Within the Christian faith, there are many writers who have influenced the lives of fellow believers. However, none of these figures have come to be as revered and respected as much as C.S. Lewis. Throughout this essay, I will attempt to explain why and how Lewis came to be regarded by Christians and the rest of the world as someone to aspire after. Lewis is aware of the inherent flaws that exist within him because he lives in a fallen world and as such, he felt emotions just like every created being. Clive Staples Lewis or Jack to his friends, was human just like any other Christian believer and as a writer, he is not afraid to assert his humanness to his readers.
However, Lewis never forgot the fundamental desire of humanity for love once the pure love of God encountered him on his journey for Joy. Therefore, perhaps the universal celebration of Lewis is due to his ability as a writer to express and explain the essentialness of curtain emotions like pain and joy within life and that the Lord, isn't afraid of them. Lewis doesn't try to suggest that he is in any way above anyone else because he like his audience is searching for answers. The testimony of Lewis' life characterized most by the unquenched longing to become a man reflective of God's character makes him a prime example of what it means to lead a Christian life for many.
Throughout the bulk of Lewis' work, the author takes it upon himself on multiple occasions to interject his thoughts about what he has already set down on a given topic in writing. These interjections happen quite often throughout the works of nonfiction and particularly within the prefaces of these works. In the introductions of his work, it often becomes apparent to the readers of his texts that Lewis seems to be a man of humbling character. Usually, within the first couple of pages of a novel, C.S. Lewis clarifies for the reader that he is not an expert on his writing topic of choice nor is he always right the first time when he addresses the matter of preference. For instance, take the following statements from The Problem of Pain,
"I was never fooled enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all," (Preface XII).
In the act of Lewis acknowledging that he isn't the genie of the lamp who holds all of humanity's answers in regards to life's philosophies or the nature of God; he immediately becomes approachable. Every individual who reads his work Christian or non-Christian can see a little piece of themselves inside the man (with a somewhat strange name) behind the pages of the novel. He is merely a man on his own journey home trying to shift his way through the landscape of the Shadowlands just like all of his fellow believers. Through his writings, Lewis can act as a kind of "friendly tour guide" of the Christian faith. Jack, begins many of his works by stating in so many words that he is "unqualified" to be speaking on such subjects, and the only thing he can offer the reader is "his own convictions." In other words, even though from an academic standpoint Lewis was more than qualified to write on the subject of Christian faith in reality, as a mere sinful human he is not by supernatural standards. He restates the same idea in Mere Christianity, "I should be very glad if people would not draw fanciful inferences from my silence on certain disputed matters"(Preface IX).
Therefore, Lewis does what he can do which is to point his readers back to God to assist them in seeking answers where and when his purposed explanations fall short; as well as choosing to actively and purposely avoid discussing specific topics. As a writer, Lewis can articulate with striking clarity concepts of Christianity like Heaven, Hell, and the process of sin so that every human being can understand that which is clouded in confusion. This he is able to do most efficiently using metaphor and vast amounts of the reason for which he credits his tutor the Great Knock.
However, Lewis never wrote on subjects of the faith that are surrounded by a difference of opinions and grey areas. Instead, he only explained and explored what was consider to be "Mere Christianity." These concepts are the teachings of the church that everyone can agree on without argument. The following techniques allowed Lewis to be non-denominational in his lessons and therefore widely accepted. Therefore, the teachings of Lewis challenge the induvial to reexamine the claims of Christ without coming across as if he is pushing a specific agenda that is tied to anything other than the core values of Christianity. Another critical practice of Lewis was to make it explicitly clear that he did not in the most remote sense mind what others thought about his work or if they ever cared to finish it. This belief was made clear in the preface to Surprise by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life,
"The story is, I fear, suffocatingly subjective; the kind of thing I have never written before and shall probably never write again. I have tried so to write the first chapter that those who can't bear such a story will see at once what they are in for and close the book with the least waste of time" ( Preface XII).
For Lewis time was always a valuable aspect of life that was never meant to be wasted. Lewis liked schedules that provided structure to his busy life. Therefore, it would make sense that Lewis also valued the time of his readers. In this sense, he would understand that not everything he produces will be enjoyed by everyone. So, Lewis doesn't wish to waste their time because he doesn't want his own time spent on something on which he doesn't care; if someone chose to disagree with what he had expressed in writing, they are more than happy to do so. To take this one step further, Lewis never wrote to please his educated comrades. He wrote what he wanted, and for the audience, he chose to write; which wasn't defined by any age or demographic. The writing is universal and has no boundaries because as a writer and an educator he established that the concepts he is exploring go beyond any human-made structures of society. Furthermore, for the Christian, C.S. Lewis, through his frequent reassurance that he, himself is flawed; but still within him there exists something that cries out for the divine suggests that he like so many others are not of this world. In a seemly natural way, the author presences human life as being both of the worlds while simultaneously being above the world herby bridging the gap between the two.
With this in mind, Lewis is able to throughout his work emphasized the validity of human emotion both as a gift to humanity from God and also as a tool that God wields to teach and mold. However, he doesn't suggest that every emotion is valid and can be used positively. The prime example used over and over again is pride which, Lewis actively writes against in Mere Christianity, "It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began” (111). Lewis never ran away from addressing a given topic unless it wasn’t a part of what he called “Mere Christianity”.
In fact, sometimes he chose to devote an entire book to discussing a subject. This is a treatment Lewis gives to the emotion or feeling of pain; which is a subject in Christian circles that has often been surrounded by questions. InThe Problem of Pain, Lewis affirms pain as an essential part of human life that is unavoidable. Lewis asserts that pain can have duel effects on the natural and the supernatural world. In one sense, pain could cause harm and therefore be a bad thing to be experiencing; but in the second sense, pain can also be represented and used by God to bring about something better than what existed before. Lewis famously describes the emotion of pain and how God often uses pain as a tool like this, "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world"(91). Therefore, pain as a feeling is real and should not be pushed behind a curtain to deal with in the dark. Instead, it's a real human emotion that exists and often forces the created being back into the presence of the creator where they were always intended to be. That is to say, if the one experiencing pain chooses to set their feet toward the face of God rather than away from him. However, as can be seen through the testimony of Lewis, God tends to run after an induvial like a lion until they come to a full surrender before his feet or in Lewis’s case four paws.
There is no question among admirers of C.S. Lewis that he experienced significant amounts of pain throughout his life. The cycle of pain is argued to have begun at the age of nine when his mother died of cancer in 1908. This event alone would in many ways later serve as the catalyst for his eventual conversion to atheism. However, the same event also set into motion Lewis’s unrelenting search for “True Joy.” Which, leads him back to the same God who in Lewis' eyes so many years before had “robbed him of any joy he once possessed.” However, the God that Lewis eventually returns to as an adult comes back to him looking slightly different than the God of his early childhood. Lewis’s unrelenting search for Joy throughout his life is reflective of the Lord's unending desire for us to reside and be loved in his presence. As Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, "Love by definition, seeks to enjoy its objects" (149). Therefore, being that God is love; his greatest desire is to enjoy his created objects which in the case of Lewis’ metaphor would be humankind, and in response, humankind is to experience “True Joy.” In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis defines the feeling of "True Joy" as,
"An unsatisfied desire which itself is more desirable than any other satisfaction. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them [Happiness and Pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again" (19).
From here, Lewis goes on to describe in the subsequent pages of the novel as well as other writings to suggest that real Joy is a type of good pain. However, this pain Lewis suggests never ceases to exist and will persist long after we reach the gates of Heaven. The Joy that Lewis spent the majority of his Life longing for is the most profound example of why he is admired by the world even though fame was never the intention. The search for unspeakable joy was an action that distinctly marked his life. The pilgrimage of Joy is the cornerstone of everything Lewis stood for and wrote even if he was unaware of it during individual seasons of his Shadowland. This Journey is what lead him to see God as Aslan rather than the magician that fades away when he is no longer needed.
The reason C.S. Lewis is held in such high esteem is based on the knowledge he never tried to be something he just naturally wasn't, and never tried to suggest otherwise. Everyone who reads C.S. Lewis can see or at least being to see themselves reflected back to them because he becomes like that friend who overtime is making them aware of their faults while exposing his own. As a writer, he is able to clarify the mystery that is present when one is struggling to deal with an emotion such as pain or express the full depth of joy. In which by doing so he reminds humanity that God is not afraid of the raw display of those thoughts and feelings. However, through his journey to find “True Joy” the world as a whole is given an example of how to live both a life full of Joy and also give pain the acknowledgment it requires. Which is to lean in until the dawn breaks over the hill shining light into the dark places.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. Touchstone., 1980.
Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life HarperCollins, 2017.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins, 2017.