“There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce).
I believe this thesis. I don’t expect agnostics and humanists to, though. Still, I believe the statement is true, even for them. Consider my explanation below.
What Lewis is saying is that God is the Source of all good. In the Scriptures, in fact, some of the attributes of God can be viewed as so intimately a part of his divine nature that the particular virtue is, in its purity, a facet of the Lord’s identity. Thus God the Father and God the Son are said to truly be: Love, Light, and Truth.
Christians are inclined to attribute any good fruit we see as coming from the Source of good. Thus, when secularists do something inarguably good or altruistic, we have no problem attributing its inspiration to God. Yes, they may see through the glass dimly, and may for example recognize only the beauty of nature or the magnificence of the cosmos. But these are God’s handiwork, and so we return to where we began.
It is actually the second portion of this quotation that most intrigues me. “Everything else is . . . bad when it turns from Him.”
I suppose I can illustrate this truth more effectively than I can explain it.
Patriotism is a good thing. It results in cohesive communities where individuals are willing to make sacrifices on behalf of their fellow citizens. Focus is on the common welfare. However, run amuck, patriotism can become a deformed thing. The Third Reich united and inspired a weak and demoralized nation, but at a bloody price.
Love of Family is a good thing. Most of us experience the joy of this fact. However, carried to obsessive bounds, it can result in horrendous acts. Not a week passes without the news relaying accounts of parents murdering their own children in the face of a divorce, incarceration or some other form of separation. In their depraved minds, the thought of not being together warped into something uglier than death itself.
Human Freedom is a good thing. If that weren’t so, God wouldn’t have created us with free will. It allows human to say “yes” to him and live in a relationship with our Creator as his children rather than as mindless automata. But, apart from God, is there any question that this most wonderful gift becomes a curse? Proof overflows from the pages of our newspapers.
So, Lewis reminds us that the things of this world possess no intrinsic good. When things such as generosity, courage, and creativity are imbued with a divine element, only then do they become capable of being truly good.
The strongest challenge to this belief comes in the notion that even those who do not acknowledge God are capable of doing things we all consider “good.” As I said above, Christians have no problem celebrating selfless acts of their unbelieving neighbors. The reason for this is actually quite simple. Even though secular humanitarian efforts do not look to God, since they are altruistic, they consciously look away from self. In other words, they are not intentionally turning away from God, but, ignorant of his presence, they still transcend selfish or carnal interests. And, insofar as they are free of these sinful considerations, they possess the capacity for actions rightly deemed “good.”
Ultimately I believe this is due to the truth that all women and men are created in the image of our God. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the echoes of that truth resound throughout our being.
12 thoughts on “The Single Source of All Good”
Very thoughtful post! I’ve been working, and hence skipping out on my daily dose of Lewisian (?) sanity. I think that examples abound of good things that are corrupted when divorced from Christ. You are, perhaps, familiar with the words (I paraphrase) “all the spirits that bow to Christ are gods, all those that don’t, become devils.”
So much to ponder in those few words by Lewis. (I’m just going to go over there and sit and think a while) Lovely post.
Lewis had this amazing ability to capture in a few simple words such profound aspects of theology. How often I find myself with a Lewis quote on my lips when I need to express something clearly.
Rob, I don’t think you are Reformed, but you work with people from all around the Christian dinner table. For some reason, I don’t think Reformed folk recognize the good in others outside of Holy Spirit transformation. How does Lewis’ idea ring true for them?
No, I’m an evangelical Lutheran pastor, so I’m not privy to the intricacies of Calvinist positions. Would need to let them speak for themselves here. However, I do suspect that the greater you perceive the chasm between God and humanity, the harder it would be to impute anything “positive” (in a “holy” sense) to something done by an unbeliever.
Of course, as to the aforementioned chasm, all orthodox Christians recognize it as so immense that it can only be bridged by Jesus Christ himself.
And, as to the aforementioned use of “holy,” I’m not referring to anything that would merit God’s favor or earn his love. I’m alluding to activities that, even though they are done by one without faith, would reflect, mirror or echo the good works of those imbued with the Holy Spirit.
Thanks Rob. That makes sense.
I wonder if Mr. Lewis’ remark is reflective of the Scripture’s truth at Romans 2:14, 15 ((Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
Hi Rob, Good to read your post. Several of your respondents raise the question how God’s grace relates to the “good” actions of “unbelievers.” For Calvinists, the answer follows a definition of “common grace” which accounts for all the goods of general culture and society; but is not connected to “particular grace,” i.e., the saving grace of Calvin’s limiting doctrines of atonement and double predestination. By contrast, for Wesley (and others in the “classical” tradition reaching back to the early church fathers such as Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa and earlier) God’s grace works preveniently in all people, drawing everyone toward the goodness of God and the grace that saves. This prevenient grace accounts not only for the good that fallen human beings do, but also for the “degrees of faith” (such as the belief in goodness itself, the “TAO”) which, if not resisted, are connected to saving grace. This is why Justin the Martyr could think of Plato as a preparation for the gospel; and why Wesley believed that we should leave the “heathen” (those who have never heard of Christ) in the hands of Him who made them. It also seems to be Lewis’s view as expressed in the salvation of the young Calormen soldier who followed Aslan, though he had only heard of Tash. For Christians, salvation is only in Christ; but being “in” Christ is more than knowing his name or even calling him “Lord.”
Thank you, Craig. Very clearly stated.
Reblogged this on Inklings to Fables and commented:
A beautiful post on moral objectivity and living presence of God in all that is good, whether done in His name or not.
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