I humbly accept God’s gift of an idea for a blog post, via C.S. Lewis. I’d just watched a movie—entertaining, but essentially a waste of time—and began thinking in terms of a useful endeavor to make up for the movie. “I know,” I said to myself inaudibly, “I’ll open up Mere Christianity to see if God has something for me from the fruitful mind of Narnia’s creator.” I found the following:
How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good— above all, that we are better than someone else— I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.
Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 124-125). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Professor Lewis dealt with the pride issue as witnessed in Christian circles, but keep in mind that all sorts of religious and non-religious people wallow deeply in vain pride. The “imaginary God” he refers to isn’t imaginary at all. On the contrary, he is quite flesh-and-blood real, and you can stare him right in the eyes using only a mirror. Oh yes, they (or “we,” depending on our spiritual state at any particular moment) give lip service to the Heavenly Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but without the foggiest idea of God’s magnificent greatness. And why is that? You’ve heard the axiom, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” In this application it is, “You can’t see the living God for all the stuff you’ve put ahead of him.”
Thing is, God doesn’t suffer competition. If you’re preoccupied with your own perfection—or making excuses for your own imperfection—he won’t bother revealing himself to you. Often, when people complain of a distant, impersonal God, it’s simply due to their having no room in their lives for the true, living, loving God.
Lewis suggested a test for whether or not you’re in God’s presence. Well, I have a test for the opposite: If you see anyone who is in greater need of the Savior than you, you don’t know God … or yourself. Being “saved, sanctified, and on the Royal Road” doesn’t mean you need Jesus in your life a bit less than the most obnoxious reprobate, but if you see said reprobate as more spiritually needy than yourself, God is closer to him than to you.