Elise Snickers was a college student pursuing a career in a psychology when she wrote a letter to 54-year-old C.S. Lewis to ask the question: Can personal sin be avoided — or “cured” — by proving to a patient the un-reasonableness of the sin? In other words, can a discovery of the stupidity of a sin be its cure?
In his response, Lewis used two examples to make his point, beginning with why we sleep in late:
A man’s reason sees perfectly clearly that the resulting discomfort and inconvenience will far outweigh the pleasure of the ten minutes in bed. Yet he stays in bed: not at all because his reason is deceived but because desire is stronger than reason.Sins like sloth and rage are, of course, always stupid (Psalm 69:5), always unreasonable, always boneheaded mistakes. But is the expression of sin merely faulty reasoning in need of re-education? Lewis’s answer to the question is clearly “no” — sin erupts out of the molten-hot desires and affections churning in the core of our being.
A woman knows that the sharp ‘last word’ in an argument will produce a serious quarrel which was the very thing she had intended to avoid when that argument began and which may permanently destroy her happiness. Yet she says it: not at all because her reason is deceived but because the desire to score a point is at the moment stronger than her reason.
People — you and I among them — constantly choose between two courses of action, the one which we know to be the worse: because, at the moment, we prefer the gratification of our anger, lust, sloth, greed, vanity, curiosity or cowardice, not only to the known will of God but even to what we know will make for our own real comfort and security. If you don’t recognize this, then I must solemnly assure you that either you are an angel, or else are still living in a fool’s paradise: a world of illusion. (Letters, 3:330)
Scientists can explain why hitting the snooze button is bad for our bodies. But we are not creatures merely driven by reason. We are creatures driven by the desire to gratify desires. Which of course means the life of holiness must be profoundly rooted in new desires and new longings.
Reason and DesiresReason is valuable for sanctification, but reason alone cannot do the job. In fact, spiritual taste — a new desire that draws us toward God’s holiness — produces in us a spiritual taste for holiness that assists our reason, as Jonathan Edwards says in his Religious Affections. The Bible is where relish and meaning converge on the soul. The relish makes the will of God precious, and reason confirms God’s good motive behind his will. Ideally, delight and reason work in tandem, but reason alone cannot move the lazy body when the alarm starts to blare.
Gratifications at WarBecause we battle sin on the playing field of the affections, holiness must be rooted in God’s converting grace on a soul and the reorienting of core affections.
Only after conversion can God’s awesome holiness become in any way beautiful and attractive to the sinner (Psalm 29:2). And God’s holiness must become beautiful and attractive to us first before our personal displays of holiness will ever overrule the self-driven lust for inordinate sleep and the self-driven lust to have the final word in a heated debate. Unless our hearts are filled with affection for Christ’s glory and for God’s holiness, our hearts can only be governed by the gratification of the self and its anger, lust, sloth, greed, vanity, curiosity, and cowardice.
Still PerplexedBut this doesn’t resolve the profound mystery about sin in our own lives. Lewis is here talking about sin in the Christian.
A reborn soul — a living soul — feels the sting of sin like a taser shot to the back of the neck. And this sting is something we experience in life on this side of the resurrection, for which we are humbled and drawn closer to the Savior and his all-sufficient work for us on the cross.
This seems to be Lewis’s hard-learned point about why we are tempted to stay in bed ten minutes too long, knowing the consequences are not worth the flesh’s gratification. The final cure for sin, of course, will be found in our future glimpse of Christ’s glory (1 John 3:2), when the Christian’s reason and affections are purified from all remnants of sin. On that day, we will experience a lot of things for the first time, including our first and full spiritual taste of the delight of God’s splendid holiness rushing through glorified senses unclogged by sin.