The summer of 2015 has been the summer of C.S. Lewis. I do an in-depth Bible study each year that runs from September to early May, following the academic calendar. This year I decided to read one C.S. Lewis book each month for the four “off” months: May through August. Here I will be sharing some of my thoughts about my readings. They will not be a full book review or summary and I will not try to preach or convert. In fact, many of my observations and thoughts have little to do with faith topics at all. Whatever your beliefs or path I hope you will read with an open mind.
My history with C.S. Lewis started many years ago when my (Christian) grandmother gave me a copy of The Magician’s Nephew for Christmas. Unfortunately she over-estimated my interest and under-estimated my reading level and I tossed it aside unread. Years later, for some reason now unremembered, I went to see the movie “Shadowlands” starring Anthony Hopkins, a man who often (Hannibal Lecter aside) reminds me of my father. And there my relationship with Lewis ended until I read Mere Christianity, a book which was instrumental in my coming to faith.
So now, after nearly 20 years of walking with God and living life, I turned again to this classic and began my summer by rereading Mere Christianity. I wanted to see if my reactions would be the same; if I would still be convinced and persuaded, if the arguments would still hold water. I was. They did. I agree with Anthony Burgess who wrote of C.S. Lewis: “Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half-convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.”
What I found again was an answer for my deep desire for good, my longing for a place where people are kind, gentle, fair and loving. The idea of God again filled me with the hope that there is such a place and there is a reason for my idealism. I found myself understanding that this perfect place does not exist on this Earth but it is what my truest self longs for.
There was also the comforting intellectual reasoning of why God exists and why we seek Him. For some, intellectual reasoning is the last thing they want mixed up with their theology, but for me it was and is necessary. I was raised in and embraced (and still do embrace) the world of scientific thought and experimentation. I enjoyed following Lewis’s logical thought process, his carefully written arguments, knocking out counter arguments. It made my brain work, but in a good way.
So, what specifically did I find there? Here are some sample sections that really spoke to me:
On sins of the flesh:
“Sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasures of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport and backbiting, the pleasures of power, of hatred.”
On trying to practice a virtue:
Perfection cannot be attained by merely human efforts. You must ask God for help. Even then you will fail. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness and try again. “Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of trying again.”
Lewis says that if you met someone who most people would call ‘humble’ nowadays he would “be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Instead, after meeting a truly humble man, “probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him…. He will not be thinking about humility, he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
On arguments within the faith, denominational differences or disagreements:
“I feel a strong desire to tell you – and I suspect you feel a strong desire to tell me – which of these two errors is worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.”
There are many others, but I will end with this: that I trust that Jesus will help me to become the person I most truly want to become, because that is how he sees me already. None of my flaws, my weaknesses that keep tripping me up and preventing me from being who I most want to be, will matter. My faith has given me a glimpse of a place where I am my best self and so is everyone around me.