C. S. Lewis: Essential

After Lewis’ conversion he didn’t just go on to be a Christian nor a strong Christian, but the most influential Christian writer of the twentieth century. Lewis has a way of talking about God that doesn’t just talk about imagination, but actually uses our pulls our imagination in. One might even make the argument that without it you can’t really know God. It may simply because of the way that Lewis lived his life that provided us with a somewhat clear presentation of what it means to be a Christian in today’s modern world.

            Lewis saw reason as an anchor of faith. He knew that the faith that was based fundamentally on emotions would be subjected to change all of the time. For Lewis the call to love God with all your mind didn’t just read a book or two, but a call to be a whole different kind of person. It wasn’t only a call to use your faith and reason together nor an intellectual pursuit, but also a way of being present in the modern world. And by returning reason to it’s rightful place, Lewis showed the world how Christianity could give an answer to anyone seeking for answers to the great questions of life. As Lewis says, “Reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.”

            We take reason seriously as we should, but sometimes we take it too seriously and there are some things (like the gospels and the truth of the gospels) that cannot be communicated by just reason; it has to be communicated by a story. We are able to access the meaning through our imagination. The idea of story is a centrally human concept and it is essential to the kind of truth that we find in the gospels. When you are talking about rational truth, facts, and data then you don’t need it. But, when you are talking about the actual life and works of Jesus Christ then you need story to convey the message. Both Lewis and Tolkien realized that imagination is the means by which we arrive at the truth, yet it does not conflict with reason.

            I think that Lewis, having studied Norse and Greek mythology as a medieval scholar was well versed in the power of story and creativity and imagination. He combined all of that with his faith and that opened people’s minds to imagine a world where the story of Jesus wasn’t a myth but a lived reality. If someone where to approach an unbeliever with Jesus there would be a few preconceived cultural miss conceptions that just makes them uninterested. But, since a lot of what Lewis wrote was fiction (take Aslan for example) you are able to access truth with your imagination that your mind might have defenses against. Many people love Aslan, much fewer love Jesus. Lewis was well aware of the power that stories created by a Christian imagination have, to present understandable concepts that are otherwise unapproachable.

            “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I can find in myself a desire, which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not mean that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity

 In the opening chapters of The Great Divorce, we find that Hell is a bleak, dreary gray town, vast and lonely, hovering in a perpetual rainy twilight. Wandering through abandoned streets, the narrator finally stumbles across a bus stop, where a group of people is waiting for the bus. All of them are angry and argumentative, however, seemingly unable to tolerate each other’s presence; they quarrel, assault each other or drop out of the line declaring that they didn’t want to go anyway at the slightest provocation.

            Even here in my description of Lewis’ description of Hell (or purgatory) you can start to imagine a very real place. Naturally, it is because you have probably seen a dreary gray town, you have experienced a rainy twilight, you have certainly experienced angry and argumentative people. So, within this narrative there is more than a little bit of truth and you have arrived at this possible reality simply by reading and imagining it.

            When the narrator takes the “bus” up to Heaven, one of the first things he notices is how real heaven is in comparison. All the occupants of Hell are spirits who want nothing more than to be alone. Hell is so “gigantic” while the narrator is in it because everyone keeps moving farther and farther away from each other. After all… there is no definable “space” in the afterlife. Although, when the narrator enters Heaven, he begins to experience pain. He steps on the grass and finds that it is so real that it pierces through his foot. It is only after he spends time in Heaven that he, himself, becomes more real and can finally comfortably walk on the grass. At one point he asks his guide where Hell is. They had been walking around Heaven for a little while, and the narrator asks to return to the cliff where the bus ascended up from Hell. When they return, he notices that Hell is only a crack in the soil. That infinity of space that was Hell when the narrator resided there is now only a small crack that barely an ant can fit through after he’s spent time in Heaven.

            C.S. Lewis always has interesting ways to picture the afterlife. In The Problem of Pain he contemplates Hell in a different way. Hell is the absence of God and the absence of other people. It is loneliness. But it is only through choice that one can go to Hell. The doors are locked from the inside. God doesn’t reject anyone… it’s the people who reject God.

            I’ve noticed that a lot of discussions tend to talk about unbelievers, without actually talking about them. That is to say that on the one hand, we argue over the existence of Hell, and if it does exist, what kind of God would possibly create such a place. On the other hand, when we talk about the souls of those who will populate Hell we make a particular assumption: they don’t want to be there. The reasoning is something like: “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Therefore, all will want to be with Jesus, especially those going to Hell, who will be filled with regret.” They take a perfectly good verse from the Bible (Philippians 2:10) and misinterpret it, inflicting their own opinions onto the truth.

            I think that upon seeing Jesus, those who rejected Him will only be filled with more bitterness at the thought of their eternal destination. A bitterness that will grow over time; maybe until it is all that is left of them. It’s a thought I share with C.S. Lewis, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside

 

This will be my last post about Lewis for a while. He is a talented writer, but I do nee to take a break. Thank you so very much for reading this post, and to those whom have been with me from week one of eight… I love you

 

God Bless

Bryant Kauffman

Screwtape Part One

 

            “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” (1) Lewis was writing in a time where Christianity had just started seeping its way out of mainstream culture and being passed off as just some people’s opinion or worldview. The whole reason, I think, that this book even works is because it flies under the radar of what most people accept as Christian truth. Lewis was not an evangelist but he did have a few certain gifts that he used very well, one of which was to break down obstacles to belief that people had then and still have today.

            Lewis was writing in a time where Christianity had just started seeping its way out of mainstream culture and being passed off as just some people’s opinion or worldview. This is exactly what is happening in America today. The problem with this age is not apathy, though that could be a big problem, but the whole notion of the spiritual is gone. By the end of the nineteenth century the industrial revolution was coming to a close and modern thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin and others, had influenced most of society. This is the world that C. S. Lewis was born into and grew up in, and it is not much different from the one we live in now.

            Lewis understood that story has a certain power to move people so that they can better understand something. He had even said that reason he thought Narnia was so effective is that the passion of Aslan took people by surprise. They where very familiar with the whole “Jesus story,” but Aslan’s death and resurrection they never saw coming, so it was much more moving to them. Most people have a wall up against Christian truth be cause they don’t even want to go there, but they will pick up something from Lewis or Tolkien and sometimes that will awaken in them a hunger for something they didn’t even know they wanted. That is the whole reason, I think, that this book even works is because it flies under the radar of what most people accept as Christian truth. In this book Lewis uses some very real ways that we as humans might be tempted and led away from Christ.

            The devil has no new tricks. Lewis was not an evangelist but he did have a few certain gifts that he used very well, one of which was to break down obstacles to belief that people had then and still have today. That is the reason he is still relevant, because many people have doubts about Jesus, flat out reject Jesus, I have an abiding fear of what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. Chronological snobbery is the arrogant notion that the ideas of our own day are better than the ideas of a bygone day just because the ideas are in our day. Chronological snobbery feels that things are truer because they are newer. It is not only irrational; it is also naïve, because there aren’t any really new ideas under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 says,

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
”See, this is new”? 
It has been already,
in the ages before us.

 

Works Cited

(1) The Screwtape Letters, By C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins 1947 Chapter 12 

Week 3 of Mere Christianity

Book 4

            Lewis begins this book describing two different terms, making and begetting. He says that those who are made have a biological life and are later given a spiritual life by the only one who has that sort of life, God himself. The Bios life, as Lewis calls it, is “a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe” (or Spiritual life.) Because we were made with free will and choose to deny God, it is now impossible in order to become Sons of God on our own. Instead, we must embrace the death of this life and the beginning of a new and eternal life.

            When God made Adam, He made him in the likeness of Himself. This is different than begetting. The only begotten Son of God is Jesus. If God made man then man cannot be a god of any sort (a point that Lewis makes then later overlooks). An image Lewis paints of this is like a man sculpting a statue. The statue has all the resemblance of a man, but absolutely no ability to think or move or reason on it’s own.

So, at one point in history man had the ability to be sons of God, they had a spiritual life. A brief period of time man was in perfect communion with God, and his wife for that matter. Now, we have lost the spiritual life and it only makes sense that we would need the one who has Zoe to cross over into the Bios. In fact it is the only thing that would make sense. What Jesus came into the world to do was not show us how to be more religious or how to re-awaken our sleeping spiritual life. He came to take what was dead and make it alive. Just as a person who has drowned cannot administer his or her own CPR, so is people who are spiritually dead cannot on their own resurrect themselves. They must be born again.

Now that Book 4 is done and I reflect back I don’t remember seeing any direct quotes from the Bible (probably because he didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture). This is what I believe to be one of Lewis’ biggest flaws and greatest attributes. It is one of his great attributes because it shows that Christianity can be reasoned even in common knowledge of reality. But, it is one of his greatest flaws because instead of making a biblical defense for Jesus, he subjects himself to his own opinions of what Christianity truly is (which is why we must believe in and use the Bible).

 Also looking back I don’t think it wise that anyone should attempt to explain something as complex as Christianity without addressing the controversies. Anything that has been debated amongst Christians has been debated for a good reason. He spoke quite a bit about free will and never such as mentions predestination or God’s elect, which are actual terms used in the Bible. That has been one of the greatest debates amongst Christians for the last few centuries.

 All of that being said I do love Lewis. Despite the disagreement I would have with him on nearly every point of theology, he reads and understands scripture in an amazing way. And his understanding of joy that comes from faith in Christ is amazing. 

8 Weeks With C. S. Lewis: Book 1 of Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity is often regarded as C. S. Lewis’ greatest works. In book one Lewis begins unwrapping this sense of a “Moral Law,” which claims that everyone has, within the core of their being, an understanding of right and wrong. Lewis saw the on coming storm of post modernism and he hated it with a passion. Lewis lived and wrote in a word that was moving on from Christianity into subjectivity and relativism. Lewis hated the lie that all truth is subjective to one’s perspective and ventures to prove that all peoples have at their core being a sense of good and bad.

The moral law is a sense that we have been made with a want to do well toward others and not be selfish. This is not an instilled sense that has been taught to us by our parents, teachers nor friends. What we are taught by the influential people in our lives, is what our culture holds valuable. Like not sagging your pant and looking presentable; or not scraping your teeth on the fork while you’re eating. These are things that our parents and friends teach us, mainly I think, because it annoys them. But, what happens to be offensive in this culture is not in another. For instance, here in America we eat usually something sweet in the morning, like cereal. But in most other countries they treat it as though it’s any other meal for the day. I for one cannot image eating brisket just after waking up, but that is my prerogative.

The moral law goes far beyond that. Lewis is trying to establish that there is deep inside of our beings that we want to be unselfish and mindful of others. There are ways of being unselfish cross-culturally such as not stealing and being generally respectful to others. Why though, do we have this urge to want to do right by others if there in general if, as the postmodernist would say, there is no right and that everything is relative.

Lewis was writing in an time where Christianity had just started seeping its way out of mainstream culture and being passed off as just some people’s opinion or worldview. This is exactly what is happening today in America if not completely already. The problem with this age is not apathy, though that could be a big problem, but the whole notion of the spiritual is gone. Now all we tend to base facts on is what science can prove and science cannot prove anything in the spiritual realm. Therefore the spiritual aspect of all life must not exist at all, and it is much more easier to chalk it up to personal feelings (some go so far as to say delusions).

What the scientific world hasn’t proven to us yet is what love is, why people feel  the need to help someone in distress, why we have a desire to do good when survival of the fittest says we must look after ourselves and how people all across the globe have, with variations here and there, the same set of standard rules as how not to be selfish. And yet after all of this, as Lewis says, “We have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity.”