Rats in the cellar of my soul

Storytelling is an important teaching tool, not only because it holds the student’s attention by entertaining, but because it makes the teacher’s point using a frame of reference familiar to the student.  Great teachers know how to use metaphor and analogies to illustrate important concepts. In this regards, C.S. Lewis was a genius. Take this bit from Mere Christianity:

“…surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.”

Lewis makes the point that our goal should not simply be to do good things, but to become a good person. Of course, we must begin by doing good, by acting like the good person we wish to become, but true transformation cannot be accomplished purely by our own efforts. For this we must look to God, as Lewis goes on to explain:

“Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul. Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.”…

“After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.”

I thank God for transforming thoughtful men like C.S. Lewis.


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