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Monday, July 13, 2015

Want to Draw Closer to God? Use a Map!

In book four of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis tells of having a conversation with an old air force officer who believed in God, but felt that the theologies we teach somehow diminish his reality. The officer proclaims, "I know there's a God. I've felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him."1

This "all I need is Jesus" concept has only grown since Lewis' writing that story, and I can understand why. For those that have been delivered from a life of misery or the effects of addition, the real changing presence of the Gospel is powerful and moving. Theology seems to be about somehow deconstructing God, making him more distant than He is experientially. Lewis agreed with that assessment, yet he cautioned against abandoning learning theology simply because it is less experientially powerful than the direct witness of the Spirit. He used the analogy of an Englishman learning about the Atlantic Ocean by walking along the beach. Surely this experience, too, has a feel that informs the man in a far more powerful way than seeing the ocean drawn upon a map. Yet, the map is important. Lewis explains:
The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.

In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map.2

A Map to God's Character

I like Lewis' analogy. The study of theology is perhaps drier than the experiential aspects of the Christian life, but it informs us about God as he is, not simply the small sliver we experience. Further, when difficulties come into our lives, we can refer back to our learning of who God is and how he works and have confidence in his character. We grow in our devotion to him as we grow in our understanding of him.

The writer to the Hebrews rebuked those Christians for not moving beyond the pure milk of the word. He expected them to mature in their relationship with God as Christians. He wanted them to deal with more complex theological ideas than "repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:1-2, ESV). Those are all important foundations of the gospel, but there is so much more to learn.

If we wish to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we need to learn more about his essential nature and his character. We need a map to guide us on our journey in understanding him better. We will need to be shown those hidden treasures that can build us up as believers. After all, what lover doesn't want to know everything he can about his beloved?


1. Lewis, C. S. "Mere Christianity." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 127-128 Print.
2. Lewis, 128.

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