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