I’ll admit it. I love C.S. Lewis’ writings. I feel deep kinship to him as his ideas and analogies help build my faith and make me want to be a better person. I’ve quoted him time and time again and felt that he understood religion exactly as I did. That is until I picked up Mere Christianity and instead of skimming or going to specific quotes, I was reading it cover to cover and got to some chapters that made me think – “Stop, wait, where is this coming from?” Silly, I know, but it took me a few minutes to remember that Mr. Lewis was working from a different understanding of the nature of God than the one that I am working from.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something I forget from time to time because I believe that people of good will can teach each other many things. Learning about faith is something that is very meaningful to me. Which brings me to the main point of this post – many people of other Christian faiths say that I am not a Christian, though I believe myself to be one. I have pondered it, and tried to understand it, but until my experience with C.S. Lewis and some other pieces of reading, I couldn’t make ‘heads or tails’ of this very common rhetoric.
In the midst of this weekend of pondering, I came across the thesis of a Catholic Dominican Monk which gave me some very valuable answers to this conundrum. The paper was called Partakers of the Divine Nature: A comparative analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization, by then Fr. Jordan Vajda, OP written in 1998 and republished in 2002 by FARMS. A full copy of the document that I read can be found here. In the paper, Fr. Vajda compares and contrasts LDS and Roman Catholic views on the doctrine of theosis, or divinization. While the discussion is absolutely brilliant, and well worth the read, I will discuss the understanding that is important to this conversation.
In his final discussion, he weaves thoughts from Elder M. Russell Ballard (Apostle of the LDS Church) and the famous (or infamous depending on who you talk to) anti-LDS book the Godmakers (if you can believe that one can weave these two together) and states the following:
- The key is to build bridges of understanding among peoples of different faiths … Members of the LDS Church are challenged to be sensitive in how they use religious terminology when speaking with other Christians. Language used in an LDS context often has a different meaning in a non-LDS context, even though the same words are being used in both situations. This can give rise to the perception that Latter-day Saints intend to deceive others (by attaching nonstandard meanings to words traditionally defined in a particular way) when, in fact, they do not. … Latter-day Saints define the same terms differently not because of any attempt to hide what they really believe, but because of the specific content of the revelations which, as a Church, they have received through their prophets. It does seem clear, though, that any attempts to cover over or minimize genuine differences in doctrine, no matter how well intentioned, do not help but only hinder the possibility of authentic religious dialogue and conversation.
Again, as I read this excellent piece, I was struck by the fact that (using Vajda’s terms) as Restoration Christians (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka LDS), though we may worship the same Savior, and study from the same Bible as Historical Christians (members of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches) our beliefs about the very Nature of God is different, and therefore, many Historical Christians say that we are not ‘like them’, which is true. I guess that I can see why they may get frustrated when I interpret their writers and writings through the lens of my faith, but as I stated before it does build faith, hope, and charity within me. What I still have a problem with, however, is why people of Faith should not want others to grow in their own personal faith.
I should think that it logically follows that if a person desires to get closer to God, that he will do the things that will help him get closer. If a person desires to find out who the Savior is, then he will go to the scriptures and find out who Jesus Christ is. If a man desires answers from God, all he need do is pray. And so, instead of name-calling or Bible-bashing with members of other churches, we should be building each other up in faith (even if that faith might be different from ours). In this way, the seeker of truth will draw nearer to God and “he that preacheth and he that heareth [the] word … rejoiceth together” (Doc. & Cov. 50: 22).
And so, I will keep quoting CS Lewis, because his words make me rejoice in my Savior and King and make me want to be a better person, but as I quote, I will try to understand my Historical Christian brothers and sisters better. I will ask my friends of other faiths to work with me so that we can build each other up and celebrate that we are drawing nearer to God. I will ask Christians everywhere to go to God if they want to know about His nature (whether the Restoration or Historic view is correct). All they need to do is study and ask. After all, He did say –
- “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7: 7-8).
In summation, I turn to C.S. Lewis –
- “God made us: invented us as an man invents an engine. A car is meant 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 are designed to burn, or the food our spirits are 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 with religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing,” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Shocking Alternative).
Or, as I used to say to my Seminary students,”that emptiness that you feel inside is homesickness for our Heavenly Home. People try to fill the emptiness with other things – sex, drugs, rock and roll, what-have-you, – but the only thing that will take it away is filling the emptiness with what your soul is craving – communion with your Father in Heaven.”
Sounds like very similar doctrine to me, and something that if we opened up our hearts to, any person of faith would understand and embrace.