection.
It is very necessary to get the story clear. I heard a man say, “The importance
of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that
the human personality survives death.” On that view what happened to Christ
would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that
in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly
not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new
in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death.
The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been
forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival.
I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost- survival. On the contrary,
they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had
had to assure them that He was not a ghost. The point is that while believing
in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different
and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after
death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe.
Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming
of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost”
and “corpse”. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are
we going to make of it?
The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has
said. Other say, “This is the truth about the Universe. This is the
way you ought to go,” but He says, “I am the Truth, and the Way, and the
Life.” He says, “No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me.
Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself
away and you will be saved.” He says, “If you are ashamed of Me, if, when
you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other
way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is
keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it
is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself
first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load,
I will set that right. Your sins, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth,
I am Life. Eat Me, drink Me, I am your food. And finally, do not be afraid,
I have overcome the whole Universe.” That is the issue.”
Them Questions, Third Series, edited by Ronald Selby Wright (OUP, 1050),
also reproduced in Undeceptions (Geofffrey Bles, 1971) and God
in the Dock, Chapter 9 (Fount, 1979)
The way it is
“The present state of things is this…the natural life in each of us
is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired,
to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe.
And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from
anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make
it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual
world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of
a bath. And in a sense, it is quite right. It knows that if
the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centeredness and self-will
are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid
– Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter
5: "The Obstinate Toy Soldiers"
Why this matters
to you individually
God…has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not
have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him
as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, he
died for you individually just a much as if you had been the only man [or
woman] in the world.
– Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter
3 "Time and Beyond Time"(Geoffrey Bles 1952, Macmillan, 1952)
Staples Lewis (1898 – 1963), commonly referred to as C. S.
Lewis and known to his friends and family as Jack, was an Irish-born British
novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian
and Christian apologist. He is also known for his fiction, especially The
Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.
was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, and both authors were leading figures
in the English faculty at Oxford University and in the informal Oxford
literary group known as the "Inklings". According to his memoir Surprised
by Joy, Lewis had been baptised in the Church of Ireland at birth,
but fell away from his faith during his adolescence. Owing to the influence
of Tolkien and other friends, at the age of 32 Lewis returned to Christianity,
becoming "a very ordinary layman of the Church of England". His conversion
had a profound effect on his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on
the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.