A Senior Devil, Mere Faith, and Beginning My Life in Christ

[This first appeared two years ago as a guest post I wrote for Jennifer Neyhart’s blog.]

Is it cliché to say that C.S. Lewis had a formative influence on my understanding of what it means to belong to Jesus? Not that it matters if it is cliché.

It’s true.

C.S. Lewis

An Atheist Reads a Devil’s Letters

The Screwtape Letters came to me as a gift, both literally and figuratively. I was an atheist traveling around England on Christmas break in 1983 and a couple of young Christian women I met thought I might like Lewis’ epistolary novel of temptation and faith.

I did.

Screwtape advised his nephew Wormwood how to capitalize on his target’s petty jealousies of others.

I recognized petty jealousies in my own life.

Screwtape spoke of leveraging the target’s smug self-satisfaction.

I recognized smug self-satisfaction in my own life.

Screwtape spoke of building on the resentment the target had toward those who put demands on him.

I recognized resentment in my own life.

In almost every letter Screwtape wrote Wormwood, I recognized myself. And Lewis was so darned clever about it all too. His writing is masterful and if I didn’t know better I would have thought this was a set of letters found in a Senior Devil’s attic.

It was in the middle of reading this book, while sitting in an empty railway car traveling south out of London, that I lost my atheism forever:

I was alone and picked up the book Louise bought me to read along the way. The train stopped at a couple stations, and I was just settling in to read some more when I found I could not concentrate very well. I kept reading the same paragraph over and over. I had a feeling like you get sometimes in a library or other quiet place that someone must have walked in when you weren’t looking. I figured someone must have gotten on at the last station without me noticing. So I stood up and looked around. No one in the railway car but me.

British Rail Carriage (Wikipedia)

I sat back down and opened the book again. Now I found myself reading not the same paragraph but the same sentence over and over again. The feeling that someone was there with me was overwhelming, not allowing me to concentrate at all, so I started to get up to look again. Then I told myself, We haven’t stopped at a station since the last time you looked, Tim. There’s no one here. I sat back down and completely unbidden came a question I would never have imagined coming from my lips. Out loud. In an otherwise empty railway car.

“OK God, what do you want?”

The details of where it went from there are in My Salvation Story, but suffice to say that I went from atheist to theist to Christian in fairly short order at that point. And C.S. Lewis was with me on the way.

Mere Faith

I found a little Christian book store in Brighton, about an eight minute train ride from where I was studying at the University of Sussex. I looked for more by Lewis and found Mere Christianity, a collection of essays adapted from radio talks Lewis gave during World War Two.

In those essays he wrote of the basics of what it means to belong to Christ.

Lewis wrote of the law of right and wrong.

I discovered I had a conscience and it is a gift from God.

Lewis wrote of what it means to believe in Jesus as God.

I discovered that faith in anyone or anything else precludes faith in Jesus.

Lewis wrote of behavior as signifying who we follow.

I discovered there were things I did that I’d be better off not doing.

In other words, I learned the basics.

The Challenges of a Thoughtful Faith

There was more Lewis in my future, and I read everything I could get my hands on: fiction, essays, sermons, allegories. Most of it I’ve read more than once. Lewis taught me not only the basics and the nuances of the faith, but that being thoughtful and cerebral are as valid a way of growing in Christ as being hands-on in fellowship and ministry with others. Lewis advised both.

His writing has spoken to me at crucial times over the years, as in that railway car more than thirty years ago. It’s as if he read me and then wrote for me.


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15 Responses to A Senior Devil, Mere Faith, and Beginning My Life in Christ

  1. Pingback: A Senior Devil, Mere Faith, and Beginning My Life in Christ — @tim_fall Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another | Talmidimblogging

  2. I have a question about resentment. Rather, it’s more a question about resentment vs. legitimate complaints about abuse or an abusive environment. I’m not entirely sure what the Christian way is to approach this subject. Could you give me some clarity?

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know that I have insights into it generally, and can’t give specific advice. Have you found anything through an online search?

      • I’m always reluctant to do an online search, (considering what doctrine/viewpoint the site holder may or may not be pushing). Most of what I see relates to resentment itself (but nothing about abuse being mistaken for resentment or even for situations where resentment and abuse go hand in hand).

        • EF says:

          Hello, I’m new here, I followed links on Darach’s facebook and find your blog really interesting Tim. Is it OK if I join in this discussion, it’s something I’ve had to give a lot of thought to having finally come out of an emotionally abusive relationship some while back.

          Dear GFYR, I found I needed to use a variety of words for different searches. I personally use Biblegateway.com and there I can look up words to find what the Bible says itself rather than looking round’for opinions. The key elements I’ve found helpful are realising that God is both just and merciful. He’s just – he gives a written law that protects many basic human rights and expects it to be kept and never expects forgiving to over ride that. If you’re in Britain there are a number of laws including the addition of ‘coercive control’ ie emotional abuse, to the divorce law. I used British divorce law to help me. I’m extremely grateful for the justice system, well, when it works

          BUT and it’s a big one, God is also merciful and expects us to forgive and that has been a big part of my journey. For me it’s just another of God’s not doing either-or, but both. I have had to hand over all desire for ‘vengeance’, any taking things into my own hands to be mean back to him for example. “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.” It boils down to do I actually trust him to be completely just in the long run even if in the present neither the law, nor mutual friends, nor family are listening or active on my behalf ? Somehow I have to be truthful about what happened but without badmouthing, without vindictiveness !

          “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who are in debt to us.” I decide how I’d like God to treat me, then I treat others the same way. Like the 10 commandments are based on ‘what don’t you want others to do to you ? Ok don’t do that to others either.’

          And the big big biggie has been looking into the character of God. I am so struck looking at what God had to say about himself when He ‘shows himself’ to the hidden Moses in Ex 34 He’s both slow to anger etc And doesn’t leave sin unpunished !

          So looking at resentment feelings it needs disecting. The elements that are just being honest that this is all very painful and has left lasting scars is human, normal. Fire burns. The pain and the ensuing healing are a very powerful gift for showing compassion, being able to say ‘I get it, you’re not exagerating, I won’t pretend you never said that’ to someone else is a precious love gift 2 Cor 1. But holding on to unforgiveness, roots of bitterness will poison our own inner lives, our rel with God, and any future attempts to rebuild trust.

          Sorry Tim, I’ve taken a lot of your space.

          Xx Liz xx

          PS We love CS Lewis too

        • Tim says:

          Welcome to the blog, Liz!

  3. FW Rez says:

    “Mere Christianity” and “The Four Loves” are two books that have had a tremendous impact on my life.

    My kids and I share fond memories of reading the Narnia books together when they were little.We, of course, read them in publication order.

    • Tim says:

      Reading them in the order published rather than story chronology allows The Magician’s Nephew to come across as the delightful prequel it is.

    • purple kitti says:

      lewis fan here too. reading tmn before the rest of the books just takes away the significance of the first several books imo. lww establishes aslan’s true significance, moreso than the later creation story. and anyway most christians (that i know of) accept salvation through the new testament, and then they go back to the ot to learn all of the pieces of the road that led to there. it just seems to make the most sense to me to read narnia in publication order.

      not that this is crucial in the long run, i suppose…

  4. Thanks for sharing, Tim. C.S. Lewis’s writings — all of them — have so much to teach us no matter where we are in life!

  5. Pingback: A Senior Devil, Mere Faith, and Beginning My Life in Christ — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another by Tim Fall – GBFSV SPIRITUAL ABUSE VICTIMS' RECOVERY

  6. Reblogged this on Hannah's blog- Narnia in real life and commented:
    C.S. Lewis is the Christian who taught me to think instead of telling me what to think.

  7. FW Rez says:

    On a recent flight I ended up in a conversation about novels with the young man next to me, He was reading Les Miserable and I shared with him that the only fictional writing I enjoy more is Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. He was not familiar with them and in a brief conversation I was able to share about my Christian faith and how these books present the gospel message in an allegorical way. The witness of C.S. Lewis continues on.

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