–Originally published on FWB21 May 2, 2011–
My previous post covered Lewis’ take on Faith in the first sense: Belief. His comments concerning the second, higher sense are even more compelling, for I have personally experienced that of which he speaks:
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. … Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. … The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues is that we fail. …
Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have… is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.
Lewis compares our doing anything for God, or giving something to Him, to a child asking his father for sixpence to buy him a birthday present: Only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. Thank you, Mr. Lewis, for your candor. If I didn’t get it before, I certainly do now.
In the next chapter, Lewis expands:
I said just now that the question of Faith in this [higher] sense arises after a man has tried his level best to practice the Christian virtues, and found that he fails, and seen that even if he could he would only be giving back to God what was already God’s own. In other words, he discovers his bankruptcy. … As long as man is thinking of God as an examiner who has set him a sort of paper to do, or as the opposite party in a sort of bargain… he is not yet in the right relation to Him. He is misunderstanding what he is and what God is. And he cannot get into the right relation until he has discovered the fact of our bankruptcy.
When I say ‘discovered,’ I mean really discovered: not simply said it parrot-fashion. Of course, any child, if given a certain kind of religious education, will soon learn to say that we have nothing to offer God that is not already His own and that we find ourselves failing to offer even that without keeping something back. But I am talking of really discovering this: really finding out by experience that it is true.
Before I go on, let me just interject here that this experiential discovery for me took place not in childhood–when I made a profession of faith at age 6–but in college. It was not till then that I felt the true weight and reality of my sin.
Now we cannot, in that sense, discover our failure to keep God’s law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good.
Though I had been taught the proper theological answers growing up, I had just this sort of complex about my own goodness. Though I could talk intelligently about sin, I did not completely comprehend it in a spiritual, experiential sense until college. It was then–and gradually so–that I became fully aware of the blackness and depravity of my own heart and my complete inability to keep God’s law–not externally, but internally.
The thing I am talking of now may not happen to every one in a sudden flash–as it did to St Paul or Bunyan: it may be so gradual that no one could ever point to a particular hour or even a particular year. And what matters is the nature of the change itself, not how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.
… The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. … And, in yet another sense, handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says.
…[I]f what you call your ‘faith’ in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all–not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.
The question floating around my mind is this: how do I go about helping my children to know this Truth themselves, not simply in “parrot-fashion,” as I did for so many years, but experientially? I realize that, ultimately, it is beyond my power and something of which I must plead for the Holy Spirit’s intervention. Yet, I wonder, are there things I could avoid doing that might impede this realization from happening naturally? At such a young age, it would be easy to influence my son to only act a certain way, or repeat a certain prayer, or parrot back the right answers to the questions… How do I get past those externals to his heart? How do I help him truly know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?
Father, give us wisdom!