C.S. Lewis on the Christian Household

There is a lot of talk about the household in Christian circles these days, much of it good (On this note, we heartily recommend C.R. Wiley’s two books, Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos. Also check out Matt Carpenter’s recent interview with C.R. Wiley by clicking here).

C.S. Lewis, too, shared some thoughts about the Christian household, thoughts which I will now paraphrase for your reading edification.[1] At the very least, it might spark some interesting conversation on the topic. Consider this paraphrase both an announcement and an exhortation. The announcement is that we will preach a summer series on the household (the information for that series can be found at the end of this blog post). The exhortation comes from Lewis, which is broken into four parts.

Part One

It is not the case that living in a “monogamous family life” (in other words, the nuclear family) will automatically make one “holy and happy.” There are many “dangers” that are obscured by the “sentimental illusion” of family life, that neglect the fact that things can go wrong. “Domesticity is not a passport to heaven on earth but an arduous vocation—a sea full of hidden rocks and perilous ice shores only to be navigated by one who uses a celestial chart.” So the first thing to keep in mind, says Lewis, is that the family, like every other institution involving humans, “needs redemption.”

Part Two

In part two Lewis says that the need for “conversion or sanctification of family life … must … mean something more than the preservation of ‘love’ in the sense of natural affection.” Lewis issues this warning because the love of “natural affection” demands sympathy before giving it. Lewis calls the “greed to be loved” a “fearful thing.” When this is the type of love exchanged in the household, it produces “incessant resentment.” The household must have a higher love.

Part Three

Next Lewis comments on the common maxim about a home life that “It is there that we appear as we really are: it is there that we can fling aside the disguises and be ourselves.” This invites a common pitfall. When we are at home, we do appear as we are, which is the very thing that should trouble us. Outside the home, we behave with “ordinary courtesy.” Inside the home, we interrupt, talk “confident nonsense about subjects of which” we “are totally ignorant,” and otherwise trample “on all the restraints which civilized humanity has found indispensable for tolerable social intercourse.” At home, Lewis says, we behave with “downright rudeness … selfishness, slovenliness, incivility—even brutality.” The freedom to indulge in this way is the reason many want to go home.

Part Four

Lewis’ fourth point responds to the question, If a person can’t be comfortable and unguarded at home, where can he? Lewis’s answer is “there is nowhere this side of heaven where one can safely … be ourselves.” His point is that until you are a fully glorified son of God, it isn’t lawful to be yourself. There is just too much sin left in yourself. It’s not that there are no differences between home life and public life. But the difference is not that at home you can be yourself. The real difference is that home life “has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult.”

If you find these observations helpful, you can read the full essay in C.S. Lewis’s book God in the Dock.

An Overview of our Summer Sermon Series

June 13The Household: Introduction and Overview
June 20The Household: The Noonday Woman
June 27The Household: Rehabilitating Submission
July 4The Household: Christian Men
July 11The Household: Singles

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 282-286.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.