A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Most of the man’s psychological make up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst of this raw material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises. (p. 91-92).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
It would again to be easy to jump into the disease-model debate regarding addictions, depression and the like. But if we engage that debate at every opportunity, we will miss many other relevant and beneficial discussions.
In this quote, we do find Lewis adding something unique to the modern conversation. Lewis attributes both desirable and undesirable traits to human physiology. Too often in modern conversations desirable traits are assumed to be “me” and undesirable traits “not me.”
We are willing to receive credit for our biological advantages, but not willing to take responsibility for our biological disadvantages. Both exist. The question is not whether some people are predisposed to addiction, depression, or numerous other vices – and virtues (in my opinion). The question is, “How should we think about responsibility in light of these responsibilities?”
In the purely volitional realm, no one will ever become an alcoholic without taking the first drink. But that cannot be where the responsibility question ends. Yet depression is harder to discern than addiction. One cannot abstain from the emotional ups and downs of life.
The question does not even end at the point of deciding whether medication is a legitimate or wise option. Medication alone cannot reverse the decision to drink or give hope. In their best usage they curb an urge, make one nauseous for succumbing to drinking, or create a stabilized-to-flat-line emotional effect.
Decisions still have to be made, relationships engaged, work done, and life lived. Even if medication is chosen, the question of responsibility is not answered or bypassed. C.S. Lewis’ point (as I understand it) is that we all have a “me” which exists inside our physical body which is tainted by the Fall. The brokenness (and blessedness) that exists in our physical body influences our “me” for better or worse.
Interlude: Our “me” is also tainted because of the Fall. Our “me” is not innocent or inherently good only to be corrupted by culture and our broken body. This is why Lewis does not vilify the body and even presents the likelihood that some people’s physical giftedness hides the degree of corruption in their soul.
So what do we take away from this reflection? If we understood the influence of our body and valued the judgment of God correctly, then it would be a significant remedy for our insecurity. We would not be competing (another way to say comparing ourselves) with other people. That exercise would reveal itself to be comparing apples to oranges.
Our goal would be simply to steward the life we have been given, in the body we have been given to live it, for the glory of God. Other people would exist to be blessed by and join us on that journey, not as the benchmark of whether we were making progress on that journey.