Book 2

What Christians Believe

  1. The Rival Conceptions Of God
  1. The Invasion
  2. The Shocking Alternative
  3. The Perfect Penitent
  4. The Practical Conclusion


1. The Rival Conceptions Of God

I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to
begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe.
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other
religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do
have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole
world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free
to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at
least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to
persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about
the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was
able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does
mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions,
Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic-there is only
one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of
the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in
some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not. On this point,
Christianity lines up with the majority-lines up with ancient Greeks and
Romans, modern savages, Stoics, Platonists, Hindus, Mohammedans, etc.,
against the modern Western European materialist.

Now I go on to the next big division. People who all believe in God can
be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two
very different ideas on this subject One of them is the idea that He is
beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing
bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of
view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you
would want to call anything good or bad, and the more dearly you would
see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that
nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that
long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the
distinction would have disappeared altogether. We call a cancer bad,
they would say, because it kills a man; but you might just as well call
a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on
the point of view. The other and opposite idea is that God is quite
definitely “good” or “righteous.” a God who takes sides, who loves love
and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another.
The first of these views-the one that thinks God beyond good and evil-is
called Pantheism. It was held by the great Prussian philosopher Hagel
and, as far as I can understand them, by the Hindus. The other view is
held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.

And with this big difference between Pantheism and the Christian idea of
God, there usually goes another. Pantheists usually believe that God, so
to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the
universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist
either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God. The
Christian idea is quite

different. They think God invented and made the universe-like a man
making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he
does not die if his picture is destroyed. You may say, “He’s put a lot
of himself into it,” but you only mean that all its beauty and interest
has come out of his head. His skill is not in the picture in the same
way that it is in his head, or even in his hands. expect you see how
this difference between Pantheists and Christians hangs together with
the other one. If you do not take the distinction between good and bad
very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this
world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really
bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must
believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things
we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a
slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine
point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian
replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.” (*)

[*] One listener complained of the word damned as frivolous swearing.
But I mean exactly what I say-nonsense that is damned is under God’s
curse, and will (apart from God’s grace) lead those who believe it to
eternal death.

For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the
world-that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and
tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God “made up
out of His head” as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a
great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that
God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

And, of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the
world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to
listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on
feeling “whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t
it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any
intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated
attempt to avoid the obvious?” But then that threw me back into another

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and
unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not
call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was
I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole
show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was
supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction
against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not
a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was
nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my
argument against God collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying
that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to
please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that
God did not exist-in other words,

that the whole of reality was senseless-I found I was forced to assume
that one part of reality- namely my idea of justice-was full of sense.

Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe
has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning:
just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no
creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be
without meaning.


2. The Invasion

Very well then, atheism is too simple. And I will tell you another view
that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water,
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. Both these are boys’

It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are
not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting
at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made
of-all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit
my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my
brain-and, of course, you find that what we call “seeing a table” lands
you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end
of. A child saying a child’s prayer looks simple. And if you are content
to stop there, well and good. But if you are not-and the modern world
usually is not-if you want to go on and ask what is really happening-
then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for
something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the
something more is not simple.

Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are
not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy
Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for
a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to
explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed
adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and
that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they
are sure He would have made “religion” simple, because simplicity is so
beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they
will change their ground every minute and only waste your tune. Notice,
too, their idea of God “making religion simple”: as if “religion” were
something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite
unalterable facts about His own nature.

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It
is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you
have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun,
you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match-all
at equal distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly
increased, or all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as
you go farther from the sun. In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that
we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them
have one moon, one has four, one has two, some have none, and one has a

Reality, in fact, is usually something 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. So let us leave behind all these
boys’ philosophies-these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple
and the answer is not going to be simpler either.

What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad
and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who
know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face
all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that
has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have
been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief
that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of
everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe
is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. I personally
think that next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most
sensible creed on the market. But it has a catch in it.

The two powers, or spirits, or gods-the good one and the bad one-are
supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity.
Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than
the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and
thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other
likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean
when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power?
Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the
other- like preferring beer to cider-or else we are saying that,
whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the
moment,, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually
mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now it we mean merely that we
happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and
evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of
what you happen to like at any given moment. If “being good” meant
simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then
good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of
the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right

But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third
thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of
good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform
to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this
standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and
higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact,
what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of
them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a
wrong relation to Him.

The same point can be made in a different way. If Dualism is true, then
the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in
reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it
is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life
people are cruel for one of two reasons- either because they are
sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes
cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of
something they are going to get out of it-money, or power, or safety.
But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good
things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in
the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the

people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that
wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some
good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness:
you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action
when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply
because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply
because cruelty is wrong-only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to
him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same
way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness
is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before
it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must
first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its
being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you
can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal
from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to
be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the
same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to
be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong
way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be
able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either
with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be
getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent.
He is part of the Good Power’s world: he was made either by the Good
Power or by some power above them both.

Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence
and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good.
Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he
must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why
Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is
not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact
that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable
evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which
enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good
things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why
Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.

But I freely admit that real Christianity (as distinct from
Christianity-and-water) goes much nearer to Dualism than people think.
One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament
seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the
universe-a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death
and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this
Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and
went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at
war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It
thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part
of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory-that is what this world is. Christianity is the
story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in
disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of
sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the
secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to
prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness
and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, “Do you really
mean, at this time of day, to reintroduce our old friend the devil-hoofs
and horns and all?” Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do
not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in
other respects my answer is “Yes, I do.” I do not claim to know anything
about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him
better I would say

to that person, “Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will Whether
you’ll like it when you do is another question.”

  1. Naturally I knew that people were inclined to say nasty things
    behind your back, but it was particularly exasperating to hear these
    three speak about everybody as though they themselves were the finest
    people on earth and had been appointed to pass judgment on all others.
    They envied most people, praised no one, and knew some unsavoury bit
    of gossip about everyone.


3. The Shocking Alternative

Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the
present the Prince of this World. And, of course, that raises problems.
Is this state of affairs in accordance with God’s will or not? If it is,
He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything
happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?

But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in
accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite
sensible for a mother to say to the children, “I’m not going to go and
make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You’ve got to learn to keep it
tidy on your own.” Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear
and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is
against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the
other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be
untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or
school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do
it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had
free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some
people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no
possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it
is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.
Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it
makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love
or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata-of creatures that
worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which
God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely,
voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and
delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a
woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the
wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel
inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about
disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning
power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream
can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him
you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at
all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks
this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free
will-that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real
good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a
toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings-then we may take it
it is worth paying.

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to
ask, as somebody once asked me: “Why did God make a creature of such
rotten stuff that it went wrong?” The better stuff a creature is made
of-the cleverer and stronger and freer it is-then the better it will be
if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow
cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a
child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of
genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best-or worst-of all.

How did the Dark Power go wrong? Here, no doubt, we ask a question to
which human beings cannot give an answer with any certainty. A
reasonable (and traditional) guess, based on our own experiences of
going wrong, can, however, be offered. The moment you have a self at
all, there is a possibility of putting Yourself first-wanting to be the
centre-wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that
was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man
had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the
Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual
nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.) What Satan
put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could
“be like gods”-could set up on their own as if they had created
themselves-be their own masters- invent some sort of happiness for
themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt
has come nearly all that we call human history-money, poverty, ambition,
war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-the long terrible story of
man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as
a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, 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

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilisations
are built up-excellent institutions devised; but each time something
goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people
to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the
machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a Jew yards, and
then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That
is what Satan has done to us humans.

And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of
right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying
(some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded.
Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those
queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god
who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given
new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent
several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was
-that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct.
Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of
the hammering process.

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a
man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins.
He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world
at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like
the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with
God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He
was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language,
meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely
different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will
see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing
that has ever been uttered by human lips.

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have
heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the
claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is
really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man
forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive
you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a
man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave
you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money?
Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his
conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were
forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their
sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the
party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences.
This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and
whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is
not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness
and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when
they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness
and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is
“humble and meek” and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were
merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we
could attribute to some of His sayings.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that
people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral
teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing
we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things
Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a
lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he
would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man
was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You
can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon;
or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not
come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human
teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.


4. The Perfect Penitent

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are
talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic,
or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a
lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or
unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
God has landed on this enemy- occupied world in human form.

And now, what was the purpose of it all? What did He come to do? Well,
to teach, of course; but as soon as you look into the New Testament or
any other Christian writing you will find they are constantly talking
about something different-about His death and His coming to life again.
It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies
here. They think the main thing He came to earth to do was to suffer and
be killed.

Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the
first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to
what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to
punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ
volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit
that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly
as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to
see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity.
The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us
right with God and given us a fresh start Theories as to how it did this
are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to
how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I
will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if
you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory
of nourishment-all about the vitamins and proteins-is a different thing.
People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of
vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day
abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same. Theories
about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about
how it works. Christians would not all agree as to how important these
theories are. My own church-the Church of England-does not lay down any
one of them as the right one. The Church of Rome goes a bit further. But
I think they will all agree that the thing itself is infinitely more
important than any explanations that theologians have produced. I think
they would probably admit that no explanation will ever be quite
adequate to the reality. But as I said in the preface to this book, I am
only a layman, and at this point we are getting into deep water. I can
only tell you, for what it is worth, how I, personally, look at the

On my view the theories are not themselves the thing you are asked to
accept. Many of you no doubt have read Jeans or Eddington. What they do
when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to
give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But
then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually
believe. What the scientists believe is a mathematical formula. The
pictures are there only to help you to understand the formula. They are
not really true in the way the formula is; they do not give you the real
thing but only something more or less like it. They are only meant to
help, and if they do not help you can drop them. The thing itself cannot
be pictured, it can only be expressed mathematically. We are in the same
boat here. We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in
history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows
through into our own world. And if we cannot picture even the atoms of
which our own world is built, of course we are not going to be able to
picture this. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it,
that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be-the
inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking
down into nature like lightning. You may ask what good will it be to us
if we do not understand it. But that is easily answered. A man can eat
his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man
can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he
certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out
our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the
formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any
theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my
view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they
do not help us, and, even if they do

help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of
these theories are worth looking at.

The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before -the one
about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a
punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly
theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do
so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent
person instead? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of
punishment in the police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of
a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying
it on behalf of someone who has not. Or if you take “paying the
penalty,” not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general
sense of “standing the racket” or “footing the bill,” then, of course,
it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got
himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a
kind friend. Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into?
He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to
himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature
who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying
down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you
have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again
from the ground floor-that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process
of surrender-this movement full speed astern-is what Christians call
repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder
than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit
and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of
years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In
fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a
bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The
worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only
person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person-and he would
not need it.

Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a
kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take
you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a
description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take
you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back
without going back. It cannot hap pen. Very well, then, we must go
through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us
unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean
when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of
Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and
that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is
how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its
hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because
you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons
and holds our hand while we do it. Now if we had not fallen, that would
be all plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order
to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all-to
surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature
corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we
now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature,
has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own
nature, He has not.

But supposing God became a man-suppose our human nature which can suffer
and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person-then that person
could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because
He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was

God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us;
but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying
will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking
can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His
intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He
cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our
debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man,
then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, “because it
must have been so easy for him.” Others may (very rightly) rebuke the
ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is
the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make
it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect
submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only
easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He
was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them?
The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the
teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it
easier for the teacher, and only because it is easier for him can he
help the child. If it rejected him because “it’s easy for grown-ups” and
waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself
(and so had no “unfair” advantage), it would not get on very quickly. If
I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank
may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between
my gasps) “No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one
foot on the bank”? That advantage-call it “unfair” if you like-is the
only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for
help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?

Such is my own way of looking at what Christians call the Atonement. But
remember this is only one more picture. Do not mistake it for the thing
itself: and if it does not help you, drop it

  1. I had never owned toys myself, and while I outwardly treated them
    with contempt, I harbored a secret envy of those who possessed them.


5. The Practical Conclusion

The perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect
because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now
the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and
suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest for death and
find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and
perfectly happy, creatures. This means something much more than our
trying to follow His teaching. People often ask when the next step in
evolution-the step to something beyond man-will happen. But on the
Christian view, it has happened already. In Christ a new kind of man
appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into
us. How is this to be done? Now, please remember how we acquired the
old, ordinary kind of life. We derived it from others, from our father
and mother and all our ancestors, without our consent-and by a very
curious process, involving pleasure, pain, and danger. A process you
would never have guessed. Most of us spend a good many years in
childhood trying to guess it: and some children, when they are first
told, do not believe it-and I am not sure that I blame them, for it is
very odd. Now the God who arranged that process is the same God who
arranges how the new kind of life-the Christ life-is to be spread. We
must be prepared for it being odd too. He did not consult us when He
invented sex: He has not consulted us either when He invented this.

There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism,
belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by
different names-Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. At least,
those are the three ordinary methods. I am not saying there may not be
special cases where it is spread without one or more of these. I have
not time to go into special cases, and I do not know enough. If you are
trying in a few minutes to tell a man how to get to Edinburgh you will
tell him the trains: he can, it is true, get there by boat or by a
plane, but you will hardly bring that in. And I am not saying anything
about which of these three things is the most essential. My Methodist
friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion)
about the other two. But I am not going into that. Anyone who professes
to teach you Christian doctrine will, in fact, tell you to use all
three, and that is enough for our present purpose.

I cannot myself see why these things should be the conductors of the new
kind of life. But then, if one did not happen to know, I should never
have seen any connection between a particular physical pleasure and the
appearance of a new human being in the world. We have to take reality as
it comes to us: there is no good jabbering about what it ought to be
like or what we should have expected it to be like. But though I cannot
see why it should be so, I can tell you why I believe it is so. I have
explained why I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it
seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the
new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on
His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things
on authority only means believing them because you have been told them
by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you
believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as
New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract
reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable
people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System,
atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority-because
the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is
believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the
defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you
prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who
did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on
authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people
do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

Do not think I am setting up baptism and belief and the Holy Communion
as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ. Your
natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will
stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or
you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and
look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only
keeping up a life you got from someone else. In the same way a Christian
can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make
efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not
acting on his own steam-he is only nourishing or protecting a life he
could never have acquired by his own efforts. And that has practical
consequences. As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a
lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal,
as a dead body would not. A live body is not one that never gets hurt,
but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a
Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to
repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each
stumble-because the Christ-life is inside him,

repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the
kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.

That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people
who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if
there is one; or-if they think there is not-at least they hope to
deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he
does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will
love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He
loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun
because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life
is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they
speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not
simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying
Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the
whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ
acts-that we are. His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And
perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life
is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts
like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an
idea; it is more like evolution-a biological or super-biological fact.
There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant
man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material
things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think
this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He
likes matter. He invented it.

Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully
unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of
Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not
told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know
that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only
those who know Him can be saved through Him, But in the meantime, if you
are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you
can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the
organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him
to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own
little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a
man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.

Another possible objection is this. Why is God landing in this
enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society
to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is
it dial He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to
land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying.
He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not
suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till
the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our
side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to
interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be
like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When
the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to
invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side
then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream
and something else-something it never entered your head to
conceive-comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so
terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this
time it will be God without disguise; something so

overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or
irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to
choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it
has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for
choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have
chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment,
is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us
that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.

Book 1 Right And Wrong As A Clue To The Meaning Of The

Book 2 What Christians

Book 3 Christian Behaviour
Book 4 Beyond Personality:Or First Steps In The Doctrine Of The


  1. It’s a good thing when a boy and a girl become friends. Only they
    mustn’t do anything foolish. And in the most simple way she explained
    to us what “doing anything foolish” meant. There was beauty in her
    words, and inspiration, aand I readily understood that flowers were
    not to be touched until they were full-blown, otherwise they would
    give off no perfume and bear no fruit.



  1. If you had nothing to fear, you’d be left with nothing to boast of.



  1. The forests are the gardens of the Lord. Nobody planted them but
    the wind—the Divine breath from out His mouth.



  1. According to my observation, relatives treated each other worse
    than strangers. Knowing each other’s weak and ridiculous sides better
    than anyone else, they spread worse gossip, quarreled and fought more
    often among themselves.


  1. I was possessed by a fierce desire to go away somewhere people
    slept less, quarreled less, did not so insistently pour out their
    complaints to God or so often offend people with their harsh opinions.


  1. “What you’ve never felt you never can sing.”


  1. Somehow I bear a particular love for the sun. I like its very name,
    the sweet sound of it, the rich resonance of it. I love to close my
    eyes and turn my face to a warm ray, or to catch it on the palm of my
    hand, when it thrusts like a sword through a crack in a fence or the
    branches of a tree.


  1. “That’s what I sent her to school for. How did the lady fair come
    by her golden hair? She got it from us, from the scum of the earth.
    Where else? The more you know, the finer you grow. God sent us into
    this world young and foolish, but He wants us to leave it old and
    wise. So it’s up to us to study and learn things.” Everyone became
    silent when she spoke, listening attentively to her sure, flowing
    speech. They praised her to her face and behind her back, wondering at
    her strength and endurance and cleverness. But no one tried to imitate


  1. If they should ever stop shouting and passing judgment on people
    and making fun of them, they would turn into mutes, unable to speak at
    all, and quite unaware of themselves. In order to be aware of oneself,
    a person must bear some conscious relationship to others. The only
    relationship my employers knew was that of teacher and judge, and if a
    person brought himself to live according to their pattern, they would
    judge him even for that. Such was their nature.


  1. I would marvel in silence. How could you ask a person what he was
    thinking about? And how could he answer such a question? A person
    thinks about many things at once–about what his eyes are beholding
    now, or what they beheld yesterday or last year, all the impressions
    vague and confused, in constant movement, constant change.


  1. “Words, my little friend, are like leaves on a tree, and in order
    to know why the leaves are such as they are, you must know how the
    tree grows. You must study. Books, my little friend, are like a lovely
    garden, in which you will find everything that is pleasant and


  1. Now I appreciated what was meant by good books and realized how
    essential they were to me. They filled me with the calm confidence
    that I was not alone upon the earth and would surely make my way in


  1. “Spit on it!” he said in response to my gratitude. “A game’s a
    game–which means, just for fun. But you go at it like it was a fight.
    And you don’t have to get hot even in a fight–fix ’em with a cool
    eye. What’s there to get hot about? You’re young; you’ve got to hold
    yourself in tight. Missed once, missed five times, missed seven
    times–spit on it! Step back. Cool off. Go after it again. That’s how
    to play a game.”


  1. “Can’t be helped, merchant! Nobody knows how he’ll meet his end.
    Happens a fellow eats mushrooms and–phwit!–gone to his grave!
    Thousands of people eat mushrooms to their health; only one to his
    death. And what’s a mushroom, after all?”


  1. “People of their sort, wellfed and comfortable, feel like having a
    little fun sometimes, but it doesn’t always come off–they don’t know
    how. And that’s only natural, being’s they’re the weighty, trade sort.
    Takes brains to trade, and you get bored living by your brains all the
    time; want to have a little fun.”


  1. “Here you are reasoning things out, and it’s too early for you to
    do that. At your age it’s not with your brains you should live, but
    with your eyes. In other words, see, and remember, and hold your
    tongue. Brains are for business; faith for the soul. It’s a
    commendable thing to read books, but there’s a limit to everything.
    Some people read so much that they lose their minds, and lose their


  1. Later, after I had met many such people among the intelligentsia,
    as well as among simple folks, I realized that their persistence was
    nothing more than the passivity of people who had nowhere to go beyond
    the point already reached, and who, indeed, had no desire to go
    further, caught as they were in a tangle of obsolete words and outworn
    conceptions. Their will had become enervated and incapable of
    developing toward the future, and had they been suddenly emancipated,
    they would have rolled mechanically downhill, like a stone on a


  1. “If one has strength of purpose, a school gives good training.
    It’s only the educated who are capable of budging this life.”





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