Back in the mid-1970s, a friend at work introduced me to the writings of Flannery O’Connor. I had heard of her but had never read any of her works. But the friend raved about her writing, and so I picked a paperback entitled “3 by Flannery O’Connor,” containing “Wise Blood,” “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Violent Bear It Away.” I read it, and I was hooked.
And she also said something that has stuck in my head for more than 30 years since I read it: people like to think of faith as a nice electric blanket, when it’s actually the cross.
In the chapter of Mere Christianity entitled “The Invasion,” C.S. Lewis makes the same point, when he talks about the view he calls “Christianity-and-water.” He describes it as the view “which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right – leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.”
Christianity is not a simple religion. It is a religion, Lewis says, "you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”
Try original sin – you mean babies are born sinful? Or redemption – how absurd is it that a man died to save the whole word, and died it by dying in the most vicious and humiliating way possible? And Paul and all those intolerant statements he makes? Seriously!
But that’s what it is. Christianity is about God’s love and about his wrath. If you doubt that, then read the Book of Revelation. Ah, but that wasn’t Jesus, some say, that was John – and he was obviously hallucinating or on drugs. Well, Jesus wasn’t exactly sweet, meek and gentle when he cleared the moneychangers out of the temple and called the Pharisees and priests a brood of vipers.
There are hard things about Christianity that Christians have to accept, even as it makes them nervous, uncomfortable and even aghast. It is not a simple religion. It is not an electric blanket. In fact, it’s downright difficult and not for cowards.
It is taking up the cross.
To see more posts on this chapter of Mere Christianity, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.