C.S. Lewis, On Keeping God Out of the Box, and Ourselves In It


TO MRS. JOHNSON: On God’s unique way with each soul, even in the pattern of conversion; and on various Christian nonessentials.

2 March 1955

It is right and inevitable that we should be much concerned about the salvation of those we love. But we must be careful not to expect or demand that their salvation should conform to some ready-made pattern of our own. Some Protestant sects have gone very wrong about this. They have a whole programme of ‘conviction’, ‘conversion,’ et cetera, marked out, the same for everyone, and will not believe that anyone can be saved who doesn’t go through it ‘just so’. But (see the last chapter of Problem of Pain) God has His own unique way with each soul.

There is no evidence that St. John even underwent the same kind of ‘conversion’ as St. Paul. It’s not essential to believe in the devil; and I’m sure a man can get to Heaven without being accurate about Methuselah’s age. Also, as (George) MacDonald says, ‘the time for saying comes seldom, the time for being is always there.’ What we practice, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Though my title deviates from that of Bible Gateway’sI think I’m not too far off. All of us sport opinions about everything we encounter, certainly not the least of which is religious doctrine. All religious fundamentalists believe there is one Truth. The problem arises when each-and-every-blessed-one believes their personal version of that truth is the only God-ordained Truth, and anyone who disagrees is an infidel, headed for eternal perdition. And some fundamentalists feel divinely commissioned to help said infidels along their way.

As the above excerpt comes from a Christian perspective, many good Christians will take offense at Lewis’ position as being relativistic, which proves my point rather well. One would be well advised to observe Jesus’ practice concerning doctrinal debate: As far as I can remember, he only engaged in such debate once (please bear with me if I’m wrong), which is recorded in Matthew 22:23-33, and unlike our debates, involved anything but a trivial matter.

Now, to the box in which we should confine ourselves: the Christ-shaped box for which unbelievers are searching. Many boxes exist, making their search akin to finding a needle-in-a-haystack, or more appropriately, a box in a warehouse. All but a precious few of those millions of boxes are mislabeled, which makes the search seem impossible, and explains why so many searchers have given up.

So, why can’t we just be what we say we are, Christ-followers?

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