C.S. Lewis on Virtue-Hunger

Last week I commented how easily I could take Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied”, and prevent them from having any impact in how I live my life (though I did not say this, it was where I was heading before I abruptly ended the post) by plugging them into a philosophical-theological system. If that was what Jesus was wanting the people who first heard him to do with his words, they all would have misinterpreted him.

I, for one, think it was to be understood at face-value. This week, I came across two passages from Mere Christianity where Lewis states some of the heart of what I wanted to write last week. They’re taken from his chapters on “morality & psychoanalysis”, & “sexual morality”, and it’s the general ideas he’s conveying that I think help to understand a bit better the way that we should, could, will, experience that “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, if we are giving-in to God’s working in our lives.

“Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

Thirdly, people often misunderstand what psychology teaches about ‘repressions’. It teaches us that ‘repressed’ sex is dangerous. But ‘repressed’ is here a technical term: it does not mean ‘suppressed’ in the sense of ‘denied’ or ‘resisted’. A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now come before the mind only in a disguised and unrecognizable form… When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue- even attempted virtue – brings light; indulgence brings fog.(M.C., 102)”

“…the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge…This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either… (M.C., 93)”

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