A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“If a man asked what was the point of playing football, it would not be much good saying ‘in order to score goals’, for trying to score goals is the game itself, not the reason for the game, and you would really only be saying that football was football—which is true, but not worth saying. In the same way, if a man asks what is the point of behaving decently, it is no good replying, ‘in order to benefit society’, for trying to benefit society, in other words being unselfish (for ‘society’ after all only means ‘other people’), is one of the things decent behavior consists in; all you are really saying is that decent behavior is decent behavior. You would have said just as much if you had stopped at the statement, ‘Men ought to be unselfish’(p.20).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
How often do we answer difficult questions by restating them? The strange thing is that we often answer simple questions the same way. We say that the point of playing football is to “score points” rather than for personal enjoyment, to make money, release aggression, or overcome an insecurity complex. We feel sheepish about saying that the point of being good is to fulfill our created design by glorifying God and reflecting His character (because it would offend those who are not “being good”). Therefore, we answer by giving an alternative definition of good rather than a purpose statement.
In the end we say many things not worth being said, so our culture (or children, friends, family, etc…) stop listening. Then we get offended and indignant that nobody wants to take God, the Bible, or Christianity seriously.
What is the solution?
First, think about the questions we are asked. I believe we have devalued the importance of questions too much. We assume we know what people are asking and that people know the signifi
cance of what they are asking. When someone asks “What does it mean to be good?” they may only be asking how to get a raise at work, win the affection of their crush, or avoid detention. Any one of these answers reveals the “heaven” that is being pursued by that individual and your answer will be a type of “gospel” to take them there. Consider Jesus’ conversation with the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-31).
This does not mean that we need to be perpetual philosophers, but it does mean that we need to consider the question being asked. Consider the heaven/gospel dynamic in the wife who asks “Why don’t you love me?” or the husband who asks “Why won’t you respect me?” Both of these may be very legitimate marital questions, but they might also reveal an expectation that our spouse be our Messiah. We will never know until we take questions more seriously – often by following Jesus’ habit of exploring a question with a question.
Second, say things worth saying. Only when we have considered a question will we be able to say something worth saying. By listening better we know our audience and subject better. We also have learned things about the connection between them.
In cooking, cheap ingredients make for an inferior meal. In construction, low grade materials make for a less durable product. In relationships, hasty listening and answers produce meaningless (not worth saying) answers. This is not the product of ignorance (although we often become defensively insulted when our audience is unimpressed), but negligence.
Third, remember it is only grace that gives “ears to hear.” This is true of us as we listen to the question and our friend as they listen to our answers. When we grasp this we are less likely to enter into a debative tone in our conversations. We are praying for the ability to really hear what is being asked of us. We, therefore, honor our friend. We are also humble in our presentation, realizing that receptiveness is a condition of their heart before God rather than their opinion of us. As we use these realizations to diminish the level of personalization during conversation we will see more of what really matters and say more things worth saying.