On C. S. Lewis and the Relentless God
I'll join in with Hannah Sproul and say that C. S. Lewis's fiction isn't exactly my most favorite thing in the world. I actually find his nonfiction to be, in general, much more interesting than, for example, The Chronicles of Narnia (Sue me.) So when I finally got my hands on a copy of Lewis's memoir Surprised by Joy, I was as thrilled as a little geek girl can be.
If you aren't familiar with the book, Surprised by Joy is not a straightforward autobiography, but rather, the story of Lewis's conversion from atheism to theism, and finally, to Christianity. As I mentioned in my other post, one thread that runs through this story from beginning to end is what Lewis called “Joy,” an insatiable longing for something he had never experienced. To explain Joy in the space of a blog post is a bit of a tall order — some would argue that Lewis himself spent his entire career as an author trying to describe it. But so far, the best and most succinct description of it that I've come across comes from Lewis's essay “The Weight of Glory,” where he describes Joy as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” The feeling of Joy was usually triggered by something, often the hills and valleys near his childhood home in Belfast. Or sometimes, as I mentioned in my last post, a story or a line of poetry was all it took. At one point, Lewis had convinced himself that these things themselves were the objects of his desire, only to find out that he was sorely mistaken. Even as a young atheist, Lewis knew that what he was searching for was not of earth, and that the things on earth could only serve as reminders of what he was missing. It would take years (and his conversion to Christianity) for Lewis to finally realize what Joy truly was: a longing for the completeness and the holiness that can only be found in God through Christ Jesus. Even still, as he explains in his memoir, the voice of Joy was no less strong during Lewis's atheism and unbelief than it was when he finally became a Christian in 1931.
As Lewis himself well knew, a story often gets to the heart of a matter better than clear-cut exposition ever could. For me, the story of Lewis and the beckoning of Joy drove home two truths that I can never hear often enough — that God's love is relentless and that His Providence is everywhere.
Here we have a man who, for years, avoided God at every turn. Writing in Surprised by Joy of his conversion to theism, Lewis says this:
Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man's search for God.” To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat.
...I had always wanted, above all things, not to be “interfered with.” I had wanted (mad wish) “to call my soul my own.” [Chapter 14]
And yet, as this book shows on practically every page, Lewis was continually pursued by God, even in the depths of his denial. Like the “still, small voice” in First Kings, the Lord used “Joy” to remind Lewis of the good, the truth, and the beauty that lay just on the other side of the universe. He was able to soften Lewis's heart, to circumvent the intellectual barriers that he had put between himself and faith, and, eventually, to pave the way toward his conversion.
Not only that, but the Lord also did this by so many different means. Often, I think, we get the impression that God can only influence us using Scripture, a sermon, or something else that's overtly “spiritual.” We forget that, as the Maker of the Universe, He can/will use everything in creation to draw us closer to Him. That means that even pagan myths can be used to teach reverence to a prodigal (Surprised by Joy, chapter 15). Poetry can give a seeker an idea of what is meant by “Beauty” and “Truth.” Nature can inspire a person with the awe that is due to One who wields all creative power. No matter the person or the place, God will make His presence and His truth known (Romans 1:19-20).
Over the years, I've been greatly enlightened and encouraged by Lewis's apologetics works, but in addition to that, the story of his own conversion has made the awesomeness of God even more apparent to me. The Lord's dogged pursuit of Lewis, even after such rejection, shows me how much a single soul means to Him. His use of the worlds of art and nature to speak truth remind me that He truly is sovereign over all. To my mind, that's even more incredible and more beautiful than a magic world inside a wardrobe.
[Editor's Note: This blog is a participant in #LewisWeek]