How to handle losing

I was reading recently about the only debate I know of that C.S. Lewis ever lost. The year was 1948 and the sparring partner was Christian philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. It had to do with a chapter of his book, Miracles. To say he lost the debate is…debatable (had to do it), depending on who you ask. Not having interviewed anyone who was there, I couldn’t say who won. But I can say that having read about the event, and more importantly what happened after, I am thankful he lost.

For fans of Prof. Lewis, it may be hard to imagine how such a master could lose a debate, but his partner was no slouch. She was one of the most esteemed philosophers of her generation and a pupil of one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century (Ludwig Wittgenstein). She was a professor at Oxford until late in her life (she died in 2001).

I have no desire to get into the subject of the debate, not having a background in philosophy myself, but I want to point out a couple of things we can learn from what happened. After the debate, Prof. Lewis corrected the element of his book Mrs. Anscombe critiqued, while not rewriting the entire chapter. He displayed humility in correcting the flaws she pointed out. He could have dug-in-his-heels and remained adamant but chose to learn from correction, which King Solomon pointed out is the trait of a wise man (Prov. 1:5).

Also we can appreciate the providence of God in this matter. After the debate, Lewis altered the focus and tone of his writing. I’ll not say that he changed his focus entirely, but it was after losing this debate that he began to use a warmer tone in his writing and different means of communicating the truth of Christianity. This could not be entirely because of one debate, but it is significant that afterward, he wrote fewer philosophical works defending Christianity and more personal (Letters to Malcolm, Surprised by Joy) and child-friendly books (The Chronicles of Narnia). It is often that being taken down a few notches is better for us than we realize. Success can bring pride and pride eliminates our usefulness in the Kingdom of God. God loves us too much to let us go without occasional defeats.

Again I am thankful that he was bested by a younger professor in 1948. Had that not happened, we might not have had The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, or some of his other works. And we wouldn’t have seen him pass the test of how a wise man should respond to correction.

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