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

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Screwtape and The Great Divorce (A Comparison)

An obvious difference between The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters is the layout. One is a fictional journey on which there is a narrator, interactions with many other characters, and a chronological beginning, climax, end (no matter how unsatisfying you may think it is). The Screwtape Letters are just a bunch of letters thrown together; Lewis even says that there is indeed no certainty on their chronology. But there are many similarities between the two as well. In both he uses very real ways (no matter how silly) that believers and non-believers are diverted from Christ to non-sense. And finally there does not seem to be any punishment for those in Hell; though, in Screwtape he does in passing seem to mention some sort of torment inflicted on the individual.

            In this book Lewis tells a story of an amazing adventure in the afterlife. There are, of course a few things that I would have to disagree with in this book, such as the whole of purgatory. But, there is no other way I could imagine this book being written. Without the use of a purgatory scenario how could you reflect on many different people’s lives? And if you can’t reflect on many different people’s lives then there would not be a wide enough margin of excuses people make, not without making the characters seem overly winey and annoying.

            In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has comprised a few letters that are mostly straightforward and pointed works about hell and demonic activity. The book is somewhat of a comedy about damnation and the efforts of demons to influence men. The “letters” are correspondence between a senior demon named Screwtape, who has centuries of experience in the art of tempting humans, and his younger nephew, Wormwood. The younger demon is a fresh graduate from The Tempters Training College and is on his first assignment. His task involves attempting to block, by any means necessary, a certain individual from becoming a Christian.

            The Great Divorce, which was written just three years later, deals with heaven and hell and continues the sarcastic/comedic style of The Screwtape Letters. In this story Lewis speaks as the narrator in the middle of a dream about a bus ride to heaven. The story opens in hell, where Lewis is preparing to leave with several people who actually live in Hell. And as we travel through the story we meet people in various stages of damnation, very much like Dante’s Inferno.

            There does not seem to be any real punishment in his Hell. The damned who were very evil in life, and deserve to be there as much as anyone does, are not made to pay for their deeds. They are not made to see the wrongness of what they did. Maybe I didn’t fully understand this part because the idea of purgatory confuses me. However, Lewis states clearly (p.131) that this book is an allegory not meant to be taken as literal description of the afterlife, so I wont press it.

            These two books both contain issues concerning salvation, damnation, heaven, hell, the free will of men, and other practical matters which in the end force me to conclude, C. S. Lewis is a literary genius.

Mere Christianity in Review

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis tries to make an argument for the fundamental teachings of Christianity. He aims to give a refreshed take on Christianity while staying away from the traditional language of theology. Lewis, while trying to avoid controversies that, as he said, “… should only be discussed between scholars,” made a poor biblical (yet strong logical) case for Christianity. Not that Lewis himself didn’t believe any of the hotly debated topics, but excluding everything that is debated in the church, not just from the outside, you will inevitably exclude most of everything that is essential to Christianity.

C. S. Lewis is not a writer to which we should turn for growth in a careful biblical understanding of Christian doctrine. There is almost no passage of Scripture on which I would turn to Lewis for exegetical illumination. He doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, (1) and defaults to logical arguments more naturally than to biblical exegesis. He doesn’t treat the Reformation with respect, but thinks it could have been avoided, and calls aspects of if ludicrous. (2) He refused in public or in letters to explain why he was not a Roman Catholic but remained in the Church of England. (3) He makes room for at least some people to be saved through imperfect representations of Christ in other religions. (4) He made a strong logical, but I think unbiblical, case for free will. He speaks of the atonement with reverence, but puts little significance on any of the explanations for how it actually saves sinners. (5) There was something about the way he spoke of doctrine as the “roadmap” that leads to Reality, and the way he treasured truth and reason, that made me cherish more, not less, the historic articulations of how the work of Christ saves sinners.

Lewis believed that some people, devout members of false religions, were saved and didn’t even know it:

“There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it … For example a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position” (Mere Christianity, p. 176-177).

C.S. Lewis plainly stated that he believed a person has to work to keep salvation:

“There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians…” (Mere Christianity, p.162).

“…a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it” (Mere Christianity, p.49).

He also denied a literal Heaven:

“All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it” (Mere Christianity, p.106).

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 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).

Lewis aimed to give a refreshed take on Christianity while staying away from the traditional language of theology. While trying to avoid controversies he made a poor biblical case for Christianity and resorts to using reason. 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).

Not that Lewis himself didn’t believe any of the debated topics, but excluding everything that is debated in the church, not just from the outside, you will inevitably exclude most of everything that is essential to Christianity. 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.

But Lewis’ view is not simple or completely transparent. He could say, “You will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” Problem of Pain, p. 111. I think it would be possible to argue that by “free will” Lewis sometimes only means “voluntary” rather than “having ultimate self-determination.” For example he writes, “After all, when we are most free, it is only with freedom God has given us; and when our will is most influenced by Grace, it is still our will. And if what our will does is not voluntary, and if ‘voluntary’ does not mean ‘free’, what are we talking about?” Letters of C. S. Lewis, 1966, p. 246. And perhaps most significantly, after saying that a fallen soul “could still turn back to God,” he adds this footnote: “Theologians will note that I am not here intending to make any contribution to the Pelagian-Augustinian controversy. I mean only that such a return to God was not, even now, an impossibility. Where the initiative lies in any instance of such return is a question on which I am saying nothing.” The Problem of Pain, p. 83.

I was just a bit confused when I read chapter three of book two because in every book I’ve read by Lewis it was always God initiating the “salvation” climax of the story. For instance in Perelandra, Ransom had this moment of enlightenment where he realizes freedom and necessity are the same thing. Or when (spoilers) Eustice is trying to get…I guess you could say “out of the dragon,” he couldn’t do it on his own. Maybe this is one of the thing he was thinking of when he said something should only be discussed by the experts. In my opinion I think the key to what Lewis understood of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is with Ransom in Perelandra. What I think Lewis understood was that at the highest level these two coincided together.

Despite the disagreement I would have with Lewis on nearly every point of theology, he reads and understands scripture in an amazing way. His understanding of joy that comes from faith in Christ is simply amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

(1) C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces (London: Harper Collins, 2000), p. 45.

(2) C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), p. 37.

(3) C. S.  Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis and Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966), pp. 223, 230.

(4) Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis and Walter Hooper, revised edition (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993), p. 468.

(5) Letters of C. S. Lewis, 1966, pp. 197–198.

 

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.”