I find that when I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you, and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” Bus excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean to, you weren’t really to blame…”
Real forgiveness is looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.
The Weight of Glory
Oh what a rare blessing it is to have a Christian psychotherapist! I don’t think your question whether these ones were brought into your life by a “whimsical fate” or by God need detain you long. Once one believes in God at all, surely the question is meaningless? Suppose that in a novel a character gets killed in a railway accident. Is his death due to chance (e.g., the signals being wrong) or to the novelist? Well of course, both. The chance is the way the novelist removes the character at the exact moment his story requires. There’s a good line in Spenser to quote to oneself: “It chanced (almighty God that chance did guide).”
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Mr. Wirt: In your book Surprised by Joy you remark that you were brought into the Faith kicking and struggling and resentful, with eyes darting in every direction looking for an escape. You suggest that you were compelled, as it were, to become a Christian. Do you feel that you made a decision at the time of your conversion?
Lewis: I would not put it that way. What I wrote in Surprised by Joy was that “before God closed in on my, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment wholly free of choice.” But I feel my decision was not so important. I was the object rather than the subject in this affair. I was decided upon. I was glad afterwards at the way it came out, but at the moment what I heard was God saying, “Put down your gun and we’ll talk.”
Mr. Wirt: That sounds to me as if you came to a very definite point of decision.
Lewis: Well, I would say that the most deeply compelled action is also the freest action. By that I mean, no part of you is outside the action. It is a paradox. I expressed it in Surprised by Joy by saying that I chose, yet it really did not seem possible to do the opposite.
God in the Dock
We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact, despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity.
God in the Dock
The great thing is to be always reading but not to get bored—treat it not like work, more as a vice! Your book bill ought to be your greatest extravagance.
C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast table and Other Reminiscences
I think this attitude is the key to diligent scripture reading. I don’t know if I could be very diligent without it.
[The demon Screwtape writes:] Keep [the patient] wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple enquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes and thus enable him by a very little abstinence to imperil your lines of communication. If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and constant fatigue are specially favorable to this virtue. How they can believe this, in the face of the notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked. But we used the schoolmasters to put the story about—men who were really interested in chastity as an excuse for games and therefore recommended games as an aid to chastity.
I note with extreme displeasure that the Enemy [God] has, for the time being, put a forcible end to your direct attacks on the patient’s chastity. You ought to have known that he always does in the end, and you ought to have stopped before you reached that stage. For as things are, your man has now discovered the dangerous truth that these attacks don’t last forever; consequently you cannot use again what is, after all, our best weapon—the belief of ignorant humans, that there is no hope of getting rid of us except by yielding. I suppose you’ve tried persuading him that chastity is unhealthy?
The Screwtape Letters
No amount of failure will really undo us if we keep picking ourselves up each time we shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people” which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think you’re being kind to them when they’re really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people, especially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.
Love of every sort is a guard against lust, even, by a divine paradox, sexual love is a guard against lust. No woman is more easily and painlessly abstained from, if need be, than the woman one loves.
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 per cent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christian though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led be God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.