A Sprawling Essay
When Joshua told me he was marshalling posts on C. S. Lewis, I told him I would write, but that it would be a sprawling essay hitting on major things I’ve learned from C. S. Lewis. I believe this essay meets that mark. However, I’ve tried to keep my sprawl orderly enough to encourage you to pick up C. S. Lewis. If I’ve succeeded there, you will be the judge. My first memory of C. S. Lewis was the 1988 BBC mini-series. It wasn’t until much later I found out this mini-series was based on books or that the author was C. S. Lewis. However, something stuck to my bones; something that I couldn’t put into words as a child. Narnia gave me hope. It awakened a longing.
I still feel the tangible sigh of relief and bubbling hope as Aslan rises from the dead.
“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses. “But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer. “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. And now—” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia [p. 163]. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)
I didn’t read the books until I was in high school and other than that I didn’t read any C. S. Lewis until college. (As an aside, I am eternally grateful to C. S. Lewis for introducing me to J. R. R. Tolkien.)
However, in college he kept coming up in different classes I was taking, so I finally picked up Mere Christianity. It seemed like the logical place to start. Plus, I was wrestling with my own faith and wanted to investigate the claims of Christianity further. Lewis taught me several things including that the Christian faith was rational and there was strong evidence for it. One of those is the inborn morality in humanity. Lewis says,
“My argument against God [as an atheist] was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
Second, Lewis taught me that story and imagination are essential to the Christian faith. As I hinted at earlier, before I made the connection between Aslan and Jesus, I was overjoyed and filled with hope when Aslan rose from the dead? Why was that? Because it echoed the true and better story of Jesus rising from the dead. So much of what makes Narnia special is that it disciples our imaginations. It makes us long for the gospel before we even know it’s the gospel we are longing for. For Lewis imagination isn’t escapism, bur rather a whisper of the world as it should be.
Third, Lewis taught me that all people are valuable and the most ordinary person has something divine in them. The Weight of Glory is essential reading. It’s Lewis at his best.
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. . . . It may be possible to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a create which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. (The Weight of Glory [NY: HarperOne, 2001], 45-46. Paragraphing Mine.)
Fourth, Lewis taught me that grief and doubt should not be ignored. His raw emotion in A Grief Observed reminds me of the raw emotion in the Psalms. This line haunts me: “Cancer, and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue.” I’ve experienced a bit of this the last few years. I’ve lost eight people who were dear to me and have had the thought many times, “Who’s next? Who will I lose next? How will I handle it? Can I handle it?”
In another place, Lewis says, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.” That struggle is real. Can my faith in God as good withstand real world suffering?
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
And “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
Lewis shows us how to hold to faith even through the most painful suffering. He shows us it’s OK to hurt and ask tough questions of God when we’re in pain. And he also shows us that God can take the weight of our deepest pain, suffering, and grief.
Last, Lewis taught me the value of friendship. As I mentioned, he introduced me to J. R. R. Tolkien. Their friendship and the larger friendship within the Inklings is notorious. These gatherings were not tertiary. Lewis understood that friendship was essential for human flourishing. In Four Loves, C. S. Lewis writes,
“In friendship … we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
This view of friendship as providential is a game changer. We see the people who are our friends as chosen by God for us to come alongside and love. And how many of us have not had this experience?
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."
It’s exhilarating when you meet someone who loves something as much as you and there’s this sensation of excitement and joy and hopefulness for the friendship that may have been missing before.
C. S. Lewis is a drum major in the Christian tradition. If you haven’t heard his song, you must remedy this. If you’re unsure where to start, I’d recommend The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It will prime you for the truths Lewis digs into elsewhere. Lewis writes widely, so you’re sure to find something that fits your interests—apologetics, science fiction, fantasy, essay, etc. Go out and read.
[Editor's Note: This blog is a participant in #LewisWeek]