It’s been quite the year journeying through old favourites from C.S. Lewis and discovering a new one. I’m wrapping up this series, but before I leave Lewis I wanted to give you my final reflections as I look back over the year.
- Profound gratitude that I discovered C.S. Lewis in my early, formative faith years. I did not grow up in the faith. My parents could charitably be described as agnostic. Religion was never discussed in my house, I never set foot in a church service until I did of my own volition when I was in junior high, through a series of events too complicated to describe here. But once I had made that leap of faith, I turned to books to make sense of what Christianity was all about. The Bible, of course, but being a reader, I naturally searched for other voices who could extend a hand to me as I took my first steps in this new country I found myself in. I knew very little about Christianity but I knew enough to know that perhaps the best place to start would be with the classics, the tried-and-true teachers whose works had stood the test of time. So I read Bonhoeffer, J.I. Packer, Watchman Nee, even Bunyan. And in the midst of my reading I stumbled across Mere Christianity, and found my lifelong mentor in C.S. Lewis. His explorations of Christianity felt so much like my own, and it was refreshing to journey with him through the philosophical groundings of the Christian faith. He helped me to see that my faith could interact with reason and intellect and not be left wanting. This was really important to me, as I couldn’t just accept something because someone told me to. It had to make sense to me in a way I could defend to myself and others outside of a religious context. Lewis gave me the permission and the framework to be able to do this. He also helped me to understand that my faith, to be authentic, could not be just something tacked on to my life, but the very ground on which I stood and the lense through which I saw. As he says,“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
2. The enduring relevance of his work. Lewis’ books of fiction, philosophy, and faith are still popular today, because he speaks to us in a way that we can all understand, using imagery that brings difficult concepts to life in an accessible manner. The Screwtape Letters could have been written as a non-fiction treatise on temptation, for example, detailing what to avoid and why. Thankfully Lewis gave us Screwtape and the Lower Hierarchy of Hell instead. The same with Perelandra, and it’s exotic presentation of a pristine world where sin is “crouching at the door”. And there is no debating the impact that Narnia and its great Lion have had on so very many people. In the twelve books I read this year, there was only once where I could see that people could dismiss his words as being old-fashioned or out of touch, and that was the section in Mere Christianity on marriage. However, in reading A Grief Observed I suspect that the reality of his marriage to Joy Davidman tempered those theoretical words he wrote some years before.
3 The sheer volume and diversity of his body of work. C.S. Lewis was one of those rare authors who could write academic works, non-fiction, and fiction and make it all interesting and compelling. This is no small feat. He had a busy life outside of writing – he was an academic who was furthering his career, teaching and writing academic papers, mentoring students, etc and yet he also managed to write an astonishing 74 books (some published after his death).
4. The bright ring of truth. C.S. Lewis is popular not only because he can write so very well about topics that are difficult for us to understand in the hands of lesser writers, but because you can hardly go two or three sentences before something he writes strikes you – whether as an affirmation of something you knew but could hardly articulate, or as a challenge to an assumption you didn’t know you had, or as a fresh new truth that you had no idea was there but was so very obvious once he presented it. Lewis presents to us a God who is very much a lover of mankind, one who gave us His only Son to woo us, and yet one whose love for us demands nothing but the best from us in response, because ultimately that is for our good. As he says,“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” This is the God of the Bible, difficult and mysterious at times, yet always the God who can be found for those who seek for Him. Lewis doesn’t let us get away with platitudes, he forces us to examine what we really believe and why. He brings us to truth, and makes us realize that truth for its own sake is all very well and good, but it is worth nothing until it becomes a truth that changes your life.
I am not done with C.S. Lewis. There were too many books of his that I didn’t get to read this year. I forsee a Year of Reading Lewis, Part 2, probably in 2017. But for this year I am taking on a new series….tune in next week for the Great Reveal!