David Westerfield

Theology. Culture. Technology.

C.S. Lewis, a Thought from a Quote in Mere Christianity


“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (p.50, Mere Christianity)

Some people just seem to not understand what this is saying. I hear from people, “I just don’t agree with that statement. You can find happiness in things apart from God.” But it is not saying that there is absolutely no joy that can be found in the world and what it offers, but that there is no ultimate joy or happiness found in anything outside of God. If God gave us these created things and they give us X amount of joy, how much more will the infinitely glorious God give us X times an infinite amount of joy in Himself, the one from whom the joy in those created things came from to begin with? If I find my ultimate happiness in created things, what do we know ultimately happens to all these things? They wind up going away in the end. And the joy and happiness they deliver is nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the joy, peace, and happiness found only in the One from which our whole existence is dependant, who holds the universe together by the power of His word.

Sure, I can find happiness and joy in Courtney, my wife. She is awesome and makes my life so much fun. But if I find my ultimate happiness in her, then I will be disappointed because we’re all sinners, and inevitably, she will fail my expectations. And the reverse is true for her. If she stakes all her joy and happiness in me, (and the Lord knows) she will be utterly disappointed because I’m a sinner and fail her continually. And really if you want to get Biblically technical about it, if either of us stakes all our hope, joy, and happiness in each other, it’s called idolatry. And this is true for anything within all of creation that we stake our ultimate hope and joy in outside of Christ. And so this quote from C.S. Lewis is stating that in comparison to all the things within creation that are so wonderful, that we enjoy on a daily basis, they do not deliver the satisfaction, the joy, the happiness, the peace, the love, the deep soul rest that can only be found in Christ, mainly because they can’t give us any of that. In all honesty, they are not even worth comparing, because He is incomparable with anything within creation. And those things do not deliver because they are not ultimate, only God is ultimate. I think to understand this quote more though, we need to see what C.S. Lewis wrote leading up to that statement:

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (p.50)

God designed us in such a way that our souls can only be truly satisfied, truly happy, truly joyful, totally satisfied in Christ Himself and no other. The whole of the history of man has been spent trying to find an ultimate happiness in something other than God Himself. You cannot do it. It is not possible. Just look at history to see what man has done to himself by attempting to find an ultimate joy and peace apart from the Creator that they are dependent on for every breath. Men seek power, prestige, money, relationships, anything other than the true God that can give them all these things beyond understanding through Christ. And look at how utterly miserable people are outside of Christ! They run to and fro, from here to there seeking to find the next thing that will give them satisfaction, but as soon as they get what it is they are seeking, it fails to deliver. Why? Because it’s a created thing, just like themselves, and because only the eternal God can give them what they need spiritually. In going along with C.S. Lewis’ thought above, it’s the equivalent of putting sugar water in the gas tank of an engine. It kills the car! So I would qualify the quote to say that there is no true, divine, ultimate happiness, joy, love, peace, satisfaction that can be found in anything outside of Christ. Sure, you can find satisfaction in created things, but it will last only for a season, and then fade away. But the satisfaction Christ gives is beyond comparison to the things of this world. The satisfaction obtained from created things only points to the greater satisfaction found in Christ alone. In speaking about this infinitely deep satisfaction that can only be found in Him, He says to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:13-14, “‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'” And what an excellent comparison! Everyone who drinks of the water from the well will thirst again. But everyone who drinks of the water Christ gives will never be thirsty. And this living water He gives is the fullness of Himself. This is true happiness. This is true satisfaction.

There is a type of joy that can be found in created things, but it is not ultimate. We all need water to live. And I do find joy in water after I go on a run or after I workout. But how long does that last? It dissipates very fast. I find joy in Courtney, my work, fellowship with other believers, Chipotle burritos, and many other things. But that joy is temporal and shallow, and it will fade faster than you could even anticipate; whereas the satisfaction God gives in Christ is eternal and infinitely deep. All the things the world offers are fleeting, and if we stake our hope in them, we will be terribly disappointed over and over and over again. Why is it that so many divorces are occurring in this nation? Is it not because people seek ultimate satisfaction in their spouse, and when the spouse fails them, they get out of the situation, hoping once again to find ultimate happiness in something besides the marriage? The story of the history of man is like that of a dog chasing its own tail. But in Christ, we can have that ultimate peace, that deep satisfying soul rest we all so desperately need. It can only be found in Christ, it can be found in nothing else. And if we set anything else up as God (as that ultimate joy), we will be miserable and utterly ruined, because it cannot deliver what God can deliver to you through the cross of Christ.

We see that because of this plight of man, attempting to find ultimate joy in created things rather than the Creator, we exchanged the glory of God for created things. How offensive must that be to God? Here He is, the great Author and Founder of all things, never created, always there, infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, the One from whom our entire existence is dependent, knowing full well that He is infinitely satisfying and the ultimate value in all the universe; and instead of being in awe of who He is and of all He’s done, we take the things He’s made and worship them instead, setting them up as our gods, and we thus sin in these things. This sin is infinitely offensive because it’s telling God to His face that He is worthless, that His glory is worthless, that everything He does is meaningless. How infinitely, unbelievably offensive is that!? And because God is just, he must indeed punish sin, and that punishment is experiencing His eternal wrath forever, because the offense is infinite. It would be totally fair of God to send every single one of us to hell forever.

But in great mercy, this is not what He has done. He saw man’s plight, that sin had corrupted every faculty of his being, that no one wanted God, that all had turned away, that no one wanted anything to do with Him, and left to themselves, they would all be damned forever. And so He Himself had to become like one of us. On our behalf, He lived the life that we could never live, and died the death that we should die for our wicked betrayal of the almighty God. In order to turn away the wrath of God, He offered Himself up as an eternal sacrifice of atonement on the cross in order to bridge the infinite gap we ourselves have created by exchanging the glory of God for created things. However, this turning away of the wrath of God comes only to those who by faith trust in Christ for their salvation. After He died, and then by the power of God, being that death couldn’t hold Him, He burst forth from the grave and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, where He lives and pleads for those who through faith are redeemed from eternal death. All the joy, happiness, peace, love, mercy, grace, deep soul-satisfaction you are looking for can only be found in the great God who became one of us: Jesus Christ.

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2 Comments

  1. Dartt Demaree

    David:
    I came upon your website when doing a search of the C.S. Lewis quote about happiness and peace. I’m using the quote on our family Christmas newsletter this year.
    Your journey to becoming reformed in your theology is fascinating. Thanks for posting it—and the other articles on theology. I’m a ruling elder is a small PCA church in Colorado.
    May the Lord bless you and your church and your family this Christmas season—and keep putting some good material on your blog.
    DJD

    • David Westerfield

      Dartt,

      Thanks for commenting! Pray the Lord blesses you, your family and congregation as well!

      David

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