Thursday, February 5, 2009

My Need for Other Believers

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis tells of meeting a man who claimed to be "religious." The man said, "I know there's a God. I've felt Him out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery." He went on to explain he didn't believe in Lewis' "little dogmas and formulas about [God, because] to anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty...and unreal."

Lewis agreed with the man, believing he'd truly encountered the Living God, saying, "when he turned from the experience to the Christian creeds [or doctrines], I think he really was turning from something real to something less real." Just as someone looking at the Atlantic Ocean who turns to a map of the Atlantic is looking from something real to something less real. But Lewis found the man's logic to be flawed in this: while a map is only colored paper, it is based on what thousands of people have found by sailing the actual ocean (and now seen from space and satellite images). "In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while ours [is] a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together." Furthermore, "if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But a map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America."

"Doctrines are not God," Lewis adds, "they are only a kind of map...based on the experiences of people who really were in touch with God." But that's why religions based on feelings are so attractive. They are "all thrills and no work: like watching the waves from the beach." But studying the waves will not get you to your destination, "and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God." Feeling your way along isn't usually very safe, either.

That's why I want to know more of Christian history and need a regular gathering of believers in study and worship. I can draw on their knowledge and experience and evaluate it in light of my own. Knowing how others with orthodox faith rooted in the New Testament church have seen God act throughout the centuries and today validates my experiences or calls into question my faulty assumptions. Then, I'm living on faith, and not feeling, because God's character has been tested and proven dependable, incorruptible and true, and I'm not swayed with doubts "like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6).

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