“If Christianity is true why are not Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians?”
Several weeks ago I received an email from halfway around the world, a young scientist had read an article that had appeared in The Christian Index. I had tried to answer a troubling question that was gnawing on her heart and mind.
This young scientist grew up in a Christian home in Asia before moving to Australia to attend college and earn a PhD. She soon found herself in a sea of secular scientism where her faith in Christ was being questioned, if not derided. She also ended up dating a scientist who was raised Catholic but had become a self-identified agnostic. He has not been open to her efforts to evangelize him, or just coax him into reading a book like “Mere Christianity.”
One of the many questions we have discussed is the one above cited by C.S. Lewis in that classic piece of Christian literature: “If Christianity is true, why are not Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians?”
I began my answer by complimenting her on the many good and thoughtful questions she has shared with me like this one, questions that give my heart, soul, and mind a jolly good workout. She realizes that in her world of research she cannot easily avoid or flippantly dismiss these questions. She, as a Christian, wants to tackle them head-on with a determination to find the best answers that will not only satisfy her but those with whom she works and socializes.
I apologized to her for giving an all-too-brief synopsis of Lewis’ response to this question. Of course, I am a firm believer that a little of Lewis is much better than a lot of me, or for that matter, most anyone else. He acknowledged that Christianity, if true, ought to make improvements in a person’s “outward actions.” Of course, he also reminds us that there are no “100% Christians and no 100% non-Christians.”
He paints a vivid literary picture of how nasty people may find it easier to see the need to be converted but yet harder to reach a level of niceness, while naturally nice people may find it harder to see the need to be converted because they already see themselves as being nice and not in need of being saved or changed by God. Lewis speaks to such a “nice” person:
If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easy to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap (and between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered.
Such nice people can be shattered by an alcohol or drug addiction that is seldom overcome (factually speaking) without drawing upon a higher power we define as God. Such nice people can be shattered by a detrimental and destructive attitude or habit that they never recognized because they never give in to feelings of guilt – feelings that tended to be locked away in a silenced conscience; they turned a deaf ear to prophetic voices of religious relatives and friends. Such nice people can be shattered after they have reached their goals in life and then discover they are surprisingly dissatisfied in spite of all their achievements and acquisitions. Such nice people can be shattered when they find themselves staring into the face of death without a sense of peace and assurance (as is often the case in hospice patients who have no connection with God).
After Lewis spoke to the “nice” person who can in fact be nicer than many not-so-nice Christians, he then focused on the “nasty” people:
It is very different for the nasty people – the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double-quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and following – or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came especially to find them.
Lewis then zeroes in on an individual who has been conditioned to be not so nice:
But if you are a poor creature – poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels – saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion – nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it.
You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one.
As a pastor, it has been a joy for me to see how Christ can and does transform nasty people into nicer people. There is nothing more heartwarming that to hear testimonies of how people have been able to overcome awful attitudes and habits, though always with this addendum: “I am still a work in progress and He has much to do within me!” It is also good to see how Christ can and does transform nice people into even nicer people eager to give of themselves for others in ways that they never dreamed of doing previously.
Perhaps the greatest joy in my life is to see Christian couples who have come together as one in self-forgetfulness. I just came from a hospice room where a husband is sitting with his dying wife, surrounded by family and friends who have stationed themselves there to support a husband who will not leave his wife. Theirs is a love story centered around their commitment to Christ and His kind of love for each other, for family and friends, and for those in need whoever and wherever they are.
Although I have known happily married non-Christians, it is the devout Christians who have been utterly devoted to each other that leave me in awe of what Christ has done in their lives – taking them into a deeper and richer level of love that was spelled out by God and God alone when He came to live among us, suffer with us, die for us, and live in us through the presence and power of His inspiring and empowering Spirit.