One of the things bloggers and the National Enquirer have in common is over-the-top-headlines created to entice readers into opening their pages or buying the rag. I can hardly wait to find out what happened the night Jackie Kennedy told Marilyn Monroe where to go.
The truth is that C.S. Lewis did not save my life. But I would like to tell you about how this Oxford and Cambridge professor who died fifty years ago today changed my life and my understanding of life in profound ways.
Lewis was an English intellectual of academic note who is best remembered as a Christian apologist and thinker whose fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy and more) and Christian reflections (The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Surprised by Joy, The Four Loves and many more) make a joyful and persuasive case for what he called “Mere Christianity” – the title of what may be his most famous work.
The Christian faith into which I was baptized as an infant and which I seriously confirmed as a high school freshman came to life in new ways during my undergraduate days. In college I met a group of Christian students whose friendship and faith made sense of those personally and politically confusing days of the early 1970’s. They helped me find in the waters of my baptism and the words of my confirmation a certainty I had not known up to that point. God became personal and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ a daily reality that has not faded or faltered in the forty plus years since then.
The writings of C.S. Lewis were an important part of that amazing season in my life, that time of faith blossoming and discipleship growing. I can’t remember who first told me about The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, but I owe a great debt of gratitude to whoever it was. Lewis taught me that Christian faith is reasonable and joyful; the Christian life one of adventure and hope.
So, this is my Lewis sampler on this day of the anniversary of his death. I know exactly where to turn in my well-worn $.95 paperbacks.
- In Mere Christianity Lewis taught me that Jesus has to be taken for who he claims to be or not at all. Addressing those who would make Jesus nothing more than a great moral teacher, he writes:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
- In the first of the Narnia books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy, one of the school children who find themselves in Narnia, is being told about the great lion, Aslan, the Christ figure in Narnia.
(Mrs. Beaver is speaking) – “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
How often I have needed to be reminded that Jesus isn’t safe. But he’s good.
- As an early twenty-something I was still at work trying to organize my life and my identity. This is the advice for that project that Lewis gave me in Mere Christianity.
Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Thanksgiving week or not, I am still stunned by “everything else” that Christ has added to my life.
- Seasons of life have come and gone since those college and early post-college days in Santa Cruz, California. I remember the thrill I felt when I came to the last chapter of the last of the Narnia books, The Last Battle – and the sadness knowing that I would not read the books for the first time ever again. The chapter is titled, “Farewell to Shadow-Lands.” The Shadow-Lands turn out to be our earthly lives and in the great last battle the children are taken “further up and further in,” out of the shadow-lands. There they meet Aslan coming toward them, “leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.” For the first time in all the Chronicles, the children begin to realize that the time has come for them to remain in Narnia, never to return to the shadow-lands. “Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them,” Lewis writes. And then Aslan tells the children:
The term is ended. The holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.
The hope of that morning brings greater thrill now than when I first believed. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11
C.S. Lewis wrote a spiritual biography that told the story of his journey from atheism to Christian belief. The book’s title is Surprised By Joy.
I could say the same of my life with Christ. C.S. Lewis did not save my life. Christ did. But thanks be to God for the Englishman willing to share his joy – the joy of Christ – with others of us.
By the way, if any of you would like to share anything from Lewis that has been a part of your faith journey, please pass it on to me by return email (firstname.lastname@example.org)