We all know the old proverb, “When the student (pupil) is ready, the master (teacher) will appear”. I dabbled around the fringes of C. S. Lewis’s writings for many years. I quoted him in many seminars and training sessions, even though I had read only excerpts from his work (I plead guilty). I decided it was about time for “the teacher to appear”.
Clyde Staples Lewis preferred to be called Jack. If you are not familiar with him, I suggest starting with the movie “Shadowlands”, currently on cable TV. Anthony Hopkins plays Lewis in this excellent rendition of a part of Lewis’s life. I collect quotations about writing and reading and use them to “defend” my writing habit during times when there seems to rational justification for it. This movie provided one of the best. “We read to know that we are not alone”.
We also write to find out if we are alone. What does that mean to you? To me, it means we read to vicariously experience situations such as illness, death, murder, betrayal, great business success or failure, and athletic or artistic accomplishment.
We need to see how characters in books react to situations that we may have experienced, want to experience or just wondered about. We see also that other people in other places might have troubles worse than our own. We see places where they live, places we will likely never visit. This provides regular reassurance that “we are not alone”.
C. S. Lewis is probably best known for his Chronicles of Narnia series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc…). He was also close friends with J. R. R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame. Both were on the English faculty at Oxford. But the book I am referring to today is Mere Christianity. I perused it many years ago, but didn’t apply myself.
I picked it up about a year ago and read it again, this time with a highlighter and post-it notes. I wondered, for heaven’s sake (a cliché meant to be taken literally here), why I had not done so before. After all, a boy’s struggle to understand was partially revealed in this early passage from Rivers Flow.
After nine weeks of perfect attendance at Sunday school and church in Klondike, Jake heard the teacher ask the question he had been dreading. “Please raise your hands if you have been saved by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.” All of his classmates raised their hands. Jake sat on his.
And there is this later passage where Jake is in church again. As the sun rose higher, one of the spiraling dust tunnels focused on Jake, and he felt himself floating above the congregation, his mind drifting back to events that seemed so long ago.
Several things sparked my revived life-long need to understand (most would not interest you).I have written previously about the Cowhill Council, a group of seasoned sages who meet regularly for coffee. I make no pretense that our discussions are usually highly intellectual, but occasionally we try.
One morning, we were fortunate enough to have two evangelists and a fellow in the middle of the rigorous training required to become a Catholic Deacon present for our meeting. I stuck my neck out and asked if anyone could explain the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Atonement in terms that an ignorant mortal like me could understand and spiritually absorb.
Everyone stared at me as if asking if I had just arrived on planet Earth and never set foot in a church. But then, their faces lit up as they launched into vigorous attempts to comply. It led to a vibrant and enjoyable discussion, but their explanations were the same ones I had heard all my life.
C. S. Lewis speaks to me. He lost his mother at nine. Raised in the Church of Ireland, he turned atheist at fifteen, even becoming interested in the occult, quoting Lucretius, “Had God designed the world it would not be, a world so frail and faulty as we see.” But he slowly re-embraced Christianity, influenced by his friend Tolkien and by his own “teacher” G. K. Chesterton and his book The Everlasting Man.
In Mere Christianity, he explains the Atonement and Resurrection this way: The only person who could do it perfectly (repentance) would be the perfect person—and he would not need it. But supposing God became a man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person—then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God .
You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence. But we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies, and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt and suffers for us what He need not suffer at all (emphasis mine).
That explanation speaks to me. Next, we will see what Lewis has to say about God’s punishment and explore what another author has to say about life after death.