In the Shadowlands: Remembering a Giant

“C.S. Lewis … was not a politician — indeed, he was practically apolitical. He was not a man of military prowess or valor. He was not the progenitor of a new social movement or philosophical school. He was not a populist orator or community organizer. In fact, his quiet life as a traditional English don hardly measures us to our peculiar notions of what is takes to be a leader.” Dr. George Grant skillfully paints a picture of our subject in the foreword to Terry Glaspey’s splendid biography of C.S. Lewis, Not a Tame Lion. He points out an interesting fact, though. C.S. Lewis led a quiet, if not obscure, life, but he was nevertheless extraordinarily influential in the western world. His Mere Christianity is probably the greatest work of popular apologetics from the 20th century. His Chronicles of Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies in 47 countries and have never been out of print since 1956.

Lewis’s influence, then, should not be questioned. His faith — although not common — can be seen throughout all of his writings, both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, most of his works are explicitly Christian, but what concerns us today is his view of God and the influence that his faith had on the way he saw the world. In this post, I want to look at how Lewis’s love led him to point others to the greatness of a real God and how his faith led him to celebrate the ordinary.

The man, an academic who taught at Oxford University, is remarkable for taking complex  theological debates and unraveling the details for the average man or woman who sits in the pew. He crystallized the teaching of ordinary believers through the ages in his book Mere Christianity. His faith colors his reputation to this very day.

Lewis noticed that the people of his day often want an impersonal God, one who is non-threatening and makes no claim upon their lives, thoughts, or affections. In his book Miracles, Lewis writes,

Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. He lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as a man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheist’s god does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at Him glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed.

So, the apologist took the Pantheist to task. What is that to us? But if you think about his argument — if you really look at the heart of it — it applies to the 21st century American. We want a god who is “abstract.” We want a god who “does nothing” and “demands nothing,” but this is not the God that C.S. Lewis pointed his fellow man to.

Lewis presents his readers with a very different God. The problem that he saw during World War II is that men were dealing with real, weighty issues of life: they saw real evil and pain in their lives; they were dealing with a brutal war that all of the West was fighting; and their views of God did not answer the real questions that naturally arose out of the suffering. Lewis’s great gift to the modern man is not that he made Christianity palatable to his whims and fancies, but that he presented a real God to his fellow man and showed him his need for a Savior. That is because, in Lewis’s own words, God “is all a burning joy and strength.”

He was the people’s apologist of the 20th century. He perceptively saw that God left all men with both a longing for eternity and an awareness of His existence and character. All men everywhere have a conscience which God placed into our very nature. Lewis wrote of what he calls “good dreams” that even the pagan nations who had never read the Bible had. What he was referring to by good dreams are those hope-filled stories in the pagan religions about a god who dies and comes back to life and, by his death, somehow gives new life to men.

C.S. Lewis had a love for the Scriptures and the faith, and he had a perceptive mind that could get to the heart of the faith and clarity of thought. When he explains the faith it makes me want to love God more. It makes me look up at the majestic night sky in wonder and gaze at the beauty of a pastoral scene revere the God who creates and sustains it all.

Again, in Miracles he writes, “Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because He is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely.” He once wrote that “You cannot love a fellow creature fully until you love God.” When I read The Great Divorce or Mere Christianity, when I read his letters or Abolition of Man, especially when I see his picture of the great lion, Aslan, I want to know God like C.S. Lewis knew God.

–JC

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